"We don't make no big to-do of farming here on Nettie's little spot of land, but it's good enough for a humble old couple like me and Nettie. Yes'm, it's just a one-horse farm. We buy our fertilizer from the Marion Oil Mill, and do our own mixing. Put 600 pounds to the acre of such grade of fertilizer as acid, nitrate of potash, soda and cotton seed meal. We've got a guano distributor, that hay rake over there, and a few turnplows, but that's about the limit of our farming equipment."
That passage was taken from a 1939 Federal Writer's Project interview, in which Annie Ruth Davis interviewed Berkeley Grice, Marion, S.C., on his farm operation. Early farmers, both large and small, used a variety of farm implements to increase productivity and keep pace with the ever-present challenge of "finding a better way."
While the farm tractor may have made major inroads into farm labor, implements have provided the mechanism for farmers to do more with less. In this century, farmers have steadily taken on ever increasing acreage. As of 1998, the average North Dakota farm, for example, is about 1,300 acres, compared to 460 in 1920, while the total number of farms has dropped from almost 78,000 in 1920 to a little under 30,000 today.
Like tractors, farm implements have evolved as technology evolves. The threshing machine has given way to the combine, usually a self-propelled unit that either picks up windrowed grain, or cuts and threshes it in one step. The grain binder has been replaced by the swather, which cuts the grain and lays it on the ground in windrows, allowing it to dry before being harvested by a combine. Plows are not used nearly as extensively as before, due in large part to the popularity of minimum tillage, which reduces soil erosion and conserves moisture. The disk harrow today is more often used after harvest to cut up the stubble left in the field. And although seed drills are still used, the air seeder is becoming more popular.
But nostalgia for the old equipment tends to keep pace with the advancement of technology. Many collectors today seek implements that can be used in combination with a restored tractor.
Compared to antique tractors, though, this area of the market remains little known to many collectors. Take some tips from these "insiders":
Gene Tencza is a farmer and tractor collector from Orange, Mass. He runs a fact-filled Web site that's as bright and colorful as a brand new John Deere tractor (http://www.retiredtractors.com/). Larry Sikes, owner of Rock Ridge Farm in central Florida, is also a farmer and tractor collector. And Dan Malwitz, a Michigan-based tractor collector and Allis-Chalmers enthusiast.
While antique tractors may be popular, the farm implements they pulled are an entirely new and different category. What type of farm implements do you feel are in most demand by farm and tractor collectors?
Gene Tencza: Aha! I don't see it that way! I don't see it as "new." From day one, I wanted to do some useful work with my tractor. I acquired a plow and a harrow very early on. Casual collectors are suddenly discovering there is more to tractor collecting than having a pretty one to look at. A tractor is pretty useless without some implements. So, I can't speak for other collectors (they seem to like plows – everyone wants mine!), but I like to collect the things that are the most useful to me. The mower would be one. You always need it to keep a field looking like a field. You may not plow it every year, but you certainly need to mow it more than once a year. Then, of course, you need a rake ...
Dan Malwitz: As I see it, the implements that are in the highest demand are those that are unique and/or still have some useful purpose. For example, a fellow John Deere collector has a rear-mounted, forklift-type implement that mounts to the rear of a Model A. Not only can it come in handy, but from what I understand and recall, it is also somewhat scarce.
I think unique pieces are more desirable as collector's pieces in order to show people something they haven't seen before. I don't think it is too interesting to see a whole row of identical tractors or implements. If you've seen one, you've seen them all. For another example, I have a belly-mounted sickle bar mower for my Allis-Chalmers Model B which I plan to restore and put on my tractor for shows. Although it is not all that unique, I don't see many of them at shows, and I can also mow ditch banks and such with it.
What are the most difficult implements to find?
Gene Tencza: That's hard to say. I can say that plows and mowers are probably the easiest to find. I never went out of my way to look for anything: I just bought whatever came along. I guess I waited the longest to find my hayrake.
Larry Sikes: In order of difficulty - mower deck, disc, baler, box blade and plow.
Are implements easier to maintain and restore than tractors? Do you have any hands-on experience in that area?
Gene Tencza: Most of them don't have a motor, and they have fewer moving parts. So, in that sense, they are much easier to work on. But parts for the older implements are much harder to find. As the old implements became obsolete, a farmer was much more willing to buy a whole (new model) plow than a whole new tractor. So, the expendable parts for the tractors were (and are still) made for a longer period of time. Old implements were much more likely to be sold for scrap during World War II than a tractor that might still be repairable.
Larry Sikes: Most implements are newer than the tractors. Those used on balers tend to be the oldest, and are a bear if the knotter is screwed up. Mower decks are simple, and usually it is the drive line that is the problem. I trash discs at a higher-than-normal rate due to rocks. Box blades are solid, with the only maintenance being the replacement of the rippers. Plows are simple, and last a long time.
What's the most unusual farm implement you've ever come across?
Gene Tencza: I just love my hayrake! Side delivery rakes are not so unusual, but mine has unusual tires, rather than steel wheels. They are size 4.00x36, kind of like a huge bicycle tire. They are no longer made in the U.S., but are still made in Italy and Poland. I won't tell you how much I had to pay for one, but I'm sure glad I didn't need two!
What is the price range for farm implements?
Gene Tencza: The price range is whatever the seller can get from you. I have bought some junker two-bottom plows for $50-$ 75, and good ones (all there, but needing restoration) for $150. I've seen junk #5 mowers for $50; good ones for $250. I believe I paid $350 for the rake. FC
Jim Romeo is a freelance writer based in Chesapeake, Va. He is the author of "The Autograph Source Book." For more information, contact him at 1008 Weeping Willow Drive, Chesapeake, VA 23322.