First Things

Prepare For a Downpour

Leslie C. McManus

Welcome to Farm Collector’s annual show photo issue! Do you have a tissue handy?

A lot of you folks put up a tough front, but underneath it, I suspect many of you are just plain old softies. Sentimental, like me. Based on my experience in the past few weeks, looking at these pictures, reading the notes people sent with the photos, spending some time with each photo, I predict locally heavy showers in your immediate future.

We knew there’d be fewer shows for people to attend this year, so we invited folks to send any photo that had special meaning to them. The photos they shared tell stories nearly impossibly sweet. Neighbors helping neighbors. Fathers honoring fathers, fathers helping sons, fathers teaching kids and grandkids. Friends and family finding way to be together.

You’ll also see a wedding with a bride in a white gown and men in plaid shirts and Sunday-best overalls. Decades-old black-and-white snapshots freeze a moment in time, when equipment was new and proud owners busted buttons showing it off.

I am a writer, but I have deep appreciation for the power of a picture. I can’t look at the black-and-white photo in this issue, showing more than two dozen farmers who did spring work for an ailing neighbor, without getting choked up. Same for a wedding in front of a steam engine, or a boy driving an antique tractor pulling an antique combine, or a father-and-son selfie.

Pictures also have the power to lighten our moods. Since seeing a photo in this issue, my husband and I have a running gag about staying “one cow apart” when we’re out and about (this will make more sense to you once you get a chance to look at the photos in this issue). A photo sent in by a man who could laugh at himself makes me smile every time I look at it, as do several shots of kids enjoying old iron.

But words, too, have power. These came from a gentleman who sent in a particularly lovely photo: Hope you can read this. At 85, I don’t write so good anymore. At 85, I can’t do anything very good anymore. But am thankful to be here and enjoy life.

Words to live by; pictures to warm your heart. Enjoy this issue of Farm Collector!  FC

What Does the New Year Hold for You?

In December, we often find ourselves reflecting on events of the past year. But 2020 has been a bit of a doozie. At this juncture, I suspect I’ll find little objection to shifting our collective gaze forward, rather than back. And there’s nothing wrong with that. While there is much to be learned through a backward glance, a little extra consideration of the year ahead won’t hurt any of us.

What projects might you tackle in 2021? What new interests might you pursue? Who might help you learn something new? How can you help your club plan its best show ever? Will you grow your collection, or reduce it? What can you do to help someone else get interested in old iron?

Let’s not get bogged down in resolutions. But let’s do stay open to new things in our lives. None of us are ever too old to learn a new trick or two!

And finally, a gentle request for your continued patience! Mail delivery to our offices is considerably disrupted by the fact that most staffers are still working from home. Delivery of Farm Collector mail – and in particular, delivery of responses to What Is It mystery tools – is occurring, but it is a slow and cumbersome process involving gathering the mail …  and then putting it back in the mail stream to reach my desk. Ever heard of twice-baked potatoes? Double features? Extra innings? It all takes longer now.

Those of you who are mailing responses and hopeful of seeing your names in print should respond as soon as possible after receiving your issue in the mail: ideally within a week. Many responses now arrive after the issue has gone to the printer, and unfortunately, it is not possible for us to play “catch up.” Please know that we very much want to include your correct answers, but unless you send them very quickly, at least for the foreseeable future, it will not be possible. We remain grateful for your patience!

We also remain grateful for your support. Your enthusiasm for this hobby, your willingness to share a story or a photo, the kind words you send our way – all of this makes this work not only easier but a pleasure. From all of us at Farm Collector, our very best wishes that your new year will be bright and happy! FC

Considering That Ounce of Caution

Leslie C. McManusIn America, our lives are wrapped in one great big layer of protection. From OSHA directives to food packaging, appliance safety (your toaster is not approved for use while bathing!) to warnings printed on everything from plastic bags to toddlers’ inflatable pool toys, government and industry have done all they could to enhance safety.

These days, of course, that fact is often the target of ridicule and scorn. We can afford to be snarky. How many farmers were killed this year by tractors that suddenly reared and flipped backward?

It was not always so. Before the invention of the 3-point hitch, tractors were designed to take the place of horses and used trailed implements. Because of the weight of the implement on the back, if the tractor was plowing and the implement hit an obstruction, the rear wheels would not slip and the tractor would tip over backward, often before the driver had a chance to react, leading to serious accidents.

The Fordson, in particular, had a marked and well-known propensity to tip. One magazine of the era recommended each Fordson be painted with the somber message “Prepare to meet thy god.” Nearly every category of early farm equipment contained at least one model referred to as a “widow maker.”

In the past several issues of Farm Collector, readers have recounted horrendous encounters with everything from husker-shredders to seed-strippers. All of these incidents occurred decades and decades ago, before safety appeared on any manufacturer’s radar.

Today, farm accidents still occur, but the volume and severity would surely be multiplied many times if it not for rollbars, shields, kill switches and countless other innovations. Harry Ferguson’s 3-point hitch caused less soil compaction and reduced field time and fuel expenditures – but it also paved the way for lifesaving innovations (Writer Bob Pripps walks you through invention of the 3-point hitch here).

Who among us hasn’t modified something to override safety features? Human nature being what it is, we’re probably going to keep looking for shortcuts, timesavers and easy ways out. If you ever got in a hurry and it backfired on you, you know all about haste and waste. A new year approaches: Why not resolve to be safe in 2021? An ounce of caution truly is worth a pound of cure!  FC

Random ramblings

Leslie C. McManusWhile tearing my desk apart on a mission to find something, I did find something. It was not the something I was looking for, but something else. Several pieces of something else, in fact. I have, it would appear, an abundant supply of something else.

Take this little gem, which turned up on a desk at the Farm Collector offices during a chaotic stretch early in the pandemic. No one knew how or why or from whence it came. Honestly. You’d think it just drifted in through an open window. Many thanks to those named at the bottom of the sheet of paper: Forada (Minn.) Threshing Co., Scott Erikson and Joe C. Steinhagen.

Steam Whistle Signals

Steam is up: one long.

Come to work: one long, one short.

Belt will start: two short.

Belt will stop: one short.

Water is low: six short.

Fire: one long, five short (repeat).

Runaway team: two short, one long, one short.

Grain wagon late: three short.

Bundle wagon late: one short, one long and two short.

Lunch or closing: one long (hold).

Then there are these suggestions of jobs for rainy days, from a 1921 agricultural almanac produced by John Baer’s Sons, Inc., Lancaster, Pennsylvania: “Clean up the stable and harness-room. Answer letters and correspondence in general. Then, when all your work is finished, as you think, ask your wife what to do and you will have no trouble in filling in the time until the rain is over and outdoor work is again possible.”

A practical tip from the Baer almanac explains how to double the life of your broom (hang it from a hook; never let it be left standing on the straw). When wear causes it to become one-sided, remove the bottom two rows of stitching, soak the broom in hot water and trim it to a new sharp edge. Finally, when the broom once more becomes lopsided, trim the straw to a point, making it an efficient cleaner for corners and around the legs of heavy furniture and machinery.

And finally, a pearl of wisdom from an old friend, now gone:

How short is time? Sign a note for 30 days and it’s mighty short.

What’s that I hear? One long, one short? Time for the editor to get to work. Until next time!  FC

What did you do this summer?

Leslie C. McManusA show of hands, please: How many of you, in your far-off childhoods, ever wrote the “What I Did this Summer” essay when you returned to school in the fall? Ah. You don’t remember? Good. That works for me!

I don’t actually need essays (although if you want to shoot me a letter or an email and tell me how you’re keeping busy this summer, I would be delighted to read them!). What I do need is pictures.

Normally, at this time of year, I’d be reminding you to get your favorite photos from the 2020 show season ready to send us for our Show Photo issue in February 2021. In this first year of the pandemic, there probably won’t be many to send. Seems like most of the big shows have long since cancelled for 2020.

Some other shows, though, are forging bravely ahead. I would be especially thrilled to get photos from those events: Please send them! I don’t know how many shows are being held this year. I ask everyone I come in contact with: Are any shows being held near you? I’ve gotten a few affirmative responses, but not many.

Which means that a whole lot of you will have nothing to send. So, this year, I’m asking this: Send any photo that shows what you love about old farm equipment. Steam engines, tractors, stationary engines; windmills, hog oilers, corn shellers, combines, threshing machines; friends, field demonstrations, parades, crazy loads on the trailer or your favorite project.

I know old photos can be hard to find on a minute’s notice, so I’m giving you a little extra time to dig them up. When you find them, please include as much detailed information as possible, including make and model of equipment (if relevant); names of identifiable people; name, date and location (if possible). Include a phone number and email address so I can contact you if I have questions.

Send good quality prints to Farm Collector Show Photos, 1503 SW 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609. Email high-resolution digital images to Deadline: Oct. 20.

And one more thing: When you send the photo, please tell me why it’s special to you. In this time like no other, we could all use a little reminder of what we love about this hobby. A person can get a lot of mileage out of happy memories!  FC

Leslie C. McManus

Gaining a New Perspective

Leslie C. McManus 

For those of you who’ve mailed in answers identifying What is it? tools this spring and summer, but who’ve not seen your names in print, I offer sincere apologies. Incredibly, the global pandemic’s reach extends to mystery tools.

I won’t bore you with details, but suffice to say that the virus has forced changes in mail-handling protocols at our office. As if that weren’t enough upheaval, most staffers continue to work from home, causing more delays in getting the mail to where it needs to be.

For now, anyway, this is how things have to be, and we will just have to roll with it. It was a useful realization. Many of us have little experience in dealing with the fallout from global anything, and even less with sacrifice.

We’ve all known people who lived during World War I, the influenza epidemic of 1918-’20, the Great Depression and World War II. As many have noted, those events lasted years, not the handful of months that have passed since the virus reached the U.S. And yet we want, as people have surely always wanted, for life to return to normal.

COVID-19 nudges me to consider a different view – one decidedly less rosy than the scene I normally envision – of farm life in the late teens and early 1920s. The horrors of war were capped off by a pandemic that killed millions worldwide. Then came the Agricultural Depression of the 1920s, creating a continual cycle of debt for the American farmer, who faced a knock-out punch of falling farm prices and the need to purchase expensive machinery.

Incredibly, in the middle of all that, a fledgling industry sprouted and became intensely competitive very quickly. The Yuba Ball Tread, the Big Bull, the Happy Farmer, the Waterloo Boy and countless other tractors were launched during a period of significant social and economic upheaval. New technologies were developed and refined. Think of it: An entirely new industry came into being during the rockiest stretch in 20 years!

For me, that realization was a useful reminder that these are not the first hard times this country has faced. In this, as in all things, the resiliency of the American people should not be underestimated. FC

Random Summer Ramblings

Leslie C. McManus 

My body may be parked at a desk, but my mind has gone to the beach. Suddenly untethered by the arrival of summer, the old brain ambles down random paths, stops to smell roses, lazily wonders at things past and things yet to come.

Like the whisk broom. Time was, there was a whisk broom in every car. Decades have passed since I last saw one. Same with the ball compass, once a standard after-market feature on the dash of the family sedan. I was not of driving age when the ball compass was all the rage, so I have no skin in the game — but what was that all about, anyway? It seems like overkill, as if the driver was setting out on an Arctic expedition rather than just going to the grocery or the bank.

Frankly it would make more sense to me today, when at least half of the population doesn’t have a clue which direction is north. That is what Google Maps is for, I guess. These days, every vehicle has built-in cupholders. We may not know what direction we’re going, but we’re darned sure going to be well-hydrated when we get there!

Speaking of going — this summer, when plans to attend shows around the country have been totally upended, my mind keeps turning the pages backward, remembering shows I’ve attended in the past. Recently, for instance, I recalled a show in Maryland, where I stopped to watch a blacksmith demonstration. As we chatted, he worked at the forge, forming something so small that his hands hid it from view.

When he finished, he presented me with a tiny but richly detailed horseshoe. The entire piece was about the size of a dime. “Someday,” he said solemnly, looking me straight in the eye, “some archaeologist will dig that up and say, ‘Damn! They used to have tiny little horses around here!’”

Many clubs have cancelled their 2020 shows; others bravely forge ahead. Some folks are making plans to hit the road; others are leaving suitcases in the attic. If you go, take good care! And if you stay put, take the opportunity to think back on shows you’ve attended. Remember the people, the displays, the sounds and smells, the chance encounters, the ice cream. You may be staying home, but your mind doesn’t have to. Here’s to the joy of the summer show season, past and present! FC



Farm Collector April 16Farm Collector is a monthly magazine focusing on antique tractors and all kinds of antique farm equipment. If it's old and from the farm, we're interested in it!

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