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
People sometimes ask how we decide what to include in show coverage. It is a complex and highly refined science. Picture a cross between a timed shopping spree (“Five minutes to fill the cart AND IT’S ALL FREE!”) and a scavenger hunt. I’m on the prowl for the cool stuff — and the cool stuff’s owners. This presents certain challenges. Some shows are as big as Delaware. Some owners don’t bother with signage on their displays. And my cart really needs a well-balanced mix: It can’t be all steak.
I always grab more than I can ever possibly use. Take the voices announcing tractors in the parade at the Kalamazoo Valley Club show (read about this show in John Deere at Kalamazoo Valley Antique Engine & Machinery Show). I was charmed to hear drivers announce their own tractors, a system that neatly eliminated error and ramped up the human interest factor. Walking nearby, I smiled as I listened to voices with regional accents, voices rich in experience and voices filled with pride. Perhaps the sweetest was the voice of the young girl: “This is my granddad’s John Deere Model D …” I knew the quality of those voices, the personal touch they lent to the show, would never fit into a story, but there was room for them in my cart.
Some stories don’t quite make the cut for publication but continue to buzz around my head like a moth around a porch light. The fellow recalling a determined forebear: “He plowed hills so steep that he’d sit on the tractor’s uphill fender. When the tractor rolled over, he’d just fall back. They’d get horses to set the tractor up, put water and fuel back in and go back to work. One summer they swear he upset the tractor three times.”
And then there are the little gems that just make me laugh, like the man recalling a mother who ruled with an iron hand. “My dad died when I was 10 and we were milking 40 cows. By the time I got out of high school, we were up to 100 cows. Every time mom thought one of us boys might get into trouble, she’d buy 10 more cows.”
One thing about the old iron hobby: There is never a shortage of material! FC
Leslie McManus, Editor
It was a dark and stormy
Call me Ishmael.
It was the best of times;
it was the worst of times.
Good stories start in any
number of ways. But in the old iron hobby, the best tales seem to start with a
great find. And the pages of our newest special collector’s edition — Great Finds: Tales of Hunting Old Iron — are packed with ’em.
These are the kinds of
stories, as my father used to say, that draw old men from the fireside and
children from their play. A great find is, by definition, a remarkable
experience; the kind of thing that doesn’t happen every day. Listen closely and
you’ll hear a tale woven of hard work, chance and luck — and usually there’s a
buddy or two, a large body of water and heavy equipment in the mix as well.
Great finds often start as
tiny seeds. They may originate from little more than a wisp of a conversation
overheard decades earlier or a fragment of a vague childhood memory; rumors,
conjecture, theories. Others may roll their eyes and scoff. But the true
believer holds on tight. Next thing you know, he’s wrapping cable around a
90-year-old steam engine and pulling it out of a river or digging an equally
old gas engine out of a collapsed shed deep in the woods.
Drawn from the archives of Farm Collector, Gas Engine Magazine and Steam Traction, nearly two
dozen stories of truly great finds cover every aspect of the old iron hobby.
You’ll read about engines clawed out of the Alaskan wilderness, engines
extracted from rivers and tractors rescued from trees that seem intent on
consuming them. Other stories tell of uncommonly determined collectors who, on
realizing that they might never find the treasure they sought, simply hunkered
down and set to work making replicas from scratch.
Whether you’re looking for a
good read, a bit of inspiration or both, you’ll enjoy Great Finds
immensely. Then clear the decks and settle in. Pass a wicked winter night
or two as an armchair traveler, savoring old iron adventures. After all, who
doesn’t love a good story? FC
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