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This much I know is true: A collector can set up a one-of-a-kind display at a show. It might be, say, a rarified hi-crop tractor built in ridiculously small numbers. It might be the only gas engine of its kind known to exist. It might be an impossibly early steam engine, immaculately restored. But if, 10 feet away, a guy tosses a gnarly old piece of rusted iron on a tarp in front of his display, with a hand-lettered sign that asks, “what is it?,” that’s where the crowd gathers.

The unknown has almost as much appeal as the hunt. At Farm Collector, that point is driven home on a very regular basis. Every day, we receive queries from readers. “I found this in my granddad’s barn… What is it?” And that’s the inspiration behind our newest special edition, Field Guide to Mystery Farm Tools II, just out this fall. Showcasing more than 160 additional tools, the new Field Guide is a great companion to our first Field Guide, published in 2010.

If there is a common denominator in this hobby, it might just be mystery tools. When we pick up that unknown relic, we become old iron archaeologists. Why? Because antique tools teach us how things were done a century ago. The role of a tractor or a gas engine or a windmill is obvious. But fencing tools teach us how early fences were constructed. A collapsible wire spool teaches us how the wire used to build those fences was sold at the local hardware or general store. And handmade cowpokes teach us how livestock were persuaded to leave those fences alone.

Change is a wily critter, slipping in, introducing new, banishing old. In the process, that which was once familiar is pushed aside and soon forgotten. Seventy years ago, acres and acres and acres of corn were picked and husked by hand. Today, the job is done by massive equipment guided by GPS. Just about everybody today knows what a GPS does; few have any idea what a husking hook is, or how absolutely essential it once was to the harvest. Our new Field Guide aims to clear some of that fog. In its pages you’ll find more than one key to the past. Go ahead: do some time traveling!


In production of each issue of Farm Collector, the editor’s column invariably brings up the rear. In a deadline-driven panic, the writer scrambles to herd ideas that have had run of the place for weeks. Sometimes they pull together in lock-step formation and march neatly onto the page. Other times, it’s anarchy. This is one of the latter times.

A letter to the editor arrived via email. The sender recounted a farming experience from the 1950s, recalling extreme toil and equipment primitive by today’s standards. As I considered life in a different world, I also enjoyed the irony of a letter to the editor from an old gent, sent not only by email but via cell phone no less.

At a recent antique tractor show, I watched a man and his young son intently studying a new tractor and combine in a dealer display. The timeless scene has been replayed literally countless times since the dawn of manufactured farm equipment. But in a sudden instant of time travel, I imagined a man from a century ago eyeing that new tractor, and wondered what he’d make of it. How much we take for granted!

Then there was a set of old photos. Photos taken 90 years ago were serious business, not the disposable fodder of today. Two focused quite deliberately on condition of a field after a roller and disc harrow had done their work. Another showed a man behind a horse-drawn cultivator working his way through a field of corn at a pace so achingly slow that he could probably name each plant as he advanced. My mind snagged on the intersection of primitive, comparatively fragile equipment and the force of sheer determination.

Simple, heartfelt, poignant memories shared in response to a recent article on threshing rings. “I prided myself on being able to load a load of bundles that looked good and square,” wrote a 91-year-old man, recalling his early experiences on a threshing crew. Another recalled the threshing ring his family formed, working with eight close neighbors. “Back then,” he added, as if explanation were needed, “neighbors helped each other.”

At its best, old iron is a vehicle that carries us back. Enjoy the journey! FC

Leslie McManus is the editor of Farm Collector magazine. Contact her at or find her on Google+.

Send us your show photos!

Don’t miss your chance to share your photography with the readers of Farm Collector! Deadline for our annual show photo issue is Friday, Nov. 7. Send your favorite photos from the past show season: We’ll print as many as we have space for in our February 2015 issue.

Send good quality prints (no photos from home printers will be accepted) to Farm Collector Show Photos, 1503 SW 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609. Email high resolution digital images to

With each photo, please send as much detailed information as possible, including make and model of equipment; names of identifiable people; name date and location of the show. Please include a phone number and email address so we can contact you if we have questions. Photos of children under age 18 can be published only if accompanied by a release signed by the child’s parent; contact us if you need a release form. Need more information? Please call us at (800) 682-4704.


Life is all about perspectives. In this issue of Farm Collector, we look at two perspectives of the old iron hobby: that of a new, young collector and that of the collector who, for whatever reason, considers disposal of his collection.

Idaho freelance writer Cecil Hicks brings us the story of Bryce Frazier (Addicted to Old Iron), who at 16 has a firm grip on his hobby. He’s bought and restored tractors, worked on old engines and built a shed to house his collection. Part-time jobs finance his hobby with an occasional assist from a pair of doting grandmas.

Teenagers don’t typically choose to spend much time with people outside their age group. But Bryce is an exception to the rule. He’s become an active member of a local tractor club where he is by far the youngest member. It’s hard to know who learns more from whom in that scenario!

As you read about this young man, you may begin to give some thought to what your collection might look like had you started at age 12. That’s coulda, shoulda, woulda territory. Instead, consider what you might do at the other end of the collecting spectrum: the day when you decide enough is enough.

Whether the allure fades or your situation changes, sooner or later you’ll probably face the need to dispose of a collection. (That rumbling you hear is the collective chorus of groans from one coast to the other from people who’d rather take a beating than put a collection in reverse.) And unlike the day you hauled each treasure home, there’s not much fun about sending it the other way.

George Wanamaker knows: He’s been a diligent student of collection disposal through his involvement in the Mid-West Tool Collectors Assn., and speaks knowledgeably about the responsibilities of being a collector — including the day when you decide to leave those ranks. In Sell Your Collection the Right Way, George touches on the most important points of the disposal process, presents options and shares common pitfalls to avoid. Good stuff, and never too early to think about it. FC

Leslie C. McManus is the editor of Farm Collector magazine. Contact her at or find her on Google+.


Wash your hands, ladies and gents. Wear a dry waller’s mask. If you’re going to a show this summer, take precautions! And know that despite your very best efforts, you’re likely to leave the show with a bug — a collector’s bug.

I have never cooked with lard. Shoot, I’ve never been under the same roof with lard. Never raised hogs, never lived on a farm, never waxed nostalgic for old food tins…until I became acquainted with John Harvey’s collection of antique lard tins  (see his collection — John Harvey’s Collection of Antique Lard Tins — if you dare!). Now I have the bug; I’m on the prowl for lard tins, of all things.

This is nothing new. Every time I view a collection I am sucked in. Spark plugs. Hay carriers. Vintage signs. Paper collectibles. Thimbles. Pulleys. Tools. Ice cream scoops, for pete’s sake.

This bug is nothing to be sneezed at. You can be at a show, minding your own business, when all of a sudden something catches your eye. A handsomely restored horse-drawn implement, a vintage porcelain sign the seller found in the barn, a wreck of a tractor begging for just a little TLC…Next thing you know, you’ve bought one — “just one,” because you admire the design or the artistry or the rarity of the piece. Ha! I’ve seen this movie before. By that point, you’re a goner. It’s like the old ad for potato chips: Bet you can’t eat just one!

In this issue of Farm Collector, we take a gander at collections of everything from steam traction engines to IHC Electrall systems to horse-drawn implements to lard tins. Neat collections; neat collectors – and just enough exposure to infect you with the bug. But it’s all good clean fun. So go ahead, snoop around at a show or two; let down your defenses. A little dose of collector’s fever never killed anybody! FC

P.S. Time flies…today it’s show season; tomorrow we’ll be publishing your best photos from show season ’14! Remember to snap some shots of your favorites on the show circuit for inclusion in our February 2015 Show Photo issue. More details coming next month!

Leslie C. McManus is the editor of Farm Collector magazine. Contact her at or find her on Google+.


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! FC

Leslie C. McManus is the editor of Farm Collector magazine. Contact her at or find her on . 


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 or find her on .


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

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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!

Every month Farm Collector brings you:

  • Windmills to cream separators
  • Hog oilers to horse-drawn equipment
  • Implements to engines to farm toys

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

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