Farm Collector Blogs > First Things

Old Iron and Butterflies

by Leslie McManus


Tags: livestock, signs, agricultural change, simpler time,

Funny how things change.

An article in the February 2010 issue of Farm Collector takes a look at pure-breed livestock signs from the 1950s and ’60s. The first thing you notice as you look at the signs is that cattle in that era had an entirely different profile than do cattle today. Legs, apparently, were considered optional equipment in the old days.

Way back when, at the culmination of the county fair beef show, the proud 4-H’er stood behind his or her grand champion steer when posing for the photographer. Even the youngest showman could be seen from chin up, smiling big above the steer’s back. If the photographer were to set the scene the same way 50 years later, all you’d see of the 4-H’er would be blue jeans.

Tractors, too, have changed. When tractors made their debut around the time of the First World War, low-slung profiles were common. From the Waterloo Boy to the Fordson to the Allis-Chalmers 12-20, many were vertically challenged. But by the late 1940s, hi-crops had muscled their way onto the scene, and tractors were suddenly as leggy as the Rockettes. Bigger proved better: Today’s tractors are, in comparison, super-sized. As collector Jeb Fuller notes, the pure-breed livestock signs are a souvenir from the end of an important era in American agriculture and society. They are valentines, if you will; full of a sense of optimism that now feels quaint and innocent. Immensely popular among collectors of all ages, the signs summon up the essence of a simpler time.

Was it simpler, or was it just different? If life was simpler then, it was only because we had less: less technology, less communication, less stuff. But there was just as much work. Work, in fact, remains the constant. And that is the beauty of two pieces of old iron featured in the February issue: They’re still working.

A 1944 Allis-Chalmers snow tractor is not just a novelty in the mountains of Idaho: It’s a fully restored workhorse that goes when and where little else can. And a 1955 Oliver clad in a delicate shade of pink is more than a pretty face: It’s no longer working the fields, but it is cultivating cash for a worthy cause.

Don’t be afraid to color outside the lines: If nothing ever changed, as the old saying goes, there’d be no butterflies.