First Things

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


Identify this Tractor

steering-wheel tractortractor-side

Can anyone identify this tractor?

These photos show an old tractor that I don’t know much about. The front tires, engine, muffler, intake and gas tank are not original.

Steve Thoune, 2012 12th Ave., Menominee, WI 49858; phone: (906) 863-8848;

Send letters to: Farm Collector Editorial, 1503 SW 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609 • fax: (785) 274-4385 • email: • online at:

Mom was Grateful!


In the November 2019 issue of Farm Collector, Sam Moore’s column brought back some memories.

When my parents moved to the farm where I grew up, the owner had a Ford Ferguson tractor. The only tools that went with it were a rear-mounted 2-bottom plow and a cultivator. Everything else was horse-drawn, with the tongues cut off. The hay fields weren’t square.

When Dad mowed them, Mom would ride the mower to raise the bar in certain places so it wouldn’t bunch the hay. Sometimes if Mom wasn’t aware and the mower hit a rock, it would throw her off. The farm owner noticed that one day and went to the local Ford dealer and bought one like the one pictured here. It was a real improvement, but like Sam stated, it was a bear to put on.

When we took it off and set it on blocks, the next time we put it on, it had usually fallen off the blocks. It was a real job to get it back up, fastened in place. When dad bought the farm, he scrapped that and bought a bigger tractor with live PTO and a trailer mower.

Duane Greenhoe, Ionia, Mich.

Send letters to: Farm Collector Editorial, 1503 SW 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609 • fax: (785) 274-4385 • email: • online at:

Be in the Know

Leslie C. McManusIf there is any certainty in the time of pandemic, it is that there is so much we don’t know. This year, for instance, we don’t know whether shows will be held, and if they are, how that will look — and feel.

And yet, there is much we do know. First and foremost, you know the value of a hobby that transports you to a different time. Especially now, a good diversion is priceless. Want to flush news of the day from your mind? Focus your attention on a piece of old iron, preferably the one that you’ve been avoiding. Spend a few hours on a mechanical challenge; mix up a batch of body filler.

You know that there is always a need for volunteers. Perhaps you find yourself in the embarrassing predicament of being woefully under-projected. Chances are very, very good that there’s something for you to do at your local showgrounds. Carpentry, repairs, painting, mowing, clean-up: If all of us spent the time we’d normally invest in attending shows taking care of our own showgrounds, think of the impact! And you’ll be perfectly safe: There is no more effective way to maintain social distance than to wield a rake or a paint brush. Believe me, no one will come near!

You know there are many ways to stay engaged with your hobby. Have you read all the books on your shelf? If not, this is a great time to dust a few off. Technology also provides a distraction: Tackle that online research you’ve been meaning to do; check out the collector websites you’ve been meaning to visit. Just pick up the phone, for pete’s sake! You probably have a far-flung collector buddy or two who you’ve not spoken to for years. Why not now?

And finally, you know you can count on us at Farm Collector to do all we can to keep this hobby moving forward. We’re still publishing, we’re still online and we’re still spreading the news. Our website, for instance, contains a listing of cancelled shows. Be sure to check the list before travelling. If possible, check the show’s website or call the show organizers. Take good care, and stay in touch: We want to know what you’re up to!


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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