First Things

The Indiana Page

Leslie C. McManus

In the waning days of summer nearly 20 years ago, when we were about to put the second issue of Farm Collector to bed, the office mail included a letter from a man in Indiana.

At that point in the life of this magazine, any mail was cause for celebration. Shoot, I remember the roar of laughter greeting my announcement that – thanks to a flush of new subscriptions in one day’s mail, probably a dozen or two – we had fully doubled our circulation.

But the letter from the Indiana man stood out for its unbridled enthusiasm. He’d seen only one issue, he wrote, but Farm Collector was his kind of magazine and he wanted to be a part of it in any way he could. Logistically, that would be difficult, but he suggested a role in which he would act as the magazine’s representative in the state of Indiana.

Ever the proud father, he enclosed an essay written by his daughter, reflecting on the pride and nostalgia she’d experienced when attending a tractor show as a young adult. When we told him that we’d like to publish Patti’s essay in Farm Collector, he was as excited as a kid on Christmas Eve.

That was the beginning of a long and happy friendship with Bob Crowell. Bob and his wife, Linda, represented Farm Collector and its sister magazines at tractor shows all over the Midwest for nearly 20 years. Through all that time, we never had a better ambassador. His enthusiasm and genuine interest in people won him and the magazines friends wherever he went. 

Bob was a man of many passions, including the people of his adopted state. In particular, he was proud of the many fine collections of old iron in that state. For years, in literally every conversation we had, he’d lobby for a full page – “The Indiana page!” – in each issue of Farm Collector. He knew it was never going to fly, but he had such fun running it up the flagpole.

With Bob’s passing on Nov. 11, 2017, we’ve lost one of our dearest friends. I cannot think of him without a smile spreading across my face, and that seems to me a fine legacy. Today I’m returning the favor. In a far, far better place, I hope the smile is now spreading across his face. Cheers to you, Bob: You finally got your Indiana page! FC

Fires Bright and Clear

Leslie C. McManus

Perhaps a year ago, a reader shared this poem with me. Unfortunately, the sender’s name is adrift somewhere in the controlled chaos that surrounds my desk. I am unable to thank the sender personally, but I remain grateful for the introduction to a charming verse.

Anyone who’s ever fed a wood stove on a regular basis is well aware of the homespun wisdom of the old saying, “Chop your own wood and it will warm you twice.” But there is also wisdom in this poem. If you’ve ever depended on a fire for heat, you know that seasoned wood burns better than green, and hardwoods mix well with soft, and hedge produces a spectacular (if potentially dangerous) fireworks display. Probably you know of the appeal of fruit-woods – but did you know about the unattractive traits of elm, poplar and elder?

The Firewood Poem

Beechwood fires are bright and clear

if the logs are kept a year.

Chestnut’s only good, they say,

if for logs ’tis laid away.

Make a fire of elder tree,

death within your house will be.

But ash new or ash old,

is fit for a queen with crown of gold.

Birch and fir logs burn too fast,

blaze up bright and do not last.

It is by the Irish said

hawthorn bakes the sweetest bread.

Elm wood burns like churchyard mould,

E’en the very flames are cold.

But ash green or ash brown

Is fit for a queen with golden crown.

Poplar gives a bitter smoke,

fills your eyes and makes you choke.

Apple wood will scent your room;

pear wood smells like flowers in bloom.

Oaken logs, if dry and old

keep away the winter’s cold.

But ash wet or ash dry

a king shall warm his slippers by.

– Celia Congreve, 1922

It is the time of year when we draw close to the hearth. Where else do our thoughts coalesce as clearly as when we sit and stare into the flames of a fireplace? From all of us at Farm Collector, a wish that your holiday season be as bright and warm as a fire built of beechwood. Merry Christmas and happy new year! FC

Numbers Tell Stories

Leslie C. McManus

In this issue of Farm Collector, Delbert Trew reflects on the stories told by a ranch ledger book covering 1947-57. Through little more than numbers, the ledger quietly reports a life-changing event on the ranch – but no spoiler here! You can read about it here.

Other numbers in the ledger tell the story of good years and bad. But it takes a bit of reading between the lines: The reader is left to imagine how bad, how good, how hot, how dry.

Among my dearest family heirlooms are two ledger books maintained by my grandfather from 1913-1923. The ledgers account for what appears to be almost every purchase, with tallies for daily totals, for “Mr.,” “Mrs.,” and each of two children (the firstborn’s account opens with an entry for “hospital and doctor”; apparently the second was born at home). 

The ledgers contained monthly and annual summaries, summaries by category and – even though this family of four lived in town – summaries for poultry accounts, including egg production, chickens and eggs consumed, feed and straw accounts, egg sale revenues and equipment expenditures.

Numbers tell stories. The deadly Spanish flu epidemic of 1918-19, which caused 15-30 million deaths worldwide, is traced to Ft. Riley, Kansas, situated near the town of Junction City – where my grandparents then lived. That first outbreak, in March 1918, was fairly short-lived and contained to the fort. But with World War I troop movements all over the globe, the virus returned to Kansas that fall with a vengeance and spread rapidly, resulting in hundreds of deaths.

As an educator, my grandfather spent his workdays surrounded by students, teachers and staff, and exposure to the rapidly spreading contagion was inevitable. I grew up hearing stories about how he nearly died from influenza. His ledgers tell the story. In October 1918, during the worst of the epidemic in Kansas, after a period of three weeks without a single entry in my grandfather’s column, comes this: “$10, doctor.”

At the time when a doctor’s visit cost $10, toothpaste sold for 30 cents. The telephone bill was $1.20. Some quantity of steak was bought for 40 cents; liver for 20 cents. During my grandfather’s illness, there were several purchases of broth. Following payment of the doctor’s bill, my grandfather splurged on a 55-cent haircut, his first in a month. Numbers tell stories – in this case, a story of survival. FC

Art is Long, Life is Short

Leslie C. McManus

Recently I paged through a book containing some 80 pages of original pencil drawings capturing an artist’s affectionate memories of growing up on a farm in Iowa. The work showcased both clear talent and lifelong practice, as the level of skill and technique were highly evolved.

The artist is Bob Smith, and you’ll learn a bit more about him and his work in the December issue of Farm Collector. In the meantime, I’ll tell you this: His book opens with a drawing of a Case tractor he completed at age 6. Decades later, after his mother passed, that drawing turned up in his mother’s effects.

I understand why Bob’s mother held on to that drawing. When I pass, my sons will find a box filled with young boys’ artwork. Childhood is a sweet and fleeting time; scraps of a child’s artwork are one of the very few tangible remnants that bring it back to life, however briefly.

As a little boy, Bob was encouraged by his mother to pursue his talent. “She encouraged me to draw at a very early age,” he recalls, “and supplied me with paper, pencils and crayons.”

That came to mind when I recently learned that we have nearly burnt through what seemed like a 1,000-year backlog of Sprouts submissions. For nearly two decades, we’ve published kids’ drawings of tractors, steam engines and farm scenes on the last page of every issue of Farm Collector. Today, however, that inventory of artwork is nearly completely exhausted.

Perhaps we are dealing with a new crop of kids; perhaps pencils and crayons have been replaced by other activities. I am hoping that is not the case. If it is, we’ll put that page to work in other ways. If, on the other hand, the young artist community is alive and well, send us evidence and we’ll publish the best of the bunch! 

Youngsters whose artwork is published receive a Farm Collector T-shirt. Send original submissions to Farm Collector, 1503 SW 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609-1265. Please include the artist’s name, age and hometown and a recent photograph. A release form will be sent to the parents of each artist whose work is selected for publication; the release must be signed and returned to Farm Collector before the artwork can be published. We look forward to hearing from you soon! FC

Making it Work in Meriden, Kansas

Leslie C. McManus

You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. That old saw drifted into my consciousness after attending the Meriden (Kansas) Antique Engine and Threshers Assn. this summer. I’d been on the grounds for about seven minutes when a club member intercepted me. Within the next two minutes, he described the show as “one of the fastest growing summer family destinations in the Midwest.”

That statement caught my attention not only because it’s ambitious, but because it suggests an unusual awareness of what the show is and where it’s going. In the back of my mind, I was a tad bit skeptical. As the day unfolded, as I talked to person after person who spoke of the club’s growth, of the growing number of displays, of the growing attendance at monthly meetings, I came to understand that this was a collective vision – and that is precisely the kind of thing that separates the men from the boys.

Another thing stood out to me at this show. Not only does this group have a clear road map for the future, they have a keen appreciation for how they’ve gotten to where they are – and that is at least partially through a genuinely friendly alliance with a nearby club. If I got a dime for every time somebody said, “McLouth helps us, and we help them,” I could get one of those fancy cups of coffee from Starbucks.

I loved hearing that. In lo, these many years at Farm Collector, I’ve never encountered anything quite like it – and here it was in my own backyard. Quite the contrary, I’ve encountered clubs that actually seem to compete with each other, and club members who cast a decidedly negative spin on their neighbors’ efforts. Life is too short: That’s all I have to say about that.

We hear a lot these days about shows that are petering out, about an inability to find young folks to get involved, about the struggle to compete with the multitude of entertainment options available today. It’s an uphill battle, no doubt about it. But the folks in a small town in Kansas aren’t ready to turn off the lights just yet. In Meriden, if there’s a will, there’s a way. FC

What a Difference a Century Makes!

Leslie C. McManus

Imagine a boy, born in 1984. He’s one of 11 children born to a farm couple, but farming holds no attraction – in fact, he claims the work is too hard for him. He’s an avid reader, but equally engaged by emerging technology. At school he’s in constant trouble with teachers; at 14, he drops out. He leaves home and heads for the city, presumably sponging for a time off an older brother who lives there, all the while drilling deeper and deeper into new and not yet totally proven technologies.

By now you’re ready to write this boy off as another .com dreamer consumed by video games and cellphones. But what a difference a century makes! History does not record whether James and Mary Ferguson were the objects of their neighbors’ pity. All we know is that, in about 1898, their barely teenaged son Henry George “Harry” Ferguson – with exactly the résumé cited above – said adios to the farm and set out for Belfast.

A couple decades earlier, another farm boy did roughly the same thing. Young Henry Ford, equally unenthusiastic about farming, was quick to form an opinion that drudgery made up too big a part of agriculture and set out to make his way in the city. Like Ferguson, Ford had a brilliant mind and, once engaged, was a formidable student. Success didn’t come overnight, but eventually it did come – and, for the most part, it stayed.

For Harry Ferguson, the 3-point hitch delivered not only the means to advance other projects and interests, but also immortality as a noteworthy inventor. For Ford, creation of an affordable motor vehicle, establishment of a fair wage and adoption of progressive industrial practices like the assembly line propelled him into the forefront of American industrialists.

In parallel articles in this issue by Sam Moore and Robert N. Pripps, we consider the trajectories of these lives and the points at which they intersect. While it is hard to imagine a handshake agreement ever taking place again on such a large scale, it requires almost no trouble at all to imagine the rise of brilliance and its potential impact on the world around us. All it takes is one kid willing to find a better way. FC

Location Perfect for 2017 North Missouri Steam & Gas Engine Assn. Show

Leslie C. McManus

As planning for the 2017 North Missouri Steam & Gas Engine Assn. in Hamilton began gearing up last fall, the stars fell into perfect alignment. Located at a singular position in space and time (is that the Star Trek theme I’m hearing?), the North Missouri show is square in the path of a total eclipse of the sun expected to occur just hours after the show was scheduled to end on Aug. 20.

A total solar eclipse — when the moon’s apparent diameter is larger than the sun, thereby blocking all direct sunlight, turning day into darkness  — will occur on Aug. 21. The eclipse will be visible from a 70-mile-wide corridor stretching about 2,500 miles diagonally from west to east.

Spanning coast to coast, the August eclipse begins in Oregon and crosses through portions of Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina before ending in South Carolina.

The folks at the North Missouri show know a good thing when they see it. “Mother Nature kind of dumped this in our lap,” says club member Kendall Morgan. “Our show is Aug. 18-20, and the eclipse is the next day, so we decided to run the show an extra day.”

To commemorate the event, a special display will feature a Frick Eclipse steam engine and an Eclipse gas engine built by Fairbanks-Morse. Nearly a dozen steam engines will be used in sawing, threshing and baling demonstrations, and camping is available at the grounds (advance registration recommended).

Although eclipses today are widely noted, they leave relatively little mark on contemporary culture. Hundreds of years ago, it was a different story. In the late 1800s, the Eclipse moniker was applied to countless agricultural products, including windmills, corn shellers, hay presses, cane mills, corn planters, cultivators, disc harrows, fanning mills, feed grinders, fertilizer spreaders, seeders, hammer mills, hay rakes and stackers, horse powers, incubators, manure spreaders, plows, potato machinery, sawmills, sprayers, stump pullers and wagons.

The August eclipse will be the first with a path of totality crossing America’s Pacific and Atlantic coasts since 1918. Also, its path of totality makes landfall exclusively within the U.S., making it the first such eclipse since the country’s independence in 1776. Catch it if you can! FC

Leslie C. McManus

P.S. Headed to the Tri-State Gas Engine & Tractor Assn. show in Portland next month? Be sure to stop by the Farm Collector/Gas Engine Magazine tent and say hello to our representatives there, Bob and Linda Crowell!