Wildland firefighters in Pennsylvania, and elsewhere, have used rakes for years. They are sturdy, reliable tools, and when working a forest fire one seldom gives a thought to where they came from, or who invented them.
Charles Howard Rich was born December 31, 1860 to Mr. and Mrs. John Fleming Rich, in Richville (now Woolrich), Clinton County, Pennsylvania. He was the grandson of John Rich who founded the Woolrich Woolen Mills Company. Charles entered Pierce Business College in Philadelphia in 1878, to study business and law, and graduated in 1880. He then enrolled at Allegheny College to study math and civil engineering. Later he studied at Jefferson Medical College, planning to make medicine his career, but failing eyesight caused him to abandon that field.
He returned to Woolrich to practice civil engineering and surveying. Rich opened a lumberyard in Woolrich in 1889. He served Clinton County as an Associate Judge from 1924 to 1930, and for that service he was referred to as “Judge” for the remainder of his life. Judge Rich was extremely active in local affairs including the Kiwanis Club, the Woolrich Boy Scouts, the Masons, the P.O.S. of A, the Woolrich Community Church, the Clinton County Historical Society, and the Clinton County Fish and Game Association. He served as a Fire Warden for 28 years.
He was an inveterate tinkerer and held several patents including a carriage axel oiler, a nut and lock for a carriage spindle, a rotary engine, and his most ubiquitous invention, the Rich Rake. From his patent application:
This invention comprehends the provision of a tool designed for use fighting forest fires or the like, the tool embodying a handle and head to which are secured a plurality of blades, the head being susceptible of adjustment so as to position the blades at various angles with respect to the handle, such as is necessary to permit of use of the tool in the capacity of-a brush cutter, a rake for leaves and brush, a fork or shovel designed to effectively handle burning brands, and to also provide a mulch hoe.
The tool was designed to use 4 blades, comprised of teeth fastened by bolts or rivets to an angle iron channel. The teeth were from hay mowing machines in use at the time. The angle of the head was adjustable. Patent Number 1469957 was granted on October 9, 1923, for the Rich Rake.
Rich also made a patent application on September 11, 1931 for a fire rake with a fixed head rather than the adjustable head. It had four mower teeth on one side, and a scraping blade above the teeth. To utilize the scraping blade the handle was rotated and the mower teeth pointed up. The patent was granted on January 9, 1934 as 1942901. The manufacture of the implements took place in Williamsport until the 1970s.
C.H. Rich’s rakes were in high demand, not only in Pennsylvania but across the country, and probably around the world. In the fall of 1947, Maine was hit with devastating forest fires that were some of the worst in the state’s history. The Rich Rake was a crucial tool as evidenced by an article in the Lock Haven Express on October 27, 1947.
Judge Rich passed away on December 31, 1947 on his 87th birthday. He was survived by his wife, three daughters, a granddaughter and a great grandson.
Wesley L. Greider, of Quarryville, Lancaster County, patented a similar fire tool in 1933. Nothing can be found, other than the patent, of Greider’s invention and it is unknown if it was ever manufactured, or used in Pennsylvania forest fire work.
Today the adjustable head Rich Rake has largely been replaced by the Council Tool Fire Rake. The Council Tool Company was founded in 1886, and it is headquartered in Lake Waccamaw, North Carolina. From the Council Tool website (http://counciltool.com/), “In the 1930’s, the Forestry Service approached Council Tool about manufacturing tools to fight forest fires. That led to the development of the fire rake. Known throughout the industry as the Council Rake, the product is still offered in our catalog today (Cat no. LW-12).” Council tools are American made.
Unlike the adjustable head Rich Rake (right), the Council Tool Fire Rake has a ring attached to the cross-piece that holds the teeth. A tapered handle, with the thicker end opposite where the firefighter grasps the tool, fits through the ring and keeps the head snug as it is pulled toward the firefighter while raking a line. The unit may be disassembled for storage and transport, a feature that is not readily available on Rich’s invention. The length of the handle is either 60 or 52 inches long. The preferred length in Pennsylvania seems to be the shorter 52 inch handle.
Whether a firefighter is using a Rich Rake or a Council Fire Rake, they are undoubtedly one of the most useful tools on Pennsylvania forest firelines.
Patents – below are pdfs of the patent documents referenced in the blog above
C.H. Rich Adjustable Head Forest Fire Rake – Rich Rake Rich1
C.H. Rich Scraper Blade Forest Fire Rake Rich2
Greder Fire Rake Greider