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First Things

Remembering Darius Harms

First Things

When Darius Harms died in July, this community lost one of its giants. A passionate collector of old iron, Darius was one of the founders of the stunningly successful Half Century of Progress show in Rantoul, Illinois, and a key leader in the I&I Antique Tractor & Gas Engine Club’s Historic Farm Days, Penfield, Illinois.

In a hobby as diverse as this, leaders demonstrate their strengths in many ways. Darius was the consummate organizer, the kind of man who knows how to make things happen. Detail-oriented, visionary and resourceful, Darius saw opportunity where others saw obstacles. “Many times he would not take ‘no’ for an answer,” says John Fredrickson, vice chairman at the Half Century show. “If a job needed to get done, he proceeded to get it done.”

“The old order changeth,” the poet writes, “yielding place to new.” The shows, clubs and tractor pulls Darius left his mark on will move forward. “It will probably take two or three of us to handle what he did,” allows Chuck Stelter, president of the I & I club. But no one will fold up tents and retreat. They were taught better than that.

When I visited with Darius at the 2015 Half Century show, we talked about the show’s robust safety program. This massive show in a massive setting draws tens of thousands of visitors, hundreds of golf carts and other small vehicles and non-stop demonstrations – all with an amazingly small number of incidents. And yet, the official approach to safety is respectful rather than heavy-handed. “We try to treat people the way we’d like to be treated,” Darius said.

In the old days, we called that the golden rule. One senses that it was a rule Darius held close to his heart. And that is why, in the end, Darius Harms is the rare individual who will be widely remembered as both an exceptional leader, and a kind and decent man. Well done, good and faithful servant!

Leslie C. McManus -

Use Memory to Bring New Life to Old Iron

Memory is a chameleon, taking many forms. We remember sights from the past as clearly as those seen yesterday. But memories are also wrapped in scent and sound and feel.

Marvin Overton’s 8 hp Model 44 Cushman engine (read about it and other Cushman engines) triggered an unusual memory, one as unimaginable to kids today as having their gas pumped and windshields washed. Marvin remembers attending grade school a block away from the repair shop where the Cushman was used more than 60 years ago. If the engine was started and run during the school day, he remembers hearing it.

I like to picture a boy of 8 or 9, daydreaming in a classroom with blackboards behind the teacher’s desk. Portraits of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln hang on the wall. On a spring day, or one in early fall, the windows are open. I imagine the engine starting a block away and the boy’s attention being suddenly diverted from a daydream.

But the thing I like the best about that scene is knowing how quiet the town had to be in order for that sound to tease its way down a block and into a schoolroom’s open window. There were no vehicles racing down a nearby highway at 70 miles an hour. Trash pickup was not accompanied by the cacophony today’s garbage trucks produce. Aircraft were few and far between and produced little sound, compared to today’s jets.

Nostalgia fueled by memory drives the old iron hobby. As we consider a restored relic, memories give us context. They tell us how the piece was used, its importance in a family’s life or farm or small business, its essentiality during harvest. If the sound of an 8 hp engine starting was imprinted on a boy’s consciousness, you can be sure that was a very big engine in his little town.

Fewer and fewer folks in this hobby have firsthand memories of steam engines or hay tools or gas engines. It’s a safe bet that those who do would be happy to share them with an appreciative audience. When you see them at a show this summer, ask questions. Try to form a picture in your mind; imagine the sounds and scents and sights the old timers describe. Use memory to bring new life to old treasures!                          

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Leslie C. McManus     

Share Your Best Idea with Us!

At more than 1,200 events held all over the U.S. every year, people like you set up demonstrations and displays that give a glimpse into traditional farm practices. Everything from harvesting to threshing, shelling to plowing, grinding to sawing, individuals and small groups crank it up and get ‘er done. But there is always more than one way to skin a cat. Why not share your best ideas?

Larry Whitesell’s story will resonate with any of you who’ve produced or helped produce a demonstration at a show. For several years, he put on a blacksmith demonstration at a show near his home in Tipton, Indiana. 

“After loading, hauling, unloading, setting up, demonstrating, loading, hauling, unloading and putting the display away each year, I began to consider the merits of a portable blacksmith shop,” Larry says. “It increasingly seemed that the demonstration itself had become the lesser part of the operation.”

Next thing you know, he had a shop on wheels that could easily be hauled to and from the showgrounds. Obviously the shop didn’t build itself. But it’s easy to imagine the near glee he must have experienced during design and construction, knowing that the drudgery of packing, loading and set up were things of the past. Plus, it’s a safe bet that he had fun figuring out ways to salvage “found” materials that added utility or eye appeal and reduced the cost.

Some folks’ minds naturally flow toward innovation. For the rest of us, ruts can be as comfortable and familiar as a favorite easy chair. A different way of doing things, an easier or more interesting way may never occur to us. But all you have to do is drop in on a few shows, and light bulbs start glowing. And the guy with the clever idea? He’d like nothing better than to tell you about it!

Got a cool way of doing something at your show? Let Farm Collector be the town crier! Drop us a line, shoot us an email. We’d love to share your best ideas with everyone in the hobby. And if you’re near Tipton this summer, drop by Larry’s demonstration for a look at the most relaxed blacksmith in the continental 48! FC

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Leslie C. McManus     

An Important Undercurrent: A Tribute to the Father-Son Bond

Familiar themes are an integral part of the old iron storybook. The great find, the diamond in the rough, finding a family heirloom decades (and subsequent owners) later, the basket case. Tales like those have enduring appeal; we gravitate to them as readily as a child to a bedtime story. 

Equally familiar themes wind deep through the storybook in a quiet, unassuming way. Universal and essential, they are a part of the nostalgia many collectors feel for the relics of the past. One of those themes – that of the father-son bond – works through the pages of this issue.

A letter to the editor celebrates the restoration of a windmill that is now more than a century old. Twice-restored (once by the original owner’s son, and a generation later, by his grandson), the Challenge windmill remains a tangible link to a family’s heritage, and one seen every day, not buried in a dark closet.

Elsewhere in this issue, Sam Moore, writing about the New Idea line, notes the result of collaboration between Joseph Oppenheim and Oppenheim’s son, Ben, then a schoolboy. Using an old cigar box, the two built a working model of an innovative new manure spreader. By the time Ben was 14, he’d left childhood behind – but I will leave that story to Sam to tell.

In Bill Vossler’s article on a rare, early Holt hillside combine, collector Larry Maasdam relates how his dad helped him buy his first Vermeer trencher when Larry was still in high school. It was an assist that would help set the course of a young life.

And then there is the remembrance by Lloyd Munson who writes of “farming,” as a very little boy, with his dad. Riding alongside his dad in a home-built seat attached to the family tractor, Lloyd gained both a deep appreciation for the world around him and a unique perspective on his father’s livelihood.

It was a different world then; it is a different world today. And yet that father-son bond – one forged on a tractor decades ago – endures and resonates in new generations, winding through new professions and new environments. It is a familiar theme, one that doesn’t always get a lot of attention – except on Father’s Day in June. To fathers and sons lucky enough to have such bonds, cheers! Enjoy your day! FC

Leslie C. McManus is the editor of Farm Collector. Contact her via email.

Steering Toward the Future: A Deep Look at Crawler Tractor Steering Systems

With this issue, we welcome Robert Pripps to the pages of Farm Collector. Author of several books of interest to old iron fans (The Big Book of Farmall Tractors, John Deere: Yesterday and Today, Big Book of Farm Tractors, Big Book of Caterpillar, Ford Tractors and more), Pripps’ name is familiar to anyone with an interest in antique tractors.

His topic in this issue is the evolution of crawler tractor steering systems. In the late 1800s, steering systems on steam-powered traction engines with crawler tracks were fairly straightforward, if primitive. Introduction of the internal combustion engine in the early 1900s complicated everything. Years went by before individual steering brakes were added to early gas crawlers.

Picture a crawler at work in the field in, say, 1910 or ’15. Picture operators who perhaps had little or no experience with motive power. It must have been an absolutely maddening process – touch a lever, depress the clutch or track brake and many things happened, likely none of which was intended. It’s no wonder that a market for rein-drive tractors like the Power-Horse existed as late as the late 1930s.

Nothing is as constant as change, and yet 1915 truly was a time of change. Tremendous change began to blow through farm country, the result of technological progress unimaginable just a few years earlier. None of it worked as promised, some of it didn’t work at all, much of it was confounding, but even die-hard horse farmers began studying up on how to convert horse-drawn implements to use behind a tractor.

The impact of the technological advancements of the first half of the 20th century was impossibly widespread. In his article on crawler tractor steering systems, Pripps delivers a narrow but deep look at that progress, giving us a full measure of context in the process. Supported by terrific archival photographs that capture the march of time, Pripps’ article helps us more clearly understand the significance of each step forward. Give it a gander. The next time you see crawlers on display at a tractor show, you’ll enjoy a new perspective on tracks! FC

Leslie C. McManus is the editor of Farm Collector magazine. Contact her via email.

Sizing Up an Old Iron Show

First ThingsGood things come in small packages. That’s what Larry Scheckel discovered while attending a comparatively small show of antique tractors and other farm equipment last summer (read his article on the Coulee Antique Engine Club’s show). Take rare tractors, add diverse displays, a tractor pull and clever attractions for all ages, and you have the makings of a weekend of fun.

Writing this on a snowy February day, I must confess that any show of any size sounds good about now. And it’s hard to deny the charms of an enormous show. You know going in that you’ll find hundreds of displays, and it’s inevitable that some of them will be special. You know the hosts are ready for you: You’ll find people movers, maybe a huge swap meet and all kinds of great chow. Other than walking your feet off, and perhaps an inability to see everything, there is no downside to a big show.

But don’t overlook the small shows. Those in your own backyard are especially sweet. More than a few displays will showcase equipment that was used locally, and the exhibitors will be happy to share that history. You’ll hear stories you’ve never heard before, and many will enrich your knowledge of the area you call home. Plus, it can be a real pleasure to reconnect with friends and neighbors.

And then there are the niche shows — windmill trade fairs, hay tool collections, corn items, lawn & garden collectibles. All allow an up-close look at a category you may not know a lot about, and you’ll never find friendlier, more welcoming people.

Whether it’s a small show or a big one, a new show season promises treasure in abundance. All we have to do is look!

Hot off the press: Planning to take in as many shows as you can this year? Put the 2016 Farm Collector Show Directory to work! Packed with information on more than 1,000 shows coast to coast, the show 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. FC

Leslie C. McManus is the editor of Farm Collector magazine. Contact her via email

Spotlight on Iowa

First ThingsFollowing the political caucuses earlier this month, the state of Iowa has begun to fade from the daily news feed. In this issue of Farm Collector, we come to the rescue, with articles on collectors and traditions that celebrate Iowa’s agricultural heritage!

I’d like to say this was done by careful design. In fact, as the issue started to come together, the references to Iowa began growing as exponentially as the Powerball jackpot until we were smack dab in the middle of a perfect geographic storm.

But why not Iowa? Why not shed some light on Loren Book’s lifelong collection of Minneapolis-Moline tractors and memorabilia? Decades after meeting the MM line as a pup, pushing a broom around his dad’s dealership in north central Iowa, Loren has evolved into an active promoter, working to preserve the heritage of the Minneapolis line.

And then there’s Corren Olson’s FFA project. It’s not every day a 14-year-old tackles restoration of a 1922 threshing machine built in Iowa. Sensing a teachable moment, Corren – who’s from Albert City, Iowa – both restored the Humming Bird and opened it up for view, creating a highly instructive display.

Hal Colliver’s display of vintage signs is equally instructive. A unique exhibit of Americana in southeast Iowa, Hal’s collection showcases once-familiar names with early gas pumps and phone booths mingled in for good measure. Hundreds of wonderful old signs present a nearly endless visual delight.

We finish off with the Adams Ranch in Odebolt, Iowa. Author Darrell Wrider (an Iowa native, naturally) takes us along for the ride as he travels back in time to the early 1900s. In western Iowa, millionaire W.P. Adams farmed 10 sections with 150 hired hands and more than 200 mules. Adams claimed each and every one of those mules as a personal friend, which suggests to me that he had little hands-on experience with any of them.

Here’s hoping you enjoy this unplanned romp through the Hawkeye state!

P.S. One more plug for Iowa: If you’re of the green-and-yellow persuasion, don’t miss the Gathering of the Green, March 16-19 in Davenport, Iowa. Unparalleled displays, in-depth seminars and outstanding tours make this a must for fans of John Deere – and it’s a pretty darned good cure for cabin fever, too! FC

Leslie C. McManus is the editor of Farm Collector magazine. Contact her via email.