Museum Formed Around 1930s John Deere Tractor
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American agriculture underwent a period of tremendous change in the 1930s, Cathy notes. “It was the transition of horse-drawn equipment to mechanization,” she says. “After the Depression, farmers could afford tractors.” And that mechanization had enormous immediate impact. “When I picked corn by hand for my dad, I’d pick about 10 bushels an hour in a 10-hour day,” Don recalls. “By the 1930s, a mechanical picker was picking 42 bushels per hour. In 2006, a combine was harvesting 70 bushels per minute.”
Meanwhile, the science of genetics was also changing the face of agriculture. “When I was a kid, 50- to 55-bushel corn was very acceptable in southwest Iowa,” Don says. “Nowadays, if you don’t have 200-bushel corn, even in a drought, something’s wrong. That’s just in my lifetime!”
Order from chaos
The collection is divided into distinct sections: forge, orchard (Don’s wife, Joyce, is the daughter of an orchard man), farm shop, tillage, planting, harvest, hay equipment and equine collectibles. Don’s starting point is the walking plow. “Every farm had one around,” he says.
Other pieces in the collection include cultivators and plows, dump rakes, grain drills, hay press and loader, stalk cutter, earth mover, box sower, portable elevator, manure spreader, binder, picker, shellers, scales, and more. The extensive array is not intended to show the inventory of a typical farm, but rather what was available. “In an ideal situation, a farmer would have liked to have had all of this,” Marvin says. “But he didn’t, so they all shared.”
Not everything in the museum is a relic from the 1930s. Don’s Lightning wheelbarrow-style grass seeder, for instance, dates to the 1880s. An unusual piece, it consists of a 12-foot box perched atop a wheelbarrow-like device. “It was an inexpensive alternative to a grain drill,” he says. “You’d use it to sow tiny seed like clover, timothy and alfalfa on top of the soil, and then you’d follow with a harrow.”
The assortment of implements captures a moment in time, and also shows the evolution of technology. Look a bit deeper, and it also reveals the enormous expenditure of human labor required to raise crops in early America. Don’s collection includes grain cradles and flails. “With those, the average worker could thresh 5 to 7 bushels of wheat a day,” he says.
A 1930s-vintage hay loader brings to mind long summer days. “Putting up loose hay was a job,” Don says, shaking his head. “I don’t care where you were: It was hot, dusty work.”
Don and Marvin approach each restoration project in the same way, with extensive research and meticulous attention to detail. When it comes to paint colors, for instance, they’ve learned not to trust vintage lithographs and promotional pieces. “Those kinds of things were designed to sell equipment,” Don says. “The colors they show are not necessarily true.”