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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+.


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 or find her on Google+.


“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 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!

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

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