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
Welcome to the new FarmCollector.com! Don’t fret – the content’s all the same, but our fresh, new look will make your experience here better.
From the main page, navigation is easy. We’ve put the articles from the latest issue front and center, and you can see the latest content and blogs right there, too. You can scroll down to see the best content from our archives, because the new site allows us to highlight our favorite articles from issues past.
At the top of the page you can choose the category of content you want to explore. On each category page you’ll find relevant articles, videos and products.
I don’t have to tell you how special the old iron community is, but our new site allows digital communication to be even easier. Connect with us on Facebook or Google+, leave comments and see what others have to say in the “My Community” box on the right side of the screen.
We’ve even updated our newsletter to reflect our new, clean look. If you don’t get your free weekly dose of Old Iron News, be sure to sign up on our Newsletter subscription site.
Be sure to check out our sister publication, GasEngineMagazine.com, as they have also received the fresh, new look.
Let’s take just one more jaunt before the weather gets foul — back to St. Louis of the past! In this issue, we jump on the bandwagon with both feet, celebrating the 250th anniversary of the founding of the Gateway to the West.
When it comes to tractors, engines and implements, other U.S. cities have larger stature as industrial giants. But situated in the middle of the country and located at the confluence of two major waterways, St. Louis held its own in the burgeoning industrial boom of the 1800s. In this issue, we take a look at the city’s role in farm mechanization.
Home to some of the best-known wagon builders in the U.S. and geographically positioned as a sort of jumping-off point, St. Louis enjoys a rich history in the story of the western migration. No one tells that story better than historian David Sneed. In this issue he focuses on six leading wagon manufacturers and digs in deep to give us a look at a highly evolved and competitive industry.
When it comes to antique tractors and engines, the most obscure companies often make the most interesting story. Regular contributor Bill Vossler has uncovered fascinating details of early, little-known manufacturers, developing a remarkably comprehensive snapshot of St. Louis’ involvement in farm mechanization in the late 1800s and early 1900s in Farm Equipment Manufacturers in St. Louis.
Longtime columnist Sam Moore completes the trifecta, giving the Dazey butter churn its 15 minutes of fame. A consummate researcher, Sam has crafted a richly detailed portrait of Nathan Dazey and traces the rise and fall of his iconic company — including its role in the St. Louis business community.
Our celebration of St. Louis would not be complete without a contribution from David Schnakenberg, world-class collector of antique farm advertising. A piece from his collection brings Whitman Agricultural Co. back to life. Whitman was a major exhibitor at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (otherwise known as the St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904). And that, of course, is the event that gave birth to the ice cream cone. What’s not to celebrate? Meet us in St. Louis! FC
What do you like about antique farm equipment? For some of you, it’s the history. Others are drawn in by the nostalgia factor. For me, it’s the community of collectors. I am continually amazed by the way total strangers become fast friends when linked by bonds of old iron. A spirit of friendly cooperation and a “can do” resourcefulness makes anything seem possible.
Sooner or later, just about every collector runs into a wall. Whether the engine won’t run right or you need parts information, whether you’re looking for details on production runs or correct colors, the folks in this hobby can’t wait to get you back on track. Doesn’t matter who you are, what you do or how many tractors you have: Ask around and you’ll find somebody who is happy to help.
Here at Farm Collector, we see it all the time. Earlier this year, for instance, Erwin Fullerton sent a photo of a cast iron seat he couldn’t identify. After we published it in our Letters section, he heard from 10 readers who took the time to reach out to another collector and share a wealth of information with him.
With the possible exception of ice cream, the people of the old iron community like nothing better than lending a hand. If they can’t answer your question, they’ll do their best to find someone who can. In the outside world, there are jealousies and tightly guarded secrets. In the old iron hobby, for the most part, we live in an enchanted land where people go out of their way to be helpful.
That community is all around you. Tap into it at shows. Find it in the pages of this magazine. Computer savvy? Join our online community at FarmCollector.com. You’ll discover a wealth of information as well as “My Community,” where you can post a comment or question and “chat” with people all over the country. Connections like those are what make this community strong! FC
The lowly wheel gets little respect, except in the eyes of collector Denis Schrank. Denis — whose wheel collection is featured in this edition of Farm Collector, is absolutely head over heels in love with wheels. After you get a look at his collection, and consider the wheel’s enormous functionality, you may start looking at wheels in a new light.
As utilitarian as the sole of a shoe, the wheel gets little attention until (sorry!) it squeaks. But what’s made more of a difference to the early farmer? Imagine transporting materials before a wheelbarrow or wheeled cart existed. You’d be limited to what you could carry, or what could be lashed to an animal.
Before the wheel, most people pretty well stayed put. After the wheel, crop production began to rise, markets drew from bigger areas and travel expanded. I am reminded of the old timers who’d speak wistfully of “the good old days” before wide availability of the car in the 1930s and ‘40s changed everything. Just think of the societal change that resulted from the debut of the wheel!
Today, we tend to take wheels for granted. There was a time, though, when people had a keen appreciation for the simple object. The fact that so many strays survived is evidence of that. Wheels left around an old farmstead were not abandoned as much as they were saved, the wheel being one of those things that is pretty hard for the layman to make from scratch.
That said, check out the blacksmith-made wheel in Denis’ collection, and another handmade specimen with spokes formed from one long rod. Admire the artistry of early industrial design that’s showcased in others and puzzle over one with spring-like spokes. Today’s spinners feel a bit gaudy in comparison.
As is the case with so many relics from the past, this one is full of surprises. Enjoy this new perspective on the lowly wheel! FC
Through a series of random events, my brother-in-law Barry has become a collector of hay carriers. He has half a dozen rusty carriers and a couple sections of track. Recently we visited a nearby collector who has, I believe, every hay carrier ever made. All are immaculately, intricately restored and handsomely displayed. Later, I asked Barry if he had gotten ideas on restoration and display of his relics. “Oh hell,” he muttered. “I’m just going to go home and throw mine away.”
I know him better than that. Life and other projects will inevitably get in the way, but sooner or later, he’ll get around to sandblasting and painting. One of these days those carriers will be displayed in his shop. Rescued from local barns that were being torn down, they’ll remind him of neighbors he knew as a boy in rural Illinois.
It’s a scenario that plays itself out in sheds, shops and garages across the country, and I love it as much as I love the collections so vast and so handsome that they should be the subjects of coffee table books. The out-of-context piece — lovingly restored, proudly displayed — fairly shouts, “I have a story to tell!”
Take Mark Meyer’s Red River Special threshing machine. Look at the thresher today and it’s impossible not to make it the centerpiece of your imagination as you picture it surrounded by a crew in full production. One of three vintage thresher enthusiasts featured in this issue of Farm Collector, Mark bought the 1942 thresher at auction for $350. Once he got it home, he set to work restoring it. For two years, working nights and weekends, he wire-brushed and hand-painted the machine’s angle iron.
Hay carriers, threshing machines, tractors, steam engines, windmills, hog oilers, gas engines — you name it, there’s room under the old iron tent for all of it. Your collection may be limited to one special piece – or it may fill sheds. Your treasures may be rough and ready — or they may have sheens that shout “better than new.” The beauty of this hobby is the way all the categories and all the collectibles are interwoven to form a rich tapestry. If you’ve played even a small part in the process, take a bow. You’re helping preserve one of the finest of American traditions! FC