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Frank Van Slyke (1863 -1936)

Frank Van Slyke beside the plough he invented Around 1909, people gathered in fields in central Alberta to watch the Van Slyke plough at work. Attached to the first Caterpillar tractor in the Red Deer area was Frank Van Slyke’s plough and he used it to make land useable all over central Alberta.

Born in Iowa in 1863, Van Slyke was still a young man when his mechanical abilities became apparent. He naturally became the community blacksmith and in between commissions, found time to bring some of his ideas to fruition. Before the turn of the 19th century, Van Slyke had invented a gasoline-powered engine.

He married Annie Steinmetz in 1885 and the two had six children. When a number of neighbouring families decided to move and settle land in the Red Deer area, Van Slyke was encouraged to accompany them and see if he could locate a homestead. Shortly after arriving, he found a parcel of land, arranged to purchase it and returned to Iowa to bring his family to their new home.

Advertisement for the Van Slyke Breaking PlowThe family arrived at their homestead, located in the Balmoral district east of Red Deer, in the spring of 1905. Van Slyke began work with the local blacksmith, Archie Fead, living in town with the blacksmith’s family during the week and returning home to his own family on the weekends. It was his daughter Fay who dutifully drove the family horse and carriage into town to retrieve her father each week, while her brothers remained at home to work the farm.

As most of this land was unused, there was a distinct need to develop implements that would till the land, making it useable for farming. Van Slyke, aware of this necessity, employed his superior mechanical abilities and developed the Van Slyke plough, revolutionizing farming in the area. In 1910, the Van Slyke Plow Manufacturing Company began operations in Red Deer. A successful business for quite some time, it was eventually taken over by Edmonton Iron Works Limited and transferred to Edmonton.

Advertisement for the Van Slyke Breaking PlowAnnie Van Slyke died in the autumn of 1924 and was buried in the Red Deer Cemetery, she was 59 and although the rest of the Van Slyke family stayed in the Red Deer area, Frank Van Slyke decided to return to Iowa. After moving, he continued to visit his family in Red Deer. He had invented a dual engine motor vehicle and found great joy in the attention it received in travelling between Iowa and Red Deer. Continuing these visits for as long as his health permitted it, Van Slyke died in Anita, Iowa in 1936.

 The Van Slyke plough was extremely instrumental in the development of the Red Deer area and when the city designed its coat of arms, a representation of the plough was incorporated. The Van Slyke plough symbolizes three distinct things—farming, a Red Deer invention and a Red Deer manufacturer.

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