The Museum collection holds a horse-drawn W. J. Ellard potato digger in its collection. This machine is a very unique one as it features a total of five forks at the back of the machine which spin in a circle so digging potatoes. Each fork has two tines.
The machine features a digging bit, a broad, heavy steel plate set at an angle. This bit when properly adjusted and the machine lowered to dig potatoes, runs in the earth just under the potatoes. As the bit has an upward angle to it so the dirt and potatoes are pushed upwards and loosened as the horse team draws the machine forward. The revolving forks then dig into the side of the row of potato plants and push the potatoes out the other side of the row on top of the ground. The dirt being loose falls through the tines of the forks and is left in the row. Of course this is in theory and while this may work in sandy soil, just how the machine would work in heavier soil that may be more prone to form clods is not known. As no modern machines use this method of digging action one can assume the W. J. Ellard digger was a blind alley in the development of potato diggers.
In the photos here, one can see the digging bit stored in the travel position, that is the bit is upside down in comparison to the position it would be in when ready to dig. One can also see a long lever which allows the operator to raise and lower the machine. When the machine was moving forward the operator could adjust the lever so lowering the machine into the ground. The forks appear to spin as the machine is moved forward with no means of shutting off or adjusting the speed of the forks revolve at. As one can see the machine is built largely of cast iron with the gears necessary to spin the forks being steel most likely. The forks are somewhat bent so it appears the machine did see use in the field.
There is very little information on the maker who may have been a blacksmith in the Ottawa area at one time. It appears there is at least one other W. J. Ellard potato digger in the hands of a private collector besides the machine in the Museum collection. It is not known whether this machine was suitable for digging forage turnips commonly grown to feed cattle in pioneer Manitoba.