"Old Betsy" has come home.
Gilbert native William E. Rood Jr.’s first Rood Cotton Harvester, a machine later sold to farmers around the world, was donated earlier this month to the Gilbert Historical Museum by son Bill Rood and his wife, Pat.
William Rood, a 1933 graduate of Gilbert High School and son of the Gilbert Enterprise newspaper publisher, built a machine that picked up cotton dropped on the ground by mechanical pickers or lost during bad weather. Although not a farmer himself, Rood, who died in 2001, knew mechanical cotton pickers were known to drop up to 20 percent of the cotton.
"The Rood picked up the profit," said Bill Rood, who was raised in Phoenix and today lives in Chandler. "The first one sold for $3,500 and picked up $20,000 worth of cotton from the ground in two months."
Rood said his father was inspired after seeing him as a child whack the couch with a screen door spring. The spring would collect fabric from the couch, the same concept used in the cotton harvester.
The machine’s belt concept was patented in 1949, but the first machine was not completed until 10 years later, with the help of a welder friend and some financial assistance from his farmer friends.
More than 4,000 Rood Cotton Harvesters were sold around the world, including Mexico, South Africa, Colombia, Israel and Australia. Later models were made with cleaning equipment and baskets until the Chandler plant closed in 1983.
Ruth Gieszl, a charter member of the Gilbert Historical Society and museum volunteer, said her husband was a frequent user of the machine when farming Gilbert’s cotton fields.
"All farmers used it if they planted cotton," Gieszl said. "If they didn’t own one, they paid someone with a Rood."
Rood said he and his father agreed to donate "Old Betsy" to the museum.
"Gilbert was his home, he graduated from here, it was his hometown," said Rood, who restored the machine to its original condition.
Gieszl said she is pleased the machine is in Gilbert to stay.
"It’s kind of like the first airplane," she said. "You wouldn’t want to take a trip in it, but it’s nice to have around."
The Gilbert Historical Museum, at the southwest corner of Gilbert and Elliot roads, is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. There is no admission, but donations are accepted. For more information, call (480) 926-1577.