Farm Collector Blogs > First Things

Why do we collect?

by Leslie McManus


Tags: may 2011,

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the old iron hobby at this time of year. Sheds, shops and driveways seem suddenly to have been invaded by entire battalions of hulking, rusty relics. One comes to realize that yet another winter has been frittered away with little visible progress on projects promised for show displays this spring and summer.

Could be your horizon is littered with “temporary” tarps bleached by the sun. Crates overflowing with treasures gleefully gathered in seasons past look increasingly like bad bets, something needs to be hauled somewhere but the trailer’s out of commission and discretionary spending is on hold until further notice. The bloom is off the rose – and meanwhile, there are crops to plant, yards to mow and a roof to replace. Why do we collect this stuff?!?

There are as many reasons as there are collectors. Some are pulled in by nostalgia for their own youth; others remember tales told by fathers and uncles and granddads. Whether the treasured item is hog oilers or tractors or ephemera, relics from a century ago invariably display a handsome style of commercial and industrial design and workmanship unlike anything seen today. And once a collector is hooked, the quest for another piece or two or 20 is as irresistible as one more potato chip.

The opportunity to work on an early mechanical device appeals to some; others are motivated by history and work to preserve early pieces for future generations. For some collectors, old iron serves as a portal to the history of American industry. Lessons spurned in a high school history class are viewed from an altogether different perspective decades later when a rare stationary engine or a windmill serves as the point of entry.

The journey of collecting is in itself huge motivation. New collectors are often astonished to find unexpected fellowship and a friendly, helpful community. Strangers become lifelong friends in an instant. The journey restores our faith in people. The world shrinks a bit; it becomes a bit more friendly. Next thing you know, you’re having fun. With friends old and new, with family members spanning perhaps three generations, you’re having fun collecting and preserving relics from a time irretrievably lost.

It’s that simple, and that complicated. If you’re feeling beat up by the to-do list, could be you’re thinking too hard. Remember why you started collecting and get back to the serious business of having fun! FC