Years ago, when I was the editor of a rural weekly newspaper, I had a friend who kindly suggested that at least half of the newspaper’s circulation was made up by people who wanted nothing more than to find out what the editor didn’t know at any given time.
That wry wisdom came to mind as I worked with a list of what felt like 20,000 names of people who correctly identified a mystery tool from the June 2014 issue. When I first added it to the What Is It mix, it somehow never occurred to me that a small, simple cream separator might once have been as common on the farm as a shovel or a shed.
Sadly that is just the start of it. You could fill a book with the things I don’t know. While working on this issue alone, for instance, I learned all kinds of stuff. At a show in Tulare, California, in April, I learned about the days when every farm in the area had a small dairy. Excellent displays of dairy collectibles brought that time and place to life for me.
The beef tri-tip: another thing I didn’t know about. A sort of triangular roast from the bottom of the sirloin, it is a California specialty. Grilled and sliced onsite at the Tulare show, it makes a dandy sandwich.
Until we began work on this issue, I didn’t know that a length of limber cane could be used to persuade workhorses driving a hay press to lead themselves. I didn’t know about the connection between Adriance, Platt & Co. and Moline Plow Co. ... or that Myers & Bros. was in the sprayer business as well as hay equipment...or the difference between a wet clutch and a dry clutch...or the patent protection that spelled sweet success for the inventor of an early wind stacker ... or the deliberate installation of an outhouse door (designed always to swing out, not in).
They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks – but none of us are ever too old to learn something new. Here’s hoping you find something new in the old iron in this issue of Farm Collector
Leslie C. McManus is the editor of Farm Collector magazine. Contact her at LMcManus@ogdenpubs.com or find her on Google+.
A couple of new voices have joined the choir: Larry Scheckel from Tomah, Wis., and Gordon Shoger from way down south in Texas are making their debut in this issue of Farm Collector.
As his “threshing day” memoir attests, Larry either has an exceptionally keen memory or took copious notes as a boy of 4. It is clear that the annual event loomed large in his boyhood and impressions of machinery, people and activities were imprinted on his memory. Even idle chatter overheard during lunch breaks half a century ago rings true.
It is easy to picture Larry and his brothers scampering over the farm like a trio of puppies, desperate to be part of the action but mindful of the admonition to “stay out of the way.” Whether you have similar memories or just a fuller understanding of threshing rings, you’ll enjoy Larry’s account of a cherished rural tradition.
Gordon also reaches back across the decades to recall a cherished family member: Dewey, defender of the farmstead. In the process of describing one epic battle, he skillfully alludes to another; both are classic tales of the American farm. In a beautifully written essay, Gordon captures memories familiar to many of us. Don’t be surprised if a lump fills your throat!
And those are just the newbies. Old familiar friends like Bill Vossler, Sam Moore, Clell Ballard and George Wanamaker are in the house as well. They’ve spun tales about the uniquely speedy (and cleverly designed) Friday tractor, early corn planters designed and manufactured by George Brown, a “never say die” 1949 Ford pickup and the Moline Plow Company’s Flying Dutchman line. Farm Collector staffer Matt Kelly rounds out the offering, dropping in on a fast-growing garden tractor display at the Midwest Old Threshers Reunion in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa.
So take a break from the mowing. The grass will wait. Indulge in a bit of time travel in this issue of Farm Collector. It’s summer, and the living is easy! FC
Leslie C. McManus is the editor of Farm Collector magazine. Contact her at LMcManus@ogdenpubs.com or find her on Google+.
As I read Dr. Graeme Quick’s article on development of the Charter farm tractor – quite likely the world’s first liquid-fueled internal combustion engine tractor (see John Charter: Charter Member), I got hung up on one detail. “John Charter persuaded W&O management to take on engine manufacture after a visit to the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition, where he and the office manager saw an Otto engine working. They ordered one on the spot.”
On the spot. Charter — not yet 40 — ordered the engine on the spot, without having researched the device online. Without having a paid sales rep to educate them on the engine’s design and operation. Without the confidence that comes when every company in town has placed the same order. With no charge card and no expedited shipping.
Once the engine arrived — weeks later? Months later? — there was no negotiation with local agencies to get three-phase electricity installed. The manufacturer didn’t send out a trainer to work with onsite staff. There was no 24/7 technical support; shoot, there was no phone, Alexander Graham Bell having just refined his invention that year. When the inevitable technical hiccups came, Sterling, Ill., must have felt like the far side of the moon. Had any other person in Sterling even heard of an Otto engine in 1876?
You don’t have to “compare and contrast” for long before you start giving old John Charter a pat on the back instead of some kind of consolation prize for being born before his time. After all, he was the kind of man who made things happen — without Internet, without cell phones, without electronic bank transfers, without technicians and without overnight delivery. He rolled up his sleeves and next thing you know, his company held one of the earliest patents issued in the U.S. (in 1884) for a liquid-fueled engine. Then he went to work, creating markets for his company’s invention.
Today’s incarnation of John Charter lives in airports, uses a Bluetooth, embraces cutting edge technology, thinks globally. Nearly 150 years later, it’s a different world. Plant John Charter in 2014 and his head would spin. But some things never change. Before long, one suspects, he’d be making things happen. FC
And now, the sordid truth. As a kid, I was cruelly disadvantaged. Taking a tip from what is common practice today, I can blame my parent for this woeful state of affairs. My father worked in town. Consequently, I grew up safely within the city limits of a small town in Kansas — not on a farm, as did many of my classmates.
The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. My farm friends may have envied my close proximity to the municipal pool, the public library and the soda fountain. I, on the other hand, was in a constant fever of wistfulness for 4-H meetings, grange square dances and — be still my heart — farm outbuildings.
My childhood home had an attached garage. While the garage had its attractions — an interesting array of old hand drills and wood rasps, a World War II Army trunk, and an enormous deep freeze where my dad thought he could safely stash a quart of ice cream and I thought I could safely sneak the occasional scoop — it had virtually no aesthetic appeal. Nor did it offer any interest to a kid absolutely fascinated by barns, sheds and silos.
My one and only silo exploration, made at an age still measured in single digits, was met by mass excitement of a negative variety. A cluster of adults swarmed the structure’s bottom rung, imploring my immediate return to terra firma. The source of their panic was absolutely impossible to discern. It had been an amusing climb but there was nothing to see and, after a certain point, nowhere to go.
Trips to a friend’s farm home were far more fruitful. We romped through horse stalls and haymow; climbed ladders, swung on ropes as big around as my wrist. On shearing day, I’d get a chance to stomp wool in a bag I was pretty sure was 50 feet tall. My friend, I suspected then and know now, was immeasurably rich.
So when George Wanamaker sent an article delving into decades-old plans for farm outbuildings of every variety, it was a lock for this issue (see The Many Uses of Farm Buildings) of Farm Collector. The years fell away as I studied floor plans and imagined interiors. Take a close look; you may recognize one of these barns or sheds. Heck, your collection might even be housed in one: I know my memories are! FC
Negative 25. It’s a lovely thing to see when you step on the scales or receive an invoice with a credit balance or view your opponent’s point total. It’s considerably less charming to see that figure on the thermometer just before daybreak on a February morning, as I did today.
Negative 25 is the kind of thing it’s hard to shake loose of but I’m determined not to let that number take over my day. It helped, a little, to be reminded that here at Farm Collector, the staff is just days away from putting the May issue into production. May! “Think of that,” our artist crowed cheerily. “We’re almost half done with this year.” Brave words but cold — very cold — comfort.
May. I tried to remember what May meant. In past lifetimes, the mower would be back to work on a regular basis in May, which would mean that the grass would be green then. Call me skeptical — shoot, call me Nanook: I feel like an Eskimo — but I’m not convinced this frozen wasteland will be thawed by May.
Then my glance fell onto a copy of the 2014 Farm Collector Show Directory, just exactly what the doctor ordered. Tripping over my snow boots in a rush to get it in my hands, I fanned the pages and took in the galaxy of old iron shows offered in the U.S. this year.
The book took on a life of it’s own. Pages opened as if guided by an invisible hand to Arizona, Florida, California, Texas. I weighed the odds of successfully convincing the boss of the critically urgent need to attend a show in the Sunbelt, ideally in the next week. I pictured palm trees, cactus, convertibles.
Then I regained my senses. Negative 25 tends to keep a girl grounded in reality. Still, I got more than a few good ideas during that perusal of the directory; I folded down corners of pages, began planning itineraries. Sooner or later, this bear of a winter will inevitably draw to a close and it’ll be time to hit the road. Get your hands on a copy of the Show Directory and pick a few “don’t miss” shows. Maybe we’ll see you at one! FC
In February, I do not remember what 95 degrees feels like. It is all but unimaginable to me; memory of it seems benign and innocent (“summertime, and the livin’ is easy …”) — nothing at all like the oppressive reality. This came to mind as I recently considered a photo taken at the Quinebaug Valley Engineers Assn. show in the middle of a heat wave last July.
The photo (see Zagray Farm Museum: A Living Link to the Past) showed a Nelson truck loader dating to the 1930s, reportedly used to load shoveled snow into dump trucks. In the 95-degree heat of that July day, just before taking the photo, I stared dumbly at the Nelson and tried in vain to envision snow in such massive quantities that dump trucks and machinery were needed to remove it.
As this winter has proved, I simply wasn’t imaginative enough. Being imaginative was, however, no trick at all for the three bachelor brothers who previously owned the land where the QVEA now holds its shows near Colchester, Conn. The Zagray brothers never saw a piece of old iron they didn’t love enough to add to their collection.
The collection, though, was never intended as a showroom. Pieces were acquired on their merits alone or for possible utility in a new application. One can only imagine the thoughts and plans and schemes that went through the minds of three men utterly captivated by machinery and undistracted by womenfolk and children.
Imagination is also in no short supply among members of the QVEA. The Zagray farm is today a living museum operated by the QVEA and the Colchester Historical Society. But it’s not a place where you’ll go see a petting zoo and quilts, crops and pastoral displays. Instead, the 200-acre complex showcases farm, construction and industrial machinery of the early 1900s in an authentic setting — or at least fairly authentic, as members of the QVEA toiled endlessly to clean up the property while preserving a unique resource.
In the process, the group has created a fascinating backdrop for a series of popular old iron shows each year. A preserved machine shop, cupola furnace, sawmill and working construction equipment: It just goes to show what can be accomplished with a lot of elbow grease — and a little imagination! FC
Snow needs a good PR firm. With the possible exception of those who run sideline plowing operations and kids looking for a day off from school, it’s hard to find anyone enthusiastic about the stuff. If you’re in the latter camp, this issue of Farm Collector may make you change your tune a little bit.
In Ford Model A on Snowshoes, writer Bill Vossler takes us dashing over the snow — in Ford conversions, complete with skis and tracks. Today we tend to look at these relics in a recreational context, almost as the forerunner of the modern snowmobile. Certainly collector groups in the northeast appear to have rollicking good times with their restored snow conversions at winter meets and gatherings.
Back in the day, however, snow conversions were designed for the serious business of rural mail delivery and essential transportation. Those old enough to remember doctors making house calls may never have seen a snow conversion in use, but they have a clear understanding of the importance of such contraptions. Advancing technology soon relegated the snow conversions to the back of the barn, but for a short period of time, they, well, carried the mail.
Children’s sleds, on the other hand, were designed for nothing but fun. Sensing a ready market among their rural customer base, early farm equipment manufacturers produced sleds during factory downtime and included them in their catalogs and promotional pieces.
In producing sleds at the turn of the last century, workmanship more typically devoted to pinstriping, casting and woodworking was poured into playthings for children. The resulting artistry has a charm all its own, one that might well make you nostalgic for a time you never knew. In Antique Sleds Refurbished with Care, we look at Steve Weeber’s collection of sleds restored to better-than-new condition — and imagine the delight these brought to children a century ago.
The holidays are fast upon us. Whether your dreams are of a white Christmas or something considerably more temperate, all of us at Farm Collector send our very best wishes to you and yours in the year ahead. Merry Christmas! FC