May 7, 2019, Susan Harber, The Daily News Journal
Thomas Edison once said, “I never did perfect an invention I did not think of in terms of service to others … I find what the world needs and proceed to invent.” Today, those same words are strongly applicable to our luminous subject – Sterling Edmonds.
My husband Charles Harber has an innate inventiveness and has created some remarkable devices for our home and vehicles through years, especially with electricity. His ability to conceive a new idea and formulate a design for his own construction has been so interesting to see firsthand through the years.
The mind is infused with more than 100 billion nerve cells that stimulate our imagination, judgement and cognitive thinking. I have written previously on Murfreesboro native John Buchanan, who is our only MTSU alumnus to receive a Nobel Peace Prize. He was awarded for his keen interpretation in economic sciences.
Moreover, a self-made man from Eagleville equally deserves recognition as a universal inventor affecting lives in a positive measure on an international level.
Sterling Owen ‘Dump’ Edmonds (1871-1954) was one of the smartest yet unassuming residents for all time from Rutherford County. Sterling’s father Joseph was a mastermind in mechanics and a great influence on this son’s later success. A quiet man, Sterling changed the way we live forevermore, as his inventions were an affirmative originality that advanced our global society.
Sterling lived his life in Rutherford County and relished in Eagleville as a haven of solace and tranquility. His family members were pioneers of this unique region of our county.
He was the son of Joseph Sterling Edmonds (1840-1911) and Drucilla Price Owen Edmonds (1848-1925). Drucilla’s parents were Peter and Matilda Brooks Owen of Sussex, Virginia. Joseph and Drucilla married in 1866 and are buried in the Russell Cemetery in Eagleville.
The Edmonds were ever present in Eagleville (at one time Eagleville was in Williamson County) around 1842 after arriving from Brunswick County, Virginia. Sterling Owen’s grandfather was Sterling H. Edmonds, a schoolteacher, who attended the Harpeth Baptist Church in Eagleville.
Sterling H. Edmonds died in 1850, leaving his mother Lucy, wife Martha and children behind in a small town with few economic means. Sterling H. Edmonds son, Joseph Sterling Edmonds, was 10 years old at the time and labored hard to keep the family together.
Joseph and Drucilla had four children: Samuel Houston, Sterling Owen, Edgar and Ethel.
Joseph was keen in business and flourished with his career. He was also a supreme mechanic in Eagleville and rendered many repairs for neighbors and friends.
Sterling and Sam showed interest and skill as partners in their father’s businesses that included J.S. Edmonds Funeral Home, grist mill, blacksmith shop and grain hauling.
Sterling Owen’s siblings Edgar and Ethel each married and departed the Eagleville area.
When Joseph perished in 1911, both sons Sam and Sterling continued their father’s authentic and professional interests. Sam and sterling ran the blacksmith shop on the main street in Eagleville; and both men were inventors. Sam was also known as a talented musician and played in a local band at church and community gatherings until his passing in 1927.
Sterling Owen and Marge Neelly (born 1882) were web in 1904. Both Marge and son died in July 1913 in childbirth. Sterling, Marge and their infant are buried in the Neelly Cemetery in Eagleville, along with Marge’s parents John and Cynthia Neelly.
Marge’s maternal grandfather was James Ogilvie of Williamson County, who was in Company A, 45th Tennessee Infantry during the Civil War. Her maternal great-great grandfather W.A. Ogilvie served in a North Carolina militia in 1771 and fought in the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in the Revolutionary War.
Sterling remarried Eagleville school teacher Ethel Motlow (born 1885), daughter of Felix and Finetta Daniel Motlow of Lynchburg, in 1913. They had no children and both died in 1954. Ethel is buried in the Lynchburg City Cemetery.
Ethel’s Father Felix Motlow (1838-1917) was a prominent man in Moore County. He enlisted in Company E, 1st Tennessee in the Civil War and served in a Virginia Regiment.
He was taken prisoner July 1, 1863, as part of Archer’s Brigade and was in a federal prison until the end of the year.
Ethel was one of 11 siblings in a family that promoted education in a grand manner. Her Motlow lineage from Lynchburg, spearheaded by Sen. Reagor Motlow, donated 187 acres of land in 1967 for a college in Moore County with Motlow State Community College opening in 1969. Smyrna’s expanding campus is within this same familial ancestry.
As a young man, Sterling invented a mechanism to lower caskets into a grave with no physical labor. With a brilliant mind, Stelering was the inventor of a standard truck, trailer, pressure pump and street cleaner. He also invented and designed the first trailer truck in our country that was utilized by the U.S. Government in World War I. One of his earliest patents was for automotive towage in 1917.
While attending the 1919 Rutherford County Fair, he viewed a stunt with an airplane landing and later drew an autogyro that would allow for a plane to land straight down. He never fully acquired a patent and was not credited for this invention he fully mastered.
When Sterling was in grain operation, he had 40 teams and wagons. He cleverly attached a flatbed wagon to the front of a Model T Ford as the first truck in the United States. He took the back wheels off a Model T and replaced the sprocket with teeth to give reduction of speed.
Then he mounted the front end of steel-bodied trailer to the front end of a prime mover. He was the first man to use dual wheels for a heavily-loaded trucks. His extraordinary patent in 1916 for a six-wheel truck emerged worldwide.
Sterling formed Trans-Mo Trucking Company in Nashville that flourished. He developed a hydraulic lift for a dump truck, and the nickname ‘Dump’ was born.
In World War II, metals were utilized for ammunition in the war and his Trans-Mo company was in peril. Yet, Sterling traveled to Washington, DC and presented his invention using parts of a Model T and flat bed truck to the Quartermaster General of the U.S. Army. His trucks were now needed to defeat the Germans.
After World War II, Sterling designed a vacuum street cleaner for Murfreesboro. With a 1932 patent, he also created So-Easy Jacks for big trucks. The air jack raised the car for a spare. He also invented a revolving rural mailbox and a milk cooler.
Sterling introduced a mower invention to the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1933. He also was the mastermind to invent the water pump in the late 1930s that was a huge hit with Eagleville neighbors and farmers. No more extreme work was required to draw water with this inexpensive and highly advanced device. The creative water well pressure pump was made public at the 1940 Tennessee State Fair with great excitement.
Other inventions included a revolving sign with cylinders at filling stations and lipstick tubes. Sterling’s former shop was behind the current Eagleville Post Office, and his home was on Highway 99.
Sterling and Ethel loved children and were generous and kind to young people in the community. At Christmas, Sterling would bring bags of candy and fruit for the children at the Baptist Church and enjoyed laughing and talking with them during the holidays.
Contact Susan Harber at [email protected]