“Unique” is an overused adjective, but it certainly applies to Marvin Bules’ collection of farm tools and equipment – and to the way he displays his collection.
Most of the relics are stored in an old building that formerly housed a hardware store Marvin once operated in Pond Creek, Okla. The remainder – mostly larger items – is on display in a round barn he built in 2004.
The round barn is a story in itself. One of just a few round barns in the state, it measures 68 feet in diameter and 53 feet high. “I ordered 52,000 bricks to construct the 18-foot walls,” Marvin says, “and only 100 were left over.” From the 12-foot-diameter cupola, you can see where the Chisholm Trail crossed the Salt Fork Arkansas River just 100 yards from the barn.
The ground floor holds Marvin’s collection of antique cars, tractors and farm machinery – even two Volkswagens that belonged to his late wife. A spiral staircase rises from the lower level to the second floor; from there, 67 steps lead to the cupola. The second story (also accessible by ramp) is an open space of 3,500 square feet with the staircase at the center. The floor is built of 2- by 6-inch tongue-and-groove boards resting on 2- by 12-foot floor joists. The space is used for a variety of events, including weddings, meetings and private parties.
The massive building would be a major undertaking for most people, but for Marvin it just came with the territory. Owner/operator of a construction company for 30 years, he has broad experience with public and commercial projects, as well as water line work for municipalities and rural water districts.
In constructing the round barn, Marvin had only one assistant besides the brick masons. The plans were conceived in an unconventional manner. “If you want to see my plans, a friend still has the foam cup I drew them on,” he says with a grin. He enjoys pointing out an antique wooden block-and-tackle strung from the top of the staircase to the side of the barn. Purchased at a farm sale for $20, it holds 500 feet of 1-inch diameter rope. “When people ask, ‘What’s it for?’ I tell them, ‘If someone gets frightened coming down the stairs, we just put a hook in their belt and lower them.’”
On entering the barn’s ground floor, the first thing you see is an enclosed, horse-drawn U.S. Mail delivery wagon. A small chimney on the side indicates it was once outfitted with a small stove. Nearby is a pair of restored Ford cars: a 1914 Model T 3-door touring car and a 1929 Model A roadster complete with a rumble seat. A restored 1919 Gray tractor (with a 70-inch drive drum instead of back wheels) is displayed alongside a handsomely restored 1925 Fordson. A bear trap is attached to a length of chain and a grappling hook. But don’t worry: It’s wired open.
A hardware museum
Marvin’s downtown building is a veritable museum of the old and unusual. On entry, visitors are nearly overwhelmed by the vast collection of antique tools, equipment, tractors, cars, bathtubs, typewriters, cash registers, horse collars, plows and outboard motors. The inventory is enormous and varied: It includes a cream separator, an old jail door, a windmill, lathe, disc sharpener, printing press and a 6-volt wind charger. Topping it all is a log cabin positioned prominently in the center. Originally located near Crescent, Okla., the cabin dates to the state’s 1889 land rush.
“I took it apart log by log, marked each piece with a number and reassembled it in the store,” Marvin says. “Because it had a good roof, it was still in excellent condition.” It’s furnished with a vintage bed and wood stove.
Another display – homemade broom-making equipment dating to the 1880s – tells a related tale. “It belonged to a family who farmed west of Medford, Okla., on 160 acres acquired during the 1893 Oklahoma Land Rush,” Marvin says. “In winter months, the family would manufacture brooms.” A photo of the family’s farmstead – complete with a sod house – appears elsewhere in the store.
A horse-drawn potato digger (dating to the 1920s) uses a shovel to lift potatoes from the ground and a reversible rotary rake to deposit them in double rows. A Western cane mill, now restored, was once used to press juice from cane in preparation for making molasses.
One of two cars in the store is a 1916 Overland 4-door backed up to a Fry gas pump with the price set at 17.6 cents per gallon. A horse-drawn bobsled was probably used to feed cattle.
Holding tight to the past
Like many collectors, Marvin’s heart is in the country. He has an agricultural background and still farms 900 acres one mile north of Pond Creek on property he purchased in 1958. He keeps busy with farming, travel and his hobby of collecting and restoring antiques. (Marvin does all of his own restoration except lettering and decal application, tasks he farms out to Nadine Ward, Wichita, Kan.)
“I’ve always been interested in collecting,” Marvin says, “but it wasn’t until 35 or 40 years ago that I had enough money to get serious about it.” He enjoys showing his collections to friends old and new, and hopes it’ll serve as a legacy: He’s established a trust to maintain his museum after his death. For now, he keeps adding to the collection, with no particular theme. “I just collect what I’m interested in,” he says. Judging by his collection, his interests range far and wide. But his relics stay put. “I sell my wheat and I sell my cattle,” he says, “but I don’t sell my antiques!” FC