Pecking at History: Collectible Poultry Equipment
Loyl Stromberg works with other collectors to preserve the history of poultry equipment and barnyard flocks.
Old Trusty incubator
Loyl Stromberg of Pine River, Minn., talks about collecting vintage poultry equipment with the sureness of long experience and the enthusiasm that comes with success. In a flash, he'll tick off his latest and greatest finds - currently, an early-19th century mechanical chicken delouser - and he'll announce without hesitation his "wants" - a 19-century "Chamberlain's Setting Hen" incubator, which sports a lid shaped like a broody hen.
At age 87, Loyl has been a commercial hatcheryman most of his life, and for the past dozen years, he's been a serious collector of the old-time trappings of his trade. His parents opened Stromberg Hatchery in the early 1920s, in Fort Dodge, Iowa, and he worked in the business, which ultimately included several branch offices, until it closed in 1962.
Now, he helps operate another family mail-order firm, Stromberg's Chicks & Gamebirds Unlimited, which sells contemporary equipment, books and live birds to hobbyists and schools. And he regularly leads tour groups of poultry fanciers to Europe, where he's always on the look out for poultry collectibles extraordinaire.
He says he's visited probably 300 antique shops in the last 12 years looking for what he calls "surprises - the rare, rare, rarer, the better." He divides his finds between his own private museum in Pine River, which is about 125 miles west of Duluth, and the National Poultry Museum under development at the National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame in Bonner Springs, Kan. Eventually, he says, his private pieces will move to Bonner Springs as well.
For both collections, he focuses on the heyday of small-scale, on-farm poultry keeping in this country - from the late 1800s to about 1950, when "big commercialization" proved the death knell to farm flocks, as well as thousands of small hatcheries like Stromberg's.
As a consequence, a lot of poultry equipment fell into disuse; now, it's become collectible. Most of the people buying are poultry fanciers like Loyl. Others have academic or research ties to the poultry industry, and some are just ordinary antique lovers keen on the "country look" or searching for specifics, such as Red Wing pottery pieces.
For collecting purposes, vintage chicken equipment falls into four broad categories: Items used on farms for the keeping of flocks, including feeders, waterers and nesting boxes; commercial hatchery equipment (smaller versions of which were sometimes also used on farms), including incubators and hovers for keeping baby chicks warm; processing and marketing equipment, including chicken killers, mechanical pickers and egg transport cases; and lastly, published materials, such as books, pamphlets and catalogs.
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