Jim and Phyllis Moffet hold their 1838 Rufus Porter corn sheller
Rainy days send Jim and Phyllis Moffet to the Patent and Trademark Depository Library in Springfield, Ill., like ducks to a puddle. There, the hours slip quietly away while this Modesto, Ill., couple search out patent records on everything from corn shelters to hog 'jewelry' to fence splicers and even pencil sharpeners.
For Jim, a retired farmer, and Phyllis, a homemaker and her husband's 'first lieutenant' in this paper chase, patent research is all about discovery. The lure of 'What is it?' keeps them coming back, and has now for more than a dozen years.
'We got interested in it because some friends were doing it too,' Jim recalls, 'and the more we did, the more we enjoyed it.'
Jane Running, the recently retired patent librarian who taught the Moffets their way around the Springfield library, says after so many years, she came to consider Jim her 'Auxiliary.' He regularly helps out new researchers at her request.
The Springfield facility is one of 88 such official depositories across the country where patent information can be researched. It also is available on the Internet.
Along with helping out in Springfield, Jim often follows up on queries published in Farm Collector's 'Letters' column, mailing whatever his research turns up to the letter writers, and sometimes to Farm Collector editors as well.
At the Springfield library, Running says, about half the patrons are collector researchers, like Jim and Phyllis, and half are inventors seeking to patent their own devices. Once people get acquainted with the research aspects, she says, they're hooked: 'It's one of those things that happens that is so intriguing. You get so enthusiastic it's hard to turn yourself off. I'm not sure who's worse, the genealogists or the collectors.'
In the beginning, Jim says, he was just looking for some information on corn shelters, especially hand-held shelters, which are one of his passions.
When he was a boy of 9, Jim's parents hosted the 1938 Illinois State Corn Husking Competition on their Modesto farm, where Jim and Phyllis still live today. It was a galvanizing event; the Nov. 1, 1938, Illinois State Journal reported a crowd of 85,000 and, in a page one banner headline, dubbed the competition the 'Cornbelt's Classic Sports Event.'
'I well remember it,' Jim recalls, and in the years since, he's amassed a collection of corn-related items that includes box and free-standing shelters, corn shock tiers and various rare husking tools, as well as separate collections of hay forks and carriers, hog, dairy and poultry items.
As he gained confidence in his research skills, Jim came to believe it was important to know who invented the farm things he collects. He says he and Phyllis now have researched the patents 'on virtually every corn sheller ever made,' as well as hundreds of other farm tools and household items
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