Farm Collectibles ... the Old Way
Arkansas collector preserves the past and old way of life with intricate restorations of farm collectibles
Roy Nelson with his John Deere mower. Manufactured in 1936, the horse-drawn mower weighs about 1,500 pounds. Roy completely restored the implement after finding it covered with dirt and rust.
Roy Nelson, Clinton, Ark., wants to preserve machines and implements that are the tangible history of farming in the south-central United States for the last 100 or more years.
He expends the kind of energy and resources on his collection that one might expect from a business, but he doesn't do it for money, and he sees trade in such objects as counter to his purposes. A caring, practical historian of old farm equipment, Roy collects the treasures with no small difficulty wherever they've been left, and then treats them as if they are alive, but sick and dependent on him for recovery.
"I completely rebuild every one of these machines," he says, "so that they will do the job they were designed to do. All of my equipment, whatever it takes to fix it, that's what it gets."
At 76, Roy is definitely hitting on all cylinders. He laboriously and happily works on old machines, collects others, tends to the many plants in his greenhouse (which he built), works a huge garden with his old 1947 Ford "Super C" tractor, and even fixes the occasional golf cart.
"I feel like I'm 25," he says, as he pulls around a 50-pound horse-drawn "hillside plow" and demonstrates how it works.
Most of the machinery that Roy fixes date from 1850 to 1955. About 155 pieces – seed planters, plows, mowers, stump grinders, tractors and stationary engines – are completely restored and in perfect working order. Another 50 or more await restoration. Many of the pieces in his collection may be one-of-a-kind, especially some of the engines from the 1920s and '30s. Twice a year, he displays parts of his collection at shows put on by clubs in nearby Damascus and Bee Branch.
Born in 1923 in Morehead, Iowa, Roy learned blacksmithing and farming in the early 1930s, when horses and mules still provided much of the power. Later, he worked as a welder, welding bridges and locomotive parts for the Union Pacific Railroad. Later still, he worked as a truck and car mechanic. In the 1940s, he worked at the Boeing plant in Omaha, Neb., putting together B-26s and B-29s, including the Enola Gay, the B-29 that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. In 1979, Roy moved to a rural area near Clinton. There, he cleared 50 acres and farmed with an old tractor, even grinding his own flour and meal.
"I farmed the basic way just for meanness," he says with a smile. "I just like doing things the old way."
Clearly, the old ways are familiar.
"I never really had a profession," Roy says. "I just did a lot of different things. But I doubt very much that there's an engine made up until 1971, diesel or gas, that I haven't been into.
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