Backward Glance

Looking back at rural heritage and preservation efforts

Leslie C. McDaniel

Leslie C. McDaniel

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If we do our job right, every issue of Farm Collector focuses on preservation of the past.

But this issue seems to hone in on the topic with particular gusto: One article looks at a group of urban residents fighting an uphill battle to preserve a pocket of rural heritage in a heavily populated area. Another recounts efforts to protect a unique barn. There's a tale of Idaho farmers, busy as only farmers are, who take the time to experience threshing as it was done nearly a hundred years ago. And then there's the woman who's grown up with old iron, who lobbies hard for her hobby – not promoting it to women, particularly, but to anyone who'll listen.

A calculated theme, you're thinking, for the first issue of 2000? No, just dumb luck. But it does tend to make a person give preservation a second thought. Since the beginning of time, elders have passed down stories to a new generation. But never before have elders made such an effort to pass down the trappings of the ages, as well.

Preservation efforts are at an all-time high: railway stations, historic buildings, artifacts great and small, entire towns and districts, brick streets, textiles, ephemera: you name it, it's being preserved. Antique malls and flea markets are doing banner business; online auctions are booming. Vast amounts of disposable income play a part, too: Never before have so many people had so much money to spend on preservation.

Some of this frenzy is, of course, the result of nothing more noble than good old American materialism. Part of the attraction is rarity. Those who invest in land are smug in the observation that "They're not making any more of it." The same can be said of antiquities.

But many are drawn to preservation by the insistent pull of the past; of the way things once were. That history is the tie that binds us to those who went before; it is what helps us know them, and their lives. And every now and then, with a bit of good fortune, it is what helps us better understand our own lives.

As the calendar does that momentous roll-over, collectors all over the country are hunting for old stuff; painting, scraping, restoring; pleading with old engines to turn over; gingerly applying oil to decades-old finishes, coaxing up a bit of gleam; negotiating trades, scouting out storage space; driving hours to auctions; volunteering countless hours at shows... If the heritage of farming fails to survive the passage of time, it won't be for lack of effort! FC