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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.


Leslie C. McManusThe hunt: That’s what most collectors enjoy most about their hobby. We are all constantly on the prowl for that new shiny thing. But if there’s anything that drives the Excite-o-meter’s arrow into the red zone, it’s the quest for unidentified treasure, the thing we don’t even know we want until we see it.

It starts with nothing more than a hankering. There’s no agenda; no wish list. One day you decide to snoop around a ratty old antique shop, or stick your head in an old barn or give an unaccountably dense tree line a closer look. You don’t know what you might find; chances are you’ll find nothing. But chances are equally good that you’ll find something.

I’ve heard that there are purists, folks who acquire only those items that fit their collection like a glove. And one day I’ll probably actually meet one. In the meantime, it seems everyone I know can be charmed by the odd, the rare, the unusual, the thing that doesn’t fit.

Barn finds are particular prizes. If the new treasure is found buried in an old shed or barn after being tucked away and forgotten for decades, so much the better. Beauty remains in the eye of the beholder, but barn finds possess a certain cachet. The barn find is the piece that escaped the scrapper. Often it has enjoyed protection from the elements, and generally its life history is well known.

There is, it should be noted, always the chance that the random foray won’t pay off. You may spend the better part of a day chasing dead leads and backing out of box canyons. Accessing private property requires observance of protocols; phone calls, voice mail and other contacts slow the process. Shop proprietors are notoriously independent and are as likely to be off-duty as on.

In this case, you don’t have to keep an eye on the prize. The hunt’s the thing. Don’t be afraid to go on an occasional wild goose chase. That’s what wild geese were made for! FC

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


The folks who claim “bigger isn’t better” haven’t been to the Half Century of Progress show. In the world of antique farm equipment, the Half Century show redefines the notion of “big.” Sprawling over hundreds of acres at a former Air Force base, the show attracts big crowds, big tractors and big implements.

The show would be a natural in Texas, where they say everything is bigger, but in fact it’s held in Rantoul, Illinois. For one week, thousands of people pour into the town from all over the country. What brings them? The chance to see old iron in action.

With a unique facility (When was the last time you saw a daily tractor parade on an airport runway?) and hundreds of acres for demonstrations, the Half Century show is a powerful magnet for old iron. People come from all over the U.S. for the opportunity to put antique tractors, steam engines, combines and implements through their paces. There are crops to harvest and land to work.

The show’s schedule also lends a unique allure. The Half Century show is held only every other year; you can’t build it in into your annual show rotation. And a lot of things can change in two years. Maybe displays you remember will be back next time; maybe not. There is a tangible feeling in the air that you’re seeing something special, that what you see on any given day may never occur again in quite the same way.

And then there’s the flag. The world’s biggest flying American flag careens over the grounds, supported by two cranes. It is a mesmerizing focal point. If there is any breeze at all, the flag is moving, lazily wrapping in on itself, unfurling, heaving, buckling, puffing, sagging and rising, as if it were a living thing.

Every show has its own personality, but the Half Century of Progress truly stands in a class by itself. Read more about the show!

As we wind down another year, our thoughts turn to family and friends and memories of days gone by. The people in the old iron hobby are among the best in the world, and it is an honor and a pleasure to call you our friends. All of us at Farm Collector send our warmest greetings for a merry Christmas and happy New Year! FC

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


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.

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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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