First Things

A Good and Faithful Servant

Leslie C. McManus

Say it ain’t so, Joe: Columnist Sam Moore has announced his plans to retire. In that he began his tenure at Farm Collector in 1998, when the magazine was all of four months old, it’s hard to remember when Sam’s column wasn’t part of the monthly lineup. Twenty-one years later, Sam is hanging up his hat. (Read more about that in Sam’s column beginning on Page 8.)

Sam’s carefully researched and written columns have appeared in 252 issues of Farm Collector. He is, in fact, the senior member of this team, having stayed on the job continuously, while I gave up day-to-day management of the magazine for a few years to tend to other duties.

Remember Cal Ripken Jr.? The famed ballplayer must have been Sam’s hero. Through more than two decades, Sam never called in sick; he never took an issue off. He has been as steady and true a contributor as any editor could ever hope for, consistently producing solid, informative and accurate content that has enjoyed high readership since day one.

Years ago, when Farm Collector entered the brave new world of the internet, I asked Sam if he would contribute the occasional blog to our website. With more than a little uncertainty in his voice, he asked what, exactly, a blog was. I tried to sound confident in my answer, and it must have worked, as he soon added “blogger” to his job description. That typified Sam’s role here. Anything we asked, he provided.

Many of you tell us that you like the varied content in Farm Collector. You found variety in Sam’s columns as well. From histories of early manufacturers to ice harvesting, “tin lizzies” to check-row planters, pneumatic tires to bonanza farms, Sam cut a wide swath through the past. Moving forward, we’ll showcase some of his most popular columns – his greatest hits, as it were – bringing his painstaking work back to life.

To a fledgling editor, Sam’s arrival on the scene in our very first December issue was akin to Santa coming early. His departure from these pages 21 years later feels rather like a lump of coal in my stocking. I know you join with me in wishing him well, and hoping he’ll find reason to drop in every now and then. Thanks to Sam, we all understand more about our past. Well done, good and faithful servant! FC

C.H. Wendel, 1939-2019

 C.H. Wendel

With the death of C.H. Wendel in August, the old iron community has lost its preeminent historian. The author of more than 30 carefully researched books during a 40-year career, Wendel was our resident expert on all things related to old machinery.

Whether you knew him as Chuck or Charlie or C.H., you knew him to have a deep and enduring passion for machines, engines and tools. The author of American Gasoline Engines Since 1872, Wendel also published definitive works documenting development of tractors, farm equipment, industrial engines and steam engines.

Born in 1939, Wendel did not bear witness to the period when mechanization came to the farm. But from an early age, he paid close attention to those who did. “I’d court the old timers,” he told me in a 2008 conversation. “I learned all I could from them, especially about the threshing days, starting as early as when I was in grade school.”

Taken in sum, Wendel’s talents, interests, aptitudes and discipline seemed designed for the most important role he would play: that of historian. Research was the cornerstone of his work.

Accustomed to the presence of errors in printed material, Wendel conducted as much research as humanly possible when writing his own books. “I refused to rely on hearsay,” he said. “But research is not easy work. You have to do a lot of digging, and even then, you’re not always going to be successful. Time has a way of clouding a lot of things.”

Antiquated printing technology was another of Wendel’s passions. Involving both complicated machinery and precision work, the printer’s craft was a perfect fit for him. A lifelong supporter of the Midwest Old Threshers in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, Wendel was instrumental in establishing Printers Hall there. “Printing keeps the brain active,” he mused.

For a man who taught himself to read, write and speak German, whose mind was full of schematics of engines built a century earlier, and who loved nothing more than a daunting mechanical challenge, it’s hard to imagine he had to work at keeping his brain active. But his was a mind of insatiable curiosity. “I’ve had to teach myself to get the most out of every day that I can,” he said back in 2008. Almost single-handedly, he built a solid foundation beneath this hobby, and that will long serve as Wendel’s enduring legacy. Hail and farewell to one of a kind! FC

Leslie C. McManus

Agriculture and Education

Leslie C. McManus

This issue of Farm Collector includes an article by Jim Lacey on a Holden’s Ideal Corn Tester. Jim knows a lot about the tester, but nothing about Professor Holden.

As it turns out, Perry Holden was a professor of agronomy at Iowa State University at the turn of the last century. Way ahead of his time, Professor Holden understood not just agronomy but marketing as well. In 1902, he offered a short course on corn for farmers. The course proved to be so popular that extra sessions were added, starting at 5 a.m. daily.

Holden worked with farmers and local government to set up a demonstration farm in northwest Iowa in 1903. In 1904, he took his show on the road. Collaborating with the railroads, he launched a program in which passenger cars were outfitted with speaker’s platforms and charts. Crossing the state by rail, he taught cars full of farmers how to select and test corn to get the best seed. He dubbed the program The Seed Corn Gospel Train.

According to an Inside Iowa State website, Holden was named the first director of Iowa Extension in 1906, eight years before the creation of a national Extension program. Under his guidance, in 1907 Extension department staffers worked with Iowa schoolteachers to instruct children in the basic principles of seed germination, planting a crop, harvesting and storing seed corn.

Perry Holden was passionate about agriculture and education, and that’s the kind of mix that gets things growing. It’s also a critically important pillar of this hobby, one that requires nothing more than the desire to interact with people (especially school kids), knowledge of antique farm equipment and/or traditional farming methods, and the stamina of a 19-year-old.

This is a trick the folks at the Mid-America Windmill Museum in Kendallville, Indiana, are pulling off with some regularity. But it’s no cakewalk. “A lot of the kids don’t know what a windmill is,” admits volunteer Jerry Stienbarger. (Read more about the museum in Mid-America Windmill Museum Celebrates the Past.)

The Seed Corn Gospel Train is lost to the mists of time, but I’m pretty sure I can still hear the choir singing as the old guard educates a new generation about traditional farm methods and old equipment. You volunteers who work with groups of school kids are as good as they come. Cheers to you!

Lessons Our Fathers Taught Us

Leslie C. McManus The lessons our dads instilled in us come up in conversation with some regularity. In my case, the lessons included how to drive, how to be an objective observer (There are always, he would say, at least two sides to every story) and how to comply with an established curfew (arriving home sooner was always better than later).

In this issue, Bill Vossler tells the story of the Abey kids who are happily sharing their dad’s antique engine hobby. Aaron Abey has a deep appreciation for history and the old ways, and he’s passing that on to the next generation. “This story shall the good man teach his son,” Shakespeare says. A parent’s job has never been as big as it is today. Hats off to those who take the time to bring the past to life in young minds.

Also in this issue, Bob Pripps takes a close look at inventor and entrepreneur James Oliver. Oliver was determined to teach his children by example. “I want my children to know the stress and strain of work,” he reportedly said, “and never to forget the burdens of life, in order that they may respect the burdens of others.”

And finally, I would share with you a poem written by my great-grandfather in 1939, well before the days when kids were distracted by cellphones and video games. It is a special thing to see a dad impacting young lives, but equally special to catch a glimpse, through a dad’s eyes, of a time irretrievably lost but never forgotten.

The Follerdads

Oh I was the big chief of the Follerdad tribe,
As loyal a crew as you’re likely to know
In the land of the true, where Kaw waters flow.

Oh blow east or blow west, or blow high or blow low
Where I wended my quest would the Follerdads go.
From the house to the farm, from the hill to the hollow
Where I pointed my arm would the Follerdads follow.

No more do my tribesmen respond to my rally;
Gone are the days when we scouted the valley.
But, oh, great Manitou, when you beckon me home,
I’ll be happy to go where the Follerdads roam.

— John Wesley Naylor

Happy Father’s Day to you all! FC

The Impact of American Industry

First ThingsFor many old iron enthusiasts, the history of early farm equipment manufacturers is as intriguing as the pieces they produced. In this issue of Farm Collector, we consider the industry behind the inventions and the toil behind the profits.

The Mississippi Industrial Heritage Museum – housing what was long known as the Soulé Steam Feed Works – gives a rare glimpse into what is believed to be America’s last intact steam engine factory. Opened in 1892, the Soulé works was a leading local employer in Meridian, Mississippi, for more than a century.

Today, the factory lives on as a museum, one that puts a high priority on education. “A lot of kids today are not exposed to work or manufacturing,” founder Jim McRae says. “We’re presenting something here to spark their interest, to help them decide what it is they want to do.”

Indeed, when the Mississippi Industrial Heritage Museum completed an extensive historical documentation and research project in 2005, the report noted that Soulé Steam Feed Works was one of only five remaining late-19th/early-20th-century foundry/machine shop/factories with original workings in the U.S. Before World War II, there were more than 1,000 such businesses in this country.

Today, the Mississippi Industrial Heritage Museum keeps that legacy alive, and you can read all about it in this issue. This issue also tells the story of restoration of a mammoth 1917 Vilter Corliss, one of three 150-ton workhorses in a meatpacking plant until its closure in 1979. Earlier industrial workers – draftsmen, iron molders, machinists, woodworkers, blacksmiths and painters – are the focus of this issue’s Iron Age Ads.

In his column, Sam Moore delves into the history of the Hart-Parr organization, down to and including an early labor conflict. And Don McKinley takes us back to the era when bluegrass seed was a cash crop in the Midwest. For a time, local manufacturers produced ground-driven machinery for local producers, a far cry from the 1880s, when women and young boys harvested the crop by hand.

The Industrial Revolution put an end to that kind of labor, provided employment for millions and made this country a global leader in technology and industrial processes. The proud legacy of early American industry endures today, and provides a firm foundation for this country as it faces the challenges of the future.

Leslie C. McManus

Lots of Miscellaneous Business

Leslie C. McManus

Random thoughts while tracking responses identifying a chimney cleaner in this issue’s What Is It section: Of the roughly 237,423 readers identifying the piece, all appear to reside north of the Mason-Dixon Line – which may explain the interesting notions of the piece’s use ventured by some of our southern readers. Responses came from most northern states (and Canada), with the most coming from Minnesota.

Fond memories while reading Bill Vossler’s article on restoration of a 1908 fire engine in North Dakota: Kraig Tracy, who was involved in preserving the piece, remembers it from his childhood. “It and an old truck were stored in an old building,” Kraig says. “We used to go in there and mess around with that old stuff.”

I was instantly transported to my own childhood, a time when I believed it was my birthright to snoop around any old thing that had been more or less abandoned in the small town where I grew up.

A nearby vacant lot held what I now know was a corn sheller, surrounded by aging piles of cobs. Just over a block away was what I now know to be an old corn planter, complete with seed corn in the hopper. For a townie, who knew nothing of farm implements, that machinery was mysterious and fascinating – and old, a condition that only enhanced its appeal to a nosy little kid.

It was a different era, one in which children were turned loose and expected to spend limitless hours playing outside, largely unsupervised. Every now and then you’d get tangled up with somebody who had strong feelings about the distinction between private property and playground, but things in general were just so simple back then.

And all kinds of good vibrations while reading of the chance friendship resulting from publication of a letter published in Farm Collector last summer. No spoiler here – read all about it in this issue’s letters section – but suffice to say it is an example of the best part of this hobby. Cheers to Eugene and Norman, and to all of you who’ve forged new connections through old iron! FC

Making Connections in the Hobby

Leslie C. McManus

This issue of Farm Collector is full of unexpected connections. In an article by J.O. Parker, reporting on the enthusiastic dedication of two Nebraskans, we learn about the way farmers once used rock crushers to create an extra revenue stream. Both for agricultural use as a soil additive and for use in road construction, rock crushers on the farm earned their keep – although the claim made in a 1921 ad for a manufacturer of rock crushers (“Make Big Money Crushing Limestone”) seems perhaps a bit optimistic.

That thread of entrepreneurship finds its way to an article by Jon Fieker. Writing about a business partnership established by his grandfather and great-uncle, Jon shows what two enterprising young men could accomplish a century ago with a traction steam engine. Roadwork (including rock crushing), sawing, threshing and more kept the engine busy and two young families afloat. The engines used in that partnership are long gone, but the brothers’ passion for steam endures two generations later.

Family ties also surface in an article by Bill Vossler, who reports on the Minnesota man who cherishes his daughter’s involvement in his old engine hobby. The two attend shows together, working side by side as they run engines from his collection. Having grown up around engines, Emily Knish tends to the hobby in both a hands-on way and with an eye to the future, telling her friends about old engines and encouraging them to attend shows.

And that’s the thread that leads us to Mutti Ketola, who collects chainsaws, and loves to share that page from the past with others. As writer Jerry Mattson explains, chainsaws are just part of Mutti’s collection. He’s filled seven restored barns with antique hand tools, hit-and-miss engines, chainsaws and more. Mutti enjoys nothing more than giving tours. Indeed, visitors from all over the world have had a look at his treasures.

All of these folks have at least one thing in common: They love their hobby, and they’re pretty sure others will too, if they can just reel ’em in and tell them all about it. They love the history, they love the early technology and they love bringing it all back to life. Enthusiasm like that helps build connections – and connections are what keep this hobby strong. Show season is fast approaching: What new connections can you make this year? FC

Leslie C. McManus


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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