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First ThingsOld farm equipment was one of countless casualties of World War II. During a period when this nation’s military industrial complex expanded rapidly, steel and iron from junked farm equipment (and countless other materials ranging from cooking fats to fur coats) were salvaged on an unprecedented scale.

It is a topic of no small interest to collectors. While much of the scrapped material was undoubtedly junk and many American farmsteads got a much-needed cleanup as a result of the scrap drives, pieces that would be considered rare today were inevitably swept up at the same time. Understanding what they meant to the war effort, no one really begrudges the scrap drives, but more than a few collectors have mused wistfully over the pieces irretrievably lost.

Historian and writer Bill Vossler delves into that topic in an article in this issue of Farm Collector. Seventy years after the end of World War II, the ranks of those who remember the scrap drives and other salvage programs of those years are shrinking rapidly. It is a fitting time to revisit the topic, and an era when collective sacrifice made the difference on a global battlefield. We are grateful to Tim Putt of Putt-Putt Puzzles who suggested this topic, and to the Farm Collector readers who shared their memories of the era.

Shifting gears dramatically: Some of you will no doubt remember my efforts to sell my boss on the merits of a trip to research old iron in Hawaii, preferably in, oh, say, February. While he has shown little enthusiasm for that venture (“Google it,” he says), he has offered an acceptable alternative: a Farm Collector tour of antique tractors in England and Scotland in July 2016!

We’ll take in a terrific tractor show in Scotland, tour several private collections of antique tractors, get acquainted with local collectors at a cookout, relax on a leisurely canal boat excursion, go for a jaunt to the coast aboard a restored steam engine, see the sights in Edinburgh – and spend a day with Farm Collector Columnist Josephine Roberts in Wales, visiting sites she’s hand-picked for us! Sign up soon: Seats are limited, and this is one trip you won’t want to miss! FC

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


First Things

In this issue of Farm Collector, Don McKinley walks us through the process of picking corn by hand. Today, that activity is little more than a novelty. For some, it fans the flames of nostalgia. For others, it represents discovery of the past. But there was a time, a very long time, when no alternative existed: Corn was picked by hand. End of discussion.

Understanding the technique is easy enough. The trick for many today is to understand the actual impetus. Until you truly absorb the fact that, from the beginning of time until the 1920s, all corn was harvested by hand, one ear at a time, it is pretty easy to ignore the enormity of the undertaking.

It is astonishing how dismissive some in today’s audience can be. A farmer planted only what he could harvest. Pre-hybrid yields were smaller. The U.S. economy was built on a foundation of thousands and thousands of small farms. There were fewer distractions; farm kids were actively involved in the process. Blah, blah, blah. I picked corn by hand for 10 minutes one pretty day last fall: I get it.

A lot of things come into clear focus when you consider picking an entire crop by hand, ear after ear after ear. A work ethic unfamiliar with the concept of surrender. The critically important economy of motion. Zero tolerance of waste. A discipline strong enough to stare down the relentlessness of it: row after row, field after field, day after day, week after week; rain, snow, cold.

The number of those who picked corn by hand because they had to is shrinking at a steady clip today. Some old-timers look back on the experience and say “Good riddance.” Others work to preserve that heritage, helping new generations understand what it took to create today’s world. None, I’m betting, want to see it sentimentalized. “Just the facts, ma’am.”

And that is exactly what Don McKinley delivers in his article. How can you truly appreciate the technological leap represented by a mechanized picker until you understand what came before? In the end, it was nothing more than a simple tool that would fit in the space occupied by these words – and an iron will. FC

Leslie C. McManus

I sometimes think that what every collector really specializes in is stories. As a general rule, a good story or two lurk quietly behind every interesting collection. It only makes sense: If you have passion enough to collect something, you probably enjoy sharing that passion.

It goes beyond that, though. The collector’s passion must be bolstered by patience. Years may pass before you find your prize. Discovery is only half the battle. Hunting, snooping, researching, negotiating, acquiring, transporting — it all takes time, but more often than not, it adds up to a great story.

Great stories were in abundant supply at the annual meeting of the Stockyard Collectors Club in June. Members of this group still remember the glory days of the Union Stock Yard in Chicago, and relish the opportunity to share their memories. Many also shared tales of how they found the stockyard relics they’ve gathered.

I am, I confess, highly susceptible to a good story. When John Kalsem shared memories forged more than seven decades ago, I was all ears. As he told of his father and grandfather driving cattle to the nearest rail station for transport to Chicago, then catching a ride themselves in the caboose, he painted a scene from another world.

And just like that, I wanted to collect stockyard memorabilia! Who wouldn’t want to? Terrific badges, richly detailed ephemera, match safes, fabulous photographs of cattle, branding irons – all from a fascinating chapter of this nation’s history, and showcased in this issue.

This fever is an occupational hazard. I must constantly steel myself against it. I cannot view a collection without succumbing to its charms. But there is only so much time and money and space. Instead, I collect stories. Those in this issue are a particularly good bunch. Four generations wrapped up in old iron … a great show in New Zealand … rebirth of a 103-year-old steam engine … crawlers abandoned to time … stockyard collectibles. You’re sure to find at least one in the bunch to add to your “favorites” file! FC


First ThingsIn the old iron world, we tend to focus on restoration and preservation. But recycling is an equally important part of this hobby. Collectors in this category were recyclers before it became stylish. Much of that is rooted in two simple realities: Many parts are no longer in production, and those that are can be quite spendy.

Necessity, ’tis said, is the mother of invention. It also spurs creativity. Those who live in world of scale models, for instance, are forever looking for objects they can repurpose and recycle. Jay Hankee (read about his creations in Hay Tool and Cast Iron Seat Collectors Engage in Joint Venture) handcrafts scale model barns. His next project – a Harvestore silo and slurry store – is already on his mind. “I’m always thinking about it,” he says, “looking at what I can use to make pieces out of.”

In South Dakota, Alan Sorensen blends a love for Belgian workhorses with a deep interest in antique horse-drawn implements (read about Alan in A Horse-Drawn Cultivator Collection That Works). In a loop both clever and practical, Alan gets to exercise his horses, play with recycled antiques and raise grain to feed the horses. It is hard to imagine a more effective way in which to immerse oneself into the rhythms of farm life a century ago.

Although most of his collection earns its keep, Alan has a few relics that are for display only. That’s a distinction collector Ron Gittins also understands. His array of garden tractors is divided into workers and display models (check them out in Uncommon Garden Tractor Collection). He’s rescued a rare unit from a life of leisure and uses it year ‘round. When you see a guy mowing with a big smile on his face, that’s a sure sign of somebody who’s figured out how to make work fun – and what is that, if not recycling?

Donor tractors, parts engines, repurposed parts, machinery restored to working condition – I love the way folks in this hobby find a way to use every part but the squeal. But for me, I draw the line at the reel mower. That one remains a display piece. Happy recycling! FC

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


Winter? Who remembers winter?!? It’s show season! And that means a happy jumble of collectors and collections, relics restored and unrestored, new discoveries and warm reunions.

While the general idea of an old iron show is the same from coast to coast, clubs naturally put their own spin on the events, often showcasing local flavor of one kind or another. From the choice of feature tractor or engine to the menu at the concessions stands, regional differences give shows unique flair.

Shows often afford the opportunity to get acquainted with a splinter group of collectors. The Spark Plug Collectors of America, for instance, have an enthusiastic, permanent presence at the Tri-State Gas Engine & Tractor Assn. show in Portland, Indiana, every summer. The Fuller & Johnson Museum at the Badger Steam & Gas Engine Club in Baraboo, Wisconsin, serves as a clubhouse for F&J fans. Then there’s the Antique Caterpillar Machinery Museum at Antique Powerland, Brooks, Oregon … the Connecticut Antique Machinery Assn. is adjacent to the Sloane-Stanley Museum, home of an incredible display of Stanley tools … antique cars, trucks and scooters (and antique construction equipment) are a big sideline at the Florida Flywheelers show. The list goes on and on and on.

If there’s any common denominator among old iron enthusiasts (beyond an abiding affection for ice cream!), it’s their inability to say no.” Engine collectors get interested in antique spark plugs and then make the leap to paper collectibles and suddenly they’re eyeing century-old advertising lithographs and watch fobs.

But you can’t beat that kind of cross-pollination. There’s a real satisfaction that comes in fitting together all the pieces of this hobby’s puzzle. We are drawn like bees to a diverse garden. Before you know it, you’ve learned about a specialized niche, and that can help you connect the dots representing advancements in time, evolving technology and changing needs.

And that’s important, because this hobby is about more than merely preserving machinery. All of the collections, all of the shows, the restorations, the museums, displays and demonstrations – they’re keeping a way of life alive. This country’s agricultural traditions are an essential part of our American heritage. Celebrate that heritage this summer. Check out a new show, a new display, a new museum. Keep the tradition alive! FC

Leslie C. McManus is the editor of Farm Collector magazine. Contact her at or find her on Google+.


While ambling down an aisle of gas engines at a recent show, I saw a little girl, maybe 3 years old, strolling happily along with her parents. During the split second that her parents turned to look in one direction, the child zeroed in on a running engine in the other direction and advanced at a trot, reaching for the flywheel.

It’s about impossible to yell over the cacophony of an engine show. Strollers, golf carts and groups of visitors clogged the aisle. But despite the innumerable distractions that exist at a show, several people saw what was happening. In a reaction so synchronized it might have been choreographed, onlookers and mom sprung into action and the little girl was scooped up just in time.

In this country, every business of any size commits extensive resources to the topic of safety. Those with the highest exposure allocate enormous sums to ensure safety protocols are rigorously observed. Why? Because they know that in the vast majority of circumstances, accidents can be prevented.

It is a lesson we in this hobby would do well to learn. Antique machinery is massive, cantankerous and sometimes unpredictable. Spectators often have absolutely no idea of potential hazards. At every step of the process – from the time you load your trailer to go to the show, to the time you strap the load down for the return trip, be extra careful. When you’re with your display, keep an eye on spectators. When you’re driving on the grounds, keep an eye on spectators. Accidents happen when we’re tired and when we get in a hurry. Think, think and then think again. You cannot be too safe.

We need your help! We’re working on an article on the scrap metal drives of World War II. If you have memories of a drive or if your dad or uncle or granddad or somebody shared firsthand experience of a scrap drive with you, we’d love to hear about it (same goes for photos). Please write or email me at the address below!

And finally, there’s no new editor here – just a new picture. After 12 years, the old one was about wore out! Picture, that is: The editor is good for another 100,000 miles. Hoping to see you this summer as I rack up a few of those myself! FC

Leslie C. McManus is the editor of Farm Collector magazine. Contact her at or find her on Google+.


Most of the freelancers who write for Farm Collector have some connection to agriculture and Jerry Schleicher was no exception. Raised in western Nebraska, Jerry grew up riding horses, branding cattle, milking cows and stacking hay. After college, he built a career as a writer for a variety of farm, livestock and dairy technology magazines. In retirement he contributed the occasional article to Farm Collector.

When Jerry died this winter after a long illness, he was working on an article for us about a traditional sugar beet harvest at the Farm And Ranch Museum, Gering, Nebraska. One of the things I always enjoyed about his work was the context he contributed from personal experience. As we emailed back and forth two weeks before his death, he was unusually expansive in recalling a time largely forgotten.

“I was born in 1946, one of the early baby boomers,” he wrote. “I remember my dad using a 1-row International Harvester beet harvester. Also, going with Dad to the railroad depot in the little town of Lyman, Nebraska, early each summer to claim the four or five Mexican nationals who’d signed up to block and thin our sugar beets with short-handled hoes. We housed them in an old railroad car that had been converted to a labor house, with a hand pump out front and a privy out back. Once a week he’d take them into town to buy groceries. They’d stay two months or so, then Dad would take them back to Lyman to catch the train home to Mexico. They were hard workers given a hard job, but I never heard any of them complain.”

He went on to elaborate on the unusual confluence of events that breathed life into western Nebraska’s sugar beet industry in the early decades of the last century, and I was thrilled as I pictured what would be an uncommonly well-rounded article. The deadline for that piece was probably the only one Jerry ever missed.

Jerry was a cowboy poet (read his work at Cowboy Poetry). In “The Old Walking Plow,” he considered an old plow recycled as yard art. “The calloused hands that tilled these lands live on in our memories. Recalled, somehow, by the walking plow that rests beneath the trees.” An old plow, as it turns out, makes a fine monument – especially for a Nebraska farm boy. FC

Leslie C. McManus is the editor of Farm Collector magazine. Contact her at or find her on Google+.

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Farm Collector is a monthly magazine focusing on antique tractors and all kinds of antique farm equipment. If it's old and from the farm, we're interested in it!

Every month Farm Collector brings you:

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If it's old and from the farm, we're interested in it!

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