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You'd need 500 horses to pull many of today's farm implements

TAGS: USDA
You'd need 500 horses to pull many of today's farm implements
John Deere Tractor & Engine Museum display says 'horsepower' really does relate back to a horse's pulling power.

If you've seen the TV commercial where a behemoth man is trying to pull a huge truck, you've probably thought what nonsense will ad executives who approve commercials come up with next? I'm not sure that one worked because I can't remember what product the advertisement was for!

Related: New John Deere Museum Opens In Waterloo

Truth is that man by himself can pull very little. A draft horse on the other hand can pull several times more than a man.

Origin of horsepower: Here is data collected by James Watt when he studied how to define the term 'horsepower.' This display is at the John Deere Tractor

Why does all this matter? For years, teenagers, especially boys, have gone crazy about cars with high horsepower engines. Odds are not one in one-hundred actually know that the term horsepower did in fact, originate from a measure of how much a horse could pull.

A display at the John Deere Tractor & Engine Museum in Waterloo, Iowa, which opened for the first time this year, explains the history in great detail.

James Watt, an early engineer, defined one horsepower as the power it took to lift 550 pounds one foot in height per second. The story is he actually rigged up a device that used pulleys and which could accommodate a horse, to see how much the horse could pull.

By his calculations, a draft horse actually can exert 0.86 horsepower by itself. A man can't even exert 0.1 horsepower. So don't get into a pulling match with a horse!

There's a more useful reason for pointing this out. When you jump into the cab of a 500-horse tractor, barely big enough to pull some of the large tillage implements displayed as new products at the 2015 Farm Progress Show, you are essentially harnessing more than 500 draft horses to do the job.

That's a lot of horsepower at your fingertips. Be sure you use safe operating practices to control it. And remember, it's still easier than trying to control 500 real draft horses!

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