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4/7/2015

Once again, my boss — who operates with a certain maddening consistency — has denied my proposal for a trip to explore the fascinating history and heritage of old iron in the Hawaiian Islands. But he offered an acceptable compromise, so my 2015 show season began in Apache Junction, Arizona, at the Arizona Early Day Gas Engine & Tractor Assn. show in March.

Several years had passed since my last old iron foray into the Southwest and it was a thrill to pick up where I left off. We all have favorite shows and it is a sweet homecoming to return to those every year. But when you stretch your legs and get to a different part of the country, that’s when you begin to see the big picture of America’s agricultural heritage.

Unique conditions demand unique equipment. Track-style tractors were developed to navigate bog land in California’s Sacramento River delta. Self-leveling combines work their way across steep grades in Washington. Hi-crop tractors glide over fields in Florida. Orchard tractors are of little use in Oklahoma, but indispensible in Oregon. Garden tractors are especially big in the Northeast, Great Lakes and Pacific Northwest.

Regional differences extend to lines of machinery as well. In the 1920s, heavy equipment only rarely travelled cross-country. Rumelys were uncommon in the West; Holt and Best tractors were unknown in the East. Take in a show in the Southwest or on the West Coast today and prepare to be dazzled by the variety of early crawlers showcasing a fascinating heritage of industrial design.

Implements vary according to topography and crop. Stationary engines tackle different jobs in different parts of the country, providing power for everything from mining to grinding corn to pumping water. Memorabilia often reflects local manufacturers and industry. Prevailing weather conditions also play a role. Original pieces from the Southwest and the High Plains are likely to have a sun-baked patina; those from the Southeast can be gnarly with rust.

Plans can change, but I expect to take in the Half Century of Progress show in Rantoul, Illinois, this August, and the Midwest Old Threshers Reunion, Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, in September. And if you have a minute, drop a line to my boss. Let him know of your deep interest in old iron in Hawaii. Let’s get something rolling for next winter! FC


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



3/10/2015

“The past,” a writer once noted, “is a foreign country. They do things differently there.” That observation resonated for me as I learned about the Blitz Fogger, an after-market device used in the 1960s to disseminate a cloud of pesticide from a mower (read more in Blitz Fogger Devices) . It is hard to remember a time when clouds of pesticide were not considered a threat to anything but insects, but that time surely existed, and most of us have at least vague memories of it.

Clay Brown’s interest in Blitz Fogger products is a fascinating sidebar to the garden tractor collection he and his daughter ride herd over. The Blitz devices and memorabilia he’s gathered capture the essence of the 1960s as surely as steel wheels describe the days before tractors had rubber tires.

And that is the beauty of “add on” or “goes with” collections. They set the scene; they fill in the gaps. At the 2014 Red Power Round Up, for instance, a display focusing on International’s Electrall system spoke volumes about the final days before the independent PTO became common. What would otherwise have been a rather dry display of handsomely restored tractors suddenly became greater than the sum of its parts.

Collectors like Clay Brown are driven. Once they’ve zeroed in on a given item, they simply have to have every related relic they can put their hands on. Passion like that creates context for the rest of us, especially when all the pieces of the puzzle are assembled at a show. Surround a tractor, engine or steam engine with relevant memorabilia, and the past snaps to life.

It may take a bit of doing. Clay, for instance, had a vinyl banner produced from a fragile paper collectible. Small items may need to be put under glass. But it’s only March: You still have time before show season 2015 gets underway. Chances are, you already have pieces that would complement your display. With spring on the way, it’s the perfect time to start poking around in the shed. Happy hunting! FC


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



2/11/2015

Man on a flying machine

Relax: The gent in the photo is not the new editor. But he is a sort of mascot for this issue. We’ll call him the Chairman of the Fun Department. He’s here to remind you that your hobby should be fun! It should be that tantalizing imp of an idea that skips around in your subconscious when you’re doing the things you have to do.

That said, not everything you do in your hobby will be like a day on the beach. Old iron is notoriously demanding. I have yet to meet the person, for instance, who becomes giddy at the prospect of sandblasting tractor parts. But if an accounting of your fun ratio turns up more dread than delight, it might be time for a change. If the mere thought of your inventory of works in progress makes you shudder, it may be time to do something different.

In this issue, you’ll meet folks who are having fun with their hobby. Woody Cone enjoys the challenge of restoring implements. His first step? Research. He learns all he can about the piece before he puts a hand on it. He doesn’t have space to house a big collection, so the pieces he works on often go to other homes, but he’s still having fun.

The Mitchell family of Kindred, North Dakota, pours considerable time and effort into getting a 1913 Gaar-Scott steam engine ready for a show every summer – and it’s not even their engine. It’s clearly a labor of love, but they wouldn’t do it if they weren’t having fun.

And there’s no doubt that collector Ronn Dillavou is having fun. Amassing a broad collection of farm relics, he has fun with the hunt, the restoration and the display. And he does it his way; he makes his collection meet his needs, not the other way around.

Looking for a way to boost the fun factor in your hobby? This issue of Farm Collector is a good way to start! FC


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



1/13/2015

At this time of year, many of us cap off a season of excess with infinitely well-intentioned New Year’s resolutions, some of which actually remain in force for a week or more.

In a tradition that presumably connects us with our Puritan forebears, New Year’s resolutions invariably speak to our better but generally little known natures. This year, we announce in brave tones, we will give up all bad habits and embrace habits that are good for us but which have little or no appeal. We will lose weight. We will exercise. We will save more and spend less. We will clean up our language, our sheds, our behavior. In short, we will do that which we do not want to do. Ha! Like that’s going to happen.

There is always more than one way to skin a cat. To heck with weight loss and exercise. Why wouldn’t we resolve to do more of the things that make us happy? Instead of a list of grim dictates that are as likely to succeed as a snowball in hell, consider resolutions that might actually produce results.

Resolve to have more fun this year. Acquire more old iron, even if it needs massive amounts of work. Just think what you could accomplish if you spent as much time on your hobby as you would on a resolution-driven exercise program!

Resolve to do more of the things you enjoy doing. When you’re at a show next summer and 2 o’clock rolls around, go directly to the ice cream stand. Those vendors depend on your support: They have bills to pay and kids in college! Have some ice cream and make good on your resolutions, all in one fell swoop.

Resolve to spend more time with the people who make you smile. You can spend hours cleaning a shed, mowing the pasture or painting the house – or you can spend at least some of those hours with people you enjoy. Ten years from now, memories of time spent toiling will not bring a smile to your face.

Insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results. This year, reconsider your resolutions. Here’s hoping the new year is a perfect fit for your very best intentions! FC



12/10/2014

Childhood ended when he was in the seventh grade. That fall, his dad came to him and said he’d be picking corn instead of going to school. For six weeks, chores and breakfast were out of the way by dawn so he and his brothers could be in the field at first light. The crew took a break for lunch at midday, returning to the corn until daylight faded. Head home, haul in corn, do chores, dinner at nearly 8. Then mom cleared the table and produced a sheaf of homework assignments she’d picked up at school.

A couple years later, the Iowa farm boy – by then a seasoned picker – read an article in the big city daily newspaper about a national cornhusking contest. The best huskers in the world competing against each other! “Dad,” he said, “they hold these picking contests all over the U.S. Let’s go to one and see how fast they pick corn!” The farmer was unmoved. “We’ve got corn to pick here,” he said, and that was that.

The boy picked corn that fall and for a few more. He found his way to college; graduated, started a career, married, raised a family. Decades passed. Early this fall, he entered a state cornhusking contest, competing in the men’s 75-and-older division – and surprised himself by taking first place. Nearly 75 years after reading an article in the newspaper about the national cornhusking contest, he’d finally be going to one – as a state qualifier.

The national contest was held on a bright October morning. The man, now in his 80s, lumbered to the stand of corn he was assigned to pick. Wedged between a wall of corn and a wagon drawn by a pair of mules, he set to work. He talked to himself as he worked the row, cursing corn so green that the husks were all but impossible to remove. “Dad would never have picked this,” he muttered. Watching from nearby, his daughter tried to temper his intensity. “Breathe,” she called out. “Remember to breathe!”

In 10 minutes, the timer sounded. The man finished in the top five, satisfying a personal goal. “You know, I’ve dreamed of this for 70 years,” he said. “Don’t ever give up on your dreams!” And with that, an Iowa farm boy’s irrepressible grin stretched across his face. “The best huskers in the world!” FC



11/11/2014

This much I know is true: A collector can set up a one-of-a-kind display at a show. It might be, say, a rarified hi-crop tractor built in ridiculously small numbers. It might be the only gas engine of its kind known to exist. It might be an impossibly early steam engine, immaculately restored. But if, 10 feet away, a guy tosses a gnarly old piece of rusted iron on a tarp in front of his display, with a hand-lettered sign that asks, “what is it?,” that’s where the crowd gathers.

The unknown has almost as much appeal as the hunt. At Farm Collector, that point is driven home on a very regular basis. Every day, we receive queries from readers. “I found this in my granddad’s barn… What is it?” And that’s the inspiration behind our newest special edition, Field Guide to Mystery Farm Tools II, just out this fall. Showcasing more than 160 additional tools, the new Field Guide is a great companion to our first Field Guide, published in 2010.

If there is a common denominator in this hobby, it might just be mystery tools. When we pick up that unknown relic, we become old iron archaeologists. Why? Because antique tools teach us how things were done a century ago. The role of a tractor or a gas engine or a windmill is obvious. But fencing tools teach us how early fences were constructed. A collapsible wire spool teaches us how the wire used to build those fences was sold at the local hardware or general store. And handmade cowpokes teach us how livestock were persuaded to leave those fences alone.

Change is a wily critter, slipping in, introducing new, banishing old. In the process, that which was once familiar is pushed aside and soon forgotten. Seventy years ago, acres and acres and acres of corn were picked and husked by hand. Today, the job is done by massive equipment guided by GPS. Just about everybody today knows what a GPS does; few have any idea what a husking hook is, or how absolutely essential it once was to the harvest. Our new Field Guide aims to clear some of that fog. In its pages you’ll find more than one key to the past. Go ahead: do some time traveling!



10/14/2014

In production of each issue of Farm Collector, the editor’s column invariably brings up the rear. In a deadline-driven panic, the writer scrambles to herd ideas that have had run of the place for weeks. Sometimes they pull together in lock-step formation and march neatly onto the page. Other times, it’s anarchy. This is one of the latter times.

A letter to the editor arrived via email. The sender recounted a farming experience from the 1950s, recalling extreme toil and equipment primitive by today’s standards. As I considered life in a different world, I also enjoyed the irony of a letter to the editor from an old gent, sent not only by email but via cell phone no less.

At a recent antique tractor show, I watched a man and his young son intently studying a new tractor and combine in a dealer display. The timeless scene has been replayed literally countless times since the dawn of manufactured farm equipment. But in a sudden instant of time travel, I imagined a man from a century ago eyeing that new tractor, and wondered what he’d make of it. How much we take for granted!

Then there was a set of old photos. Photos taken 90 years ago were serious business, not the disposable fodder of today. Two focused quite deliberately on condition of a field after a roller and disc harrow had done their work. Another showed a man behind a horse-drawn cultivator working his way through a field of corn at a pace so achingly slow that he could probably name each plant as he advanced. My mind snagged on the intersection of primitive, comparatively fragile equipment and the force of sheer determination.

Simple, heartfelt, poignant memories shared in response to a recent article on threshing rings. “I prided myself on being able to load a load of bundles that looked good and square,” wrote a 91-year-old man, recalling his early experiences on a threshing crew. Another recalled the threshing ring his family formed, working with eight close neighbors. “Back then,” he added, as if explanation were needed, “neighbors helped each other.”

At its best, old iron is a vehicle that carries us back. Enjoy the journey! FC


Leslie McManus is the editor of Farm Collector magazine. Contact her at LMcManus@ogdenpubs.com or find her on Google+.


Send us your show photos!

Don’t miss your chance to share your photography with the readers of Farm Collector! Deadline for our annual show photo issue is Friday, Nov. 7. Send your favorite photos from the past show season: We’ll print as many as we have space for in our February 2015 issue.

Send good quality prints (no photos from home printers will be accepted) to Farm Collector Show Photos, 1503 SW 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609. Email high resolution digital images to editor@farmcollector.com.

With each photo, please send as much detailed information as possible, including make and model of equipment; names of identifiable people; name date and location of the show. Please include a phone number and email address so we can contact you if we have questions. Photos of children under age 18 can be published only if accompanied by a release signed by the child’s parent; contact us if you need a release form. Need more information? Please call us at (800) 682-4704.





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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!

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

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