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First Things

Keeping Pace with the Times

Leslie C. McManus

The more things change, the more they don’t. Those words of wisdom were imparted to me years ago. Still green then, I laughed at the words shared by a fine old gentleman now alive only in my memory. As I consider them at the start of a new year, I’m laughing less and smiling more.

We live in times of unprecedented change. To recount them seems a fool’s errand. Perhaps it has always seemed this way. Remember when the internet arrived? Email? Cellphones? Drop back to the time when man walked on the moon, when a transatlantic cable was laid, when Lindbergh crossed the ocean.

Imagine the time when farmers were encouraged to replace their tractors’ steel wheels with rubber tires. Heck, picture the advent of tractors, or gas engines, or steam engines, reducing back-breaking labor on the farm but quietly introducing a whole new array of challenges. People then surely shook their heads as we do today, but embraced change – progress! – and moved forward.

Did they look back, wistfully, as we do now, and remember the old ways? It’s hard to imagine anyone begrudging the arrival of electricity on the farm, for instance, or running water or indoor toilets. And yet, how did the man who had farmed with horses reconcile the gentle sounds of horse-drawn implements with those of a newfangled tractor? Gratefully, I suppose.

Today, those of us committed to preservation of the past celebrate an era when people lived simply – because they had to. We celebrate an era when entire families sacrificed most creature comforts – because they had, really, no alternative. We romanticize a time of relentless, lifelong labor while overlooking common ailments it caused. Remember lumbago?

I don’t know anybody who says, “Gosh, I wish I could live 50 years from now! I can’t wait to see what the future will bring!” Each of us yearns for another time, another place. And yet, the past is, as the poet says, a foreign country – they do things differently there.

Random thoughts at the beginning of a new year while gazing into a fire on a cold winter’s night. We try to keep pace with our times while looking back at what is known, what seems safe, what feels familiar. And that, dear reader, is surely a trait we share with our forebears. The more things change, the more they don’t! FC

Photos from the Family Album

Leslie C. McManus

All of us at Farm Collector look forward to the February issue all year long, because that’s when we get a chance to see tractor and engine shows through your eyes. When you send your favorite photos of the previous year’s shows, it’s like a giant box full of valentines.

When we shake out the box and look at all the photos, it’s as if the air is full of magic dust. Each year, the photos seem to conform to a theme of their own choosing. My job is to sit still and try not to mess it up.

As we sorted and sifted through this year’s batch of images, it quickly became apparent that we were looking at the pages of a family photo album. Nearly every photo seemed wrapped in family ties. Toddlers carefully wiping dust off engines. Moms and daughters working together at shows. Sons showing off dad’s tractors. Cousins up to their ankles in mud at pedal tractor races.

There is a particularly sweet charm to family members sharing a hobby, particularly a hobby that centers on the past. It is a fine thing when a new generation is completely captivated by something that connects them to a time they’ll never know. And when a person of any age learns a bit about mechanical devices, what makes them go, how they work and what they do, invaluable knowledge is spread.

But the family connection is bigger than that. When people draw family members into the world of old iron, the hobby expands. Chew on that for a minute. How often have you heard that young people aren’t interested in old tractors and engines? How often have you heard that they’re busy with other commitments, they have no money for a hobby, no place to stash a tractor or an engine? These photos say otherwise.

When people draw family members into the hobby, it is a uniquely effective form of recruitment. Newbies come with built-in mentors, and eventually pull in a friend or relative of their own. The old guard’s level of engagement in the hobby rises. It’s like a pyramid scheme that actually works!

Of course, not every family member will take the bait. Some will be a hard sell. It may take more time than you think. But when it works, it’s a beautiful thing. Food for thought at the start of a new year! FC

Old Souls and Holiday Wishes

Leslie C. McManus

In this issue, you’ll meet someone new – but you may soon feel, as I do, that you’ve known him forever. Writer Anthony Lovelace prefers back roads to interstates, old radio shows to streamed movies, and vintage postcards to email. He is, like many of us, an old soul.

Anthony will join us every other month, sharing his unique perspective in “View from the Back Roads.” It is there that he comes the closest to connecting with a way of life largely gone, but one for which he feels a strong affection.

You may be wondering what, exactly, is involved in defining yourself as “an old soul.” If you’ve felt a great appreciation for things of little interest to others your age, that’s one indication. If you sometimes feel a bit out of step with the times, that’s another. If you connect to the past more comfortably than the present, you might call yourself an old soul.

Many in this hobby connect with the past through the relics they collect. Often, a piece of cast iron or a watch fob or a windmill transports us back to times we remember fondly. For some, it’s all about memory and nostalgia; others have felt a nearly gravitational pull to the past since earliest childhood.

Old souls are sometimes recognized as having unique wisdom, a wisdom beyond their age. Sometimes it’s just a matter of preference or perspective. Old souls see things differently; they are little impressed by a flash in the pan.

That said, it’s hard to imagine the old soul who wouldn’t warm to Clell G. Ballard’s topic in this issue of Farm Collector. Focusing on the earliest heaters for automobiles, Clell reflects on a time when the car offered little more than shelter from winter’s wind.

Today, he accurately observes, we take it all – heat, defrosters, even heated seats and steering wheels – for granted. Only rarely do we let the weather keep us from our appointed rounds.

With the arrival of winter, our thoughts invariably turn to friends and family. Here at Farm Collector, we count all of you in that group. We send our very best wishes for a holiday as bright and warm as the one envisioned more than 200 years ago by poet Sir Walter Scott:

“Heap on more wood! The wind is chill.

But let it whistle as it will,

We’ll keep our Christmas merry still!”

Season’s greetings to you all! FC

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


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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