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First Things

Making it Work in Meriden, Kansas

Leslie C. McManus

You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. That old saw drifted into my consciousness after attending the Meriden (Kansas) Antique Engine and Threshers Assn. this summer. I’d been on the grounds for about seven minutes when a club member intercepted me. Within the next two minutes, he described the show as “one of the fastest growing summer family destinations in the Midwest.”

That statement caught my attention not only because it’s ambitious, but because it suggests an unusual awareness of what the show is and where it’s going. In the back of my mind, I was a tad bit skeptical. As the day unfolded, as I talked to person after person who spoke of the club’s growth, of the growing number of displays, of the growing attendance at monthly meetings, I came to understand that this was a collective vision – and that is precisely the kind of thing that separates the men from the boys.

Another thing stood out to me at this show. Not only does this group have a clear road map for the future, they have a keen appreciation for how they’ve gotten to where they are – and that is at least partially through a genuinely friendly alliance with a nearby club. If I got a dime for every time somebody said, “McLouth helps us, and we help them,” I could get one of those fancy cups of coffee from Starbucks.

I loved hearing that. In lo, these many years at Farm Collector, I’ve never encountered anything quite like it – and here it was in my own backyard. Quite the contrary, I’ve encountered clubs that actually seem to compete with each other, and club members who cast a decidedly negative spin on their neighbors’ efforts. Life is too short: That’s all I have to say about that.

We hear a lot these days about shows that are petering out, about an inability to find young folks to get involved, about the struggle to compete with the multitude of entertainment options available today. It’s an uphill battle, no doubt about it. But the folks in a small town in Kansas aren’t ready to turn off the lights just yet. In Meriden, if there’s a will, there’s a way. FC

What a Difference a Century Makes!

Leslie C. McManus

Imagine a boy, born in 1984. He’s one of 11 children born to a farm couple, but farming holds no attraction – in fact, he claims the work is too hard for him. He’s an avid reader, but equally engaged by emerging technology. At school he’s in constant trouble with teachers; at 14, he drops out. He leaves home and heads for the city, presumably sponging for a time off an older brother who lives there, all the while drilling deeper and deeper into new and not yet totally proven technologies.

By now you’re ready to write this boy off as another .com dreamer consumed by video games and cellphones. But what a difference a century makes! History does not record whether James and Mary Ferguson were the objects of their neighbors’ pity. All we know is that, in about 1898, their barely teenaged son Henry George “Harry” Ferguson – with exactly the résumé cited above – said adios to the farm and set out for Belfast.

A couple decades earlier, another farm boy did roughly the same thing. Young Henry Ford, equally unenthusiastic about farming, was quick to form an opinion that drudgery made up too big a part of agriculture and set out to make his way in the city. Like Ferguson, Ford had a brilliant mind and, once engaged, was a formidable student. Success didn’t come overnight, but eventually it did come – and, for the most part, it stayed.

For Harry Ferguson, the 3-point hitch delivered not only the means to advance other projects and interests, but also immortality as a noteworthy inventor. For Ford, creation of an affordable motor vehicle, establishment of a fair wage and adoption of progressive industrial practices like the assembly line propelled him into the forefront of American industrialists.

In parallel articles in this issue by Sam Moore and Robert N. Pripps, we consider the trajectories of these lives and the points at which they intersect. While it is hard to imagine a handshake agreement ever taking place again on such a large scale, it requires almost no trouble at all to imagine the rise of brilliance and its potential impact on the world around us. All it takes is one kid willing to find a better way. FC

Location Perfect for 2017 North Missouri Steam & Gas Engine Assn. Show

Leslie C. McManus

As planning for the 2017 North Missouri Steam & Gas Engine Assn. in Hamilton began gearing up last fall, the stars fell into perfect alignment. Located at a singular position in space and time (is that the Star Trek theme I’m hearing?), the North Missouri show is square in the path of a total eclipse of the sun expected to occur just hours after the show was scheduled to end on Aug. 20.

A total solar eclipse — when the moon’s apparent diameter is larger than the sun, thereby blocking all direct sunlight, turning day into darkness  — will occur on Aug. 21. The eclipse will be visible from a 70-mile-wide corridor stretching about 2,500 miles diagonally from west to east.

Spanning coast to coast, the August eclipse begins in Oregon and crosses through portions of Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina before ending in South Carolina.

The folks at the North Missouri show know a good thing when they see it. “Mother Nature kind of dumped this in our lap,” says club member Kendall Morgan. “Our show is Aug. 18-20, and the eclipse is the next day, so we decided to run the show an extra day.”

To commemorate the event, a special display will feature a Frick Eclipse steam engine and an Eclipse gas engine built by Fairbanks-Morse. Nearly a dozen steam engines will be used in sawing, threshing and baling demonstrations, and camping is available at the grounds (advance registration recommended).

Although eclipses today are widely noted, they leave relatively little mark on contemporary culture. Hundreds of years ago, it was a different story. In the late 1800s, the Eclipse moniker was applied to countless agricultural products, including windmills, corn shellers, hay presses, cane mills, corn planters, cultivators, disc harrows, fanning mills, feed grinders, fertilizer spreaders, seeders, hammer mills, hay rakes and stackers, horse powers, incubators, manure spreaders, plows, potato machinery, sawmills, sprayers, stump pullers and wagons.

The August eclipse will be the first with a path of totality crossing America’s Pacific and Atlantic coasts since 1918. Also, its path of totality makes landfall exclusively within the U.S., making it the first such eclipse since the country’s independence in 1776. Catch it if you can! FC

Leslie C. McManus

P.S. Headed to the Tri-State Gas Engine & Tractor Assn. show in Portland next month? Be sure to stop by the Farm Collector/Gas Engine Magazine tent and say hello to our representatives there, Bob and Linda Crowell!

Growing Like a Weed

Leslie C. McManus

Crops may fail, ponds dry up, locusts arrive – but weeds endure. As much a certainty to the farmer and gardener as death and taxes, weeds remain a link between today’s sophisticated agricultural operation – complete with herbicides and advanced technology – and the traditional farm practices of a century ago.

Two articles in this issue, uh, dig into the topic. Bill Vossler reports on Steve Ringen’s restored check-row planter, an implement that enabled cross-cultivation; Clell G. Ballard takes a close look at a Little Farmer hand-push cultivator designed for use in the farmer’s garden.

While gardeners and plant lovers are quick to note that a weed is merely “a plant in the wrong place,” from this corner that seems a position overly sympathetic to something that is both an aggressive opportunist and an unwelcome arrival.

As I pull purslane from my vegetable garden, carefully placing every remnant of foliage and root (no matter how microscopic) in a bucket destined for disposal in a nearby hazmat depository where the purslane will probably thrive, I consider the fact that I never encounter, say, a cherry seedling pushing up out of the soil, or an unexpected heirloom pepper plant emerging to join its hybrid cousins.

Au contraire, Pierre. Most of what springs up unbidden is nothing more than a nuisance and nothing less than a direct threat to that which we have planted and protected from wind, downpour, cutworms and rabbits.

In that context, I like to imagine the thrill that must have washed over the farmer a century ago when he caught wind of a newfangled invention: the check-row planter – an implement that offered the promise of both beautifully straight rows and comparatively simple cross-cultivation.

Despite our appreciation for antique farm equipment, the sheer toil exacted in the process of farming more than a century ago is beyond our comprehension. Man and beast faced relentless toil in clearing fields, planting, cultivating, harvesting, processing and storing. Mankind has always found the time and energy to engage in mischief but it is no surprise that there is a good deal more of it today, when such labor is a dim memory for most.

And weeds? Despite our best efforts and most advanced processes, they continue to burst forth with vigor. The technology has changed dramatically, but the bane of the farmer’s existence is the same today as it’s ever been. The more things change, the more they don’t! FC

Leslie C. McManus

J.I. Case Leaves a Giant’s Legacy

Leslie C. McManus

In this issue of Farm Collector, historian and columnist Sam Moore takes a close look at J.I. Case, the founder of the J.I. Case Threshing Machine Co. This year marks the 175th anniversary of its founding: What better time to revisit the life of a legendary American industrialist?

A self-made man, Case was a compelling figure in American history. His business success alone is a fascinating story of uncommon enterprise. When, for instance, hard cold cash was unavailable, Case accepted customer payments in the forms of animals, supplies and land. Both a patriot and an astute marketer, he adopted the eagle as the symbol of his company in 1865. He was a man of larger than life passions, engaged in breeding racehorses, early auto racing and Great Lakes shipping ventures.

In his column, Sam shares a couple of anecdotes that go a long way toward illustrating what kind of man Case was. I’ll not repeat them here – you’ll enjoy reading Sam’s column – but they show a man of great integrity. He had immense confidence in the quality of his company’s product and did not hesitate to back that up with a level of personal involvement exceptional in any era.

Still, more than a century after his death, it is impossible to truly know the man and his motivations. Was Case a man of exemplary ideals, or one who had such complete confidence in his products that he refused to accept the possibility of failure until presented with evidence to the contrary?

 Whether his focus was on satisfying the customer or simply proving that he was right, the end result was an uncommon emphasis on quality. Either way, the farmer won, and it is that legacy that Case enthusiasts throughout the world celebrate this year.

More than a century after his death in 1891, Case remains a giant among manufacturers of American farm equipment. His mark on the evolution of mechanized farm equipment is a lasting one, and a cherished chapter of Americana. We shall not see his like again. FC

Leslie C. McManus,

Make Show Safety a Priority

Leslie C. McManus

There are certain truths that we can depend on. Here’s one: Accidents happen. Unless you live in a vacuum – and even then, a vacuum seems vulnerable to external threat – accidents will happen.

The good news is that we can do much to prevent accidents, and that’s a vitally important thought to consider as we begin a new show season.

Safety is one of our most basic responsibilities. We owe it to our families, our friends, and to all the people who come to our shows. And, when everything is said and done, we owe it to ourselves.

And why wouldn’t we put a priority on safety?

Because it costs too much? Bet it doesn’t cost as much as hospital bills, funerals or lawsuits.

Because it takes too long? Bet it doesn’t last as long as regret.

Because it might decrease the number of exhibitors or attendees? An accident at your show is not likely to grow attendance.

One of the leading topics of conversation in this hobby today is how to boost show attendance. A comprehensive safety plan is an excellent place to start. If you give people a choice of attending a safe event or a dangerous event, the vast majority will choose safety.

Safety doesn’t have to be expensive. It doesn’t have to look like a police state. It can be done in a friendly, respectful, effective manner: Ask the folks at the Mid Michigan Old Gas Tractor Assn. in Oakley, or those at the Great Oregon Steam-Up in Brooks. And there are others, all over the country, setting the example rather than turning a blind eye.

If your club has a great approach to safety, tell us about it. We’ll spread the word. Clubs looking to beef up their safety plans don’t need to reinvent the wheel if you are willing to help. Working together, we can make safety a priority! FC

Leslie C. McManus

P.S.: Planning to take in as many shows as you can this year? Let our new Farm Collector Show Directory be your personal travel agent! Packed with information on more than 1,000 shows coast to coast, the directory puts dates, locations, features and contacts at your fingertips. It also contains a handy index arranged by show name, and contact information for collector groups and organizations across the U.S. and Canada.

In the Eye of the Beholder

Leslie C. McManus

Eye appeal is at the heart of a varied collection assembled by Nebraskan Steve Renz (read about Steve’s collection). Steve gravitates to the piece marked by exceptional artistry and design, whether it’s a buggy tag or a cast iron seat or a check-row planter.

If all collections were assessed in a clinical manner, eye appeal would no doubt be the primary motivator in many. Industrial design today reflects an almost insatiable appetite for the futuristic ideal. In today’s world, flourishes are few and far between.

Steve’s collection may be rooted in eye appeal, but it also honors the small businessman and the industrial designer. Windmills, buggies, hardware, tools and implements were often produced by small local operations and sold fairly close to home. Those small businesses were the backbone of thousands of small towns, in an era that, decades later, seems bathed in unprecedented optimism and promise. It is hard not to feel nostalgic about the growth and industry that gave our hometowns liftoff a century ago.

Steve’s collection also salutes the early industrial designer. Industrial products of the late 1800s and early 1900s reflect a sensibility unknown today. Where today’s products are streamlined, those of the past were ornately embellished. Hand-drawn pinstriping and lettering, typography and remarkable detail elevated industrial pieces from the mundane – making them highly sought by collectors a century later.

At least some of us are hard-wired to the past. As children, we were already drawn to old things, old ways; as adults, we collect old things. I have no doubt that people 50 or 75 or 100 years from now will build collections of relics they remember from their youth.

What is less clear to me is what, exactly, those items will be. Flip phones? Dash-mounted GPS systems? Drones? A tractor built in 2010? You’d have to be a technician to work on any of those: For a collector, getting it running is the real deal. And none of today’s mountains of stuff is particularly rare. What fun is it if everybody has one?

If that leaves you shaking your head, you’re in good company. The man who bought a Waterloo Boy in 1918 is probably equally befuddled as to why you’d spend good money on an old pile of junk and put even more money into making it look better than new. Beauty, as ever, is in the eye of the beholder! FC

Leslie C. McManus