Shovel: a simple, needed tool

Years ago when my brothers and I were growing up, Dad taught us how to use a shovel. In many ways, this simple tool was important to the work Dad was doing. He had a couple of trucks and hauled lots of coal for residents in and around North Bloomfield.

As you can guess, hauling coal involved a lot of shoveling to unload the truck. And shoveling was hard work. We tried to convince Dad that he didn’t have a shovel that fit our hands but that didn’t work. Broad, flat-bottom shovels were used to unload that coal.

Then when we would haul sand from the banks of Swine Creek in Mespo, that involved another kind of shovel. They were smaller, round pointed shovels that would handle the sand easier. It did take a lot of shovelfuls to get enough in the truck to make a load.

The only fun part about those trips was we could take a dip in Swine Creek, as cold as it was, after we were done. It was an isolated area so we didn’t need swim suits.

The history of the shovel is interesting. No one seems to know who had the idea to use the wide, flat shoulder blade of a large animal to help move dirt. Then someone had the bright idea to take a thin blade of wood, whittle a sharp end to it and then attach a wooden handle. We were an inventive nation and adapted new ideas all the time.

Next, when iron and steel were being made, someone thought to attach a thin strip of metal to the wooden shovel. Soon, an inventive person hammered an entire shovel form metal.

When our country was growing and getting more settlers and cities were established, the work of moving earth to build was done by hand using a shovel. Again a lot of hard, back breaking work.

When the National Road was built, that went through Ohio, the work was done using shovels. Other major projects such as the transcontinental railroad that went across the country involved mostly shovel work. Apparently there was one steam powered shovel that was used in some areas.

Trenches built during wars were built with shovels and a lot of hard work by soldiers. As you can see, this mundane tool, the shovel, has been and in many ways is still essential.

Around the farm you will see several different kinds of shovels being used. Large, broad blade shovels are used to handle grain. Smaller round pointed ones are used for digging. Long, sharp pointed spades dig post holes and other jobs that require a special kind of shovel.

Then there is one that most of us are familiar with and that is the snow shovel. Some are metal with a steel wear plate so they last longer. Or you can buy a plastic shovel with or without a steel wear plate. They are lighter but the wet, heavy snow may stick more to them.

Also, you can buy snow shovels with specially bent handles that, they say, will help your back. Maybe but snow shoveling is always hard work no matter what kind of handle or blade you have.

We have a lot of complicated, labor saving devices, equipment and gadgets these days. One might think the simple shovel isn’t important. But when you stop and think, it is still an essential tool.

Look around and you will see contractors with back hoes and gasoline powered shovels of all sizes being used. They can do in minutes what it would take hours for a man to do. They replace shovels but not completely. Some hand work using a shovel is usually necessary at most projects. Sometimes simple tools are most important.

Parker is an independent writer for the Tribune Chronicle. Reach him at