The Noble Blade
The farm land in the Lethbridge area in
southern Alberta sits in what is known as a "dry-belt". As you can
imagine, numerous challenges presented themselves to early farmers within
dry-belt farming, and one of these was soil drifting. Dry weather, and
cultivated fields led to massive soil erosion, creating what were called "black blizzards", massive clouds of airborne soil that could travel
hundreds of miles.
Up until the mid-1930s, the preferred method of combating the problem was
to engage in strip farming, planting crops in alternating strips. It was
an imperfect solution, however, as the strips could become useless
depending on which way the wind was blowing.
Charles Noble recognized the limitations of strip farming. He recognized
that a better solution lay in stubble mulch or trash cover, that is, the
residue from the previous crop. Leaving this residue on the land kept the
soil in place. Unfortunately, cultivating implements at the time, in
making sure that weeds were destroyed, also buried the stubble from the
In 1935, Noble's friends and family convinced him to take a trip to
California, to get away from the troubles of the great depression. There,
he happened upon a sugar beet farmer using a straight blade tool to cut
into the subsoil in order to loosen his beets. He noticed that the blade
was disturbing the weeds without changing the appearance of the field.
Noble realized that he had seen the solution to the problem.
A capable blacksmith, Noble acquired an old grader blade and borrowed a
forge and an anvil. He reshaped the tempered steel of the blade, fixed it
with two stout arms to a frame, gave it two wheels and a means of depth
control. Once he finished, he tested it out in a California orange grove.
It wasnt perfect, but with some improvements, it would work.
Noble wanted to get to work immediately, so he left California early to
get back to his shop in Nobleford, Alberta. With local help, he pounded out new blades and frames, each somewhat better
than the last. The following summer, Noble had four blades ready for
Noble did all the summer-fallowing for that season with the four blades,
and was happy with the results. Friends and neighbours were also impressed
with the blade, observing that, indeed, the weeds were knocked out without
disturbing the stubble. People started placing orders and over the course
of 1937, Noble built 50 cultivators.
Noble sold another 50 the next year, to customers including the
United States Soil Conservation Service and several Canadian experimental
stations. Certain changes eventually came to the blade (the straight bar
was replaced with a V-shaped blade) but the effect was the same, cutting
out weeds while leaving surface fallow. Different models for different
types of soil were built, with minor adjustments to the shape and angle of
Sales continued to rise and a factory was built in 1941. In 1951 it was
replaced by an even larger plant that, in its first three years, sold
approximately $1 million worth of Noble cultivators.
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