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Thank you, Leonardo

Appreciation for one of gardening's most useful pieces of equipment.

By William Amelia / July 16, 2008

WORKHORSE: A wheelbarrow serves many uses in a garden.

Jari Kivela/Newscom

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That wheelbarrow out in the garden doesn’t get the respect it deserves. Real gardeners know better, and so did the poet William Carlos Williams, who in his famous poem wrote, “So much depends/ upon/ a red wheel/ barrow.”

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But most of us see it as an ordinary tool, take it for granted, and overlook its value – all big mistakes.

Consider this: Before the wheelbarrow, there was the hand-barrow, a primitive Middle Ages tool that took two men, one at each end, and a lot of heft to tote the load.

Thank Leonardo da Vinci for easing the chore. In his genius he added a single wheel to the forward end of the barrow, reducing laborers by half and transforming a muscle-driven tool into the efficient wheelbarrow.

The key, da Vinci demonstrated, is the lever principle: The closer the load to the wheel, the less force needed to move the load. Knowing this, he applied the mechanics of the lever to the wheelbarrow, forever reducing a good deal of mankind’s heavy lifting.

And for all of us at labor in the garden and elsewhere, we say thank you.

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