Old Plow Display Panorama
Michigan man redefines notion of yard art with a display of old plows
“People come from all over to see this,” Elmer Schneider says. “One guy stopped while he was just driving by. He said he thought he was seeing things.” Elmer doesn’t give tours per se; he invites visitors to “help themselves” and roam through the display.
Elmer Schneider’s got it bad. What’s worse, he knows it. But he just can’t stop.
“Several years ago we were doing some landscaping,” he says. “I put an old plow out and some people told me it looked nice.” Reasoning that if a little is good, a lot is better, he continued to add plows to the display on his lawn just outside Chesaning, Mich.: a total of 458 over the next 17 years. “I was supposed to quit,” he says, rolling his eyes toward the farmhouse, “but I just got two more.”
“I think I have one from every brand ever made,” he says. The accuracy of that statement is open to debate but it seems entirely possible. “Some of these plows were made in Michigan,” he says. “A few are pretty rare and some are more than 100 years old. And every one of them has gone through my workshop.”
Indeed, each plow in the field sports a gleaming coat of paint and spotless shares. Some wheels are clad in accent tones; some wear the same shade as the plow. The palette suggests an amicable consortium of implement dealers: The relics are painted in uniform hues of red, green, orange, yellow, black and white.
When Elmer finds new specimens for his collection, they’re generally in pretty rough shape. “You should see some of the junk that was on those old plows,” he says. “I’ve found them with binder twine on them. They just used whatever they could find to hold them together.”
Wheels — the first part to sink into the ground when the plow is abandoned behind the barn — almost always have to be replaced. Elmer keeps an inventory of parts and has been known to fabricate hard-to-find pieces. “I’d bring in a plow to work on and the boys would say, ‘You’ll never get that fixed.’ Next day they’d come see what I’d done and say, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. That’s the same plow?’”
Every plow gets the once-over. “I power-wash them with hot water and paint them with implement paint. Some of them took a gallon and a half of paint,” he grumbles, “and some of that paint cost $100 a gallon. I probably have $500,000 in this if you figure the paint.”
Refining a system
Elmer’s plow display represents a span from about 1900 to the late 1930s. All have steel wheels but the similarities end there. “There’s a lot of difference in design,” he says. The display includes hillside plows, flip-over plows and some with long, narrow bottoms. “They claim those came out of Canada,” he says, “but I don’t know.”
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