First Things

What I Did This Summer, Vol. 1

Leslie C. McManusYes, I was that nerd in the fifth grade. When the teacher assigned an essay reporting on What I did on my summer vacation, my fellow students groaned — and I did a happy little twirl. As the proud owner of a Kodak Instamatic (complete with those little square flashcubes), I even had photos to accompany the report.

Decades later, little has changed (other than the technology). I'm still reporting on what I saw this summer. The season started with a jaunt to Lubbock, Texas, to take in the Windmiller's Trade Fair, held this year at the American Windmill Museum. The museum speaks eloquently about the role of wind power in development of the west. It's an unbelievable collection, a beautifully conceived display, and the staffers are so friendly you may suspect they're on the chamber of commerce payroll. If you haven't been, go. There's nothing like it anywhere else.

Museum exhibits focus on everything from windmills to weights, turbines to trains, millstones to memorabilia. Visitors play an active role. Old-timers' recollections, preserved in the occasional display, capture the essence of a time now long past:

Two men who lived next door to each other were feuding. The feud started because one of the men, Mr. Barker, had a squeaky windmill and would not oil it, and it bothered Mr. Whitt's family at night.

Mr. Whitt awoke one morning to see Mr. Barker climbing his windmill tower. Mr. Whitt got his shotgun and, after Mr. Barker stepped to the next step of the ladder, Mr. Whitt would shoot off the step he'd just left. Mr. Barker got to the top of the tower and turned around and yelled, "What are you trying to do, kill me?"

"Nope," Mr. Whitt replied. "Just gonna leave you up there until you oil that windmill."

More about my summer later. In the meantime, where'd your summer travels take you? What interesting things did you see? Let us hear from you: We'd love to read your report! FC

Leslie C. McManus

P.S. The 2019 Show Photo Issue is just around the corner. Be sure to get your photos in by Nov. 1.

Putting a Fix on It

Leslie C. McManusThings I've fixed: chipped pottery, stubborn vacuum cleaners, rips and tears. The kids shake their heads, but some vestige of my forebears' thriftiness and resourcefulness remains intact in me.

At an antique store once, I saw a very old, very beautiful punch bowl, complete with ladle and cups. "Someone really loved that," my friend said, "to take such good care of it for so long."

I sometimes think of those words when I look at the china platter that belonged to my great-great-grandmother. The platter, small by today's super-sized standards, is scarred by a crack running from top to bottom. After some disaster that broke the piece clean in two — jostled in a wagon during a cross-country move? Dropped in a startled response to a snake in the kitchen? Some sudden calamity? — the halves were glued together.

Today the platter hangs on my wall in all its aged and imperfect glory. The glue holds fast but is stained; there's no mistaking the mend. And yet I love it all the more for that. Those who came before me clearly understood things like value and function and making do. This treasure — a broken relic to anyone else – has endured for five generations. It speaks quietly but eloquently of the people my forebears were.

All of that is a long-winded explanation of this: I'm no mechanic. Unlike a farmer forced to make his own repairs, I've never fixed anything of any particular importance. But when collector Dennis Krzyzowski — in an article in this issue of Farm Collector — speaks of his preference for pieces in original condition, I knew I'd found a kindred soul. "When I find something that has an old farmer's fix on it, I highlight it," he says. "I don't try to hide it, because to me, it really does tell a story."

It's an incomplete story, to be sure, but only the first half remains shrouded in mystery. When we see a fix, we know it was almost always grounded in necessity. "Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without."

Many marvel at the early technology that evolved without benefit of calculators, computers and higher education. But there's a lot to be said for resourcefulness and ingenuity, and this issue of Farm Collector is packed full of that story. Enjoy the read! FC

A New Way of Looking at Old Things

Leslie C. McManusThis issue of Farm Collector has changed the way I look at things. First it was Josephine Roberts, writing about Welsh horses. At least one Welsh Cob — the one owned by Josephine's brother — is on the job in a traditional application: herding sheep.

To tend his herd, Andrew Roberts has replaced a quad bike with a horse. In making the change, economy was important. As Josephine notes, :a horse has to be fed even if it isn't being used, whereas a quad bike doesn't. But a horse can live on the same grazing land as the sheep, and during the winter she eats the hay cut from the land, just the same as the sheep do, so in that respect … costs are minimal.:

For years now, I've been visiting with folks who recalled that glorious day when Dad got his first tractor — and all the chores associated with workhorses ended. "You don't have to feed a tractor every day," they'd say.

But for this young stockman, anyway, going against conventional wisdom seems to be working. Perhaps progress at any price isn't always a bargain. Could it be that, in some applications, some of the old ways are better? Then there's Clell G. Ballard's look back at something as simple and as essential as a shed door. Through acquaintance with a century-old barn, I've come to understand the importance of door orientation, to both maximize summer breezes and minimize the impact of northern winds in the winter, but the evolution of doors had somehow escaped my attention.

The advent of ever-larger and more costly equipment played a role in door size and placement, and made it more and more difficult for farmers to build their own. About the time push came to shove, things changed in a few important ways. Check out Clell's article to learn more!

And finally, there's the ill-fated Snow Cruiser, the topic of Sam Moore's column this month. With nearly 80 years' hindsight, the Snow Cruiser seems almost laughably fantastical. Yet it was built in 1939, just three years after Hoover Dam was completed — a product of an era when people tackled big problems with big solutions.

And reading about Antarctica — in a summer when we've had a bumper crop of heat — was an undeniably cool diversion. Here's hoping this issue of Farm Collector helps you find a new way of looking at old things! FC

Time to Hit the Road!

Leslie C. McManus It’s show season! That season you yearned for, while slogging through the depths of winter, is well and truly upon us. It’s sunny, it’s hot, there’s no wind chill and no snow to shovel. In other words, it’s time to hit the road.

Here at Farm Collector, we’re hitting the road so much that it’s hard not to feel like a raccoon. Last week, ad rep Terri Keitel and I went all the way down to Lubbock, Texas, for the International Windmiller’s Trade Fair. This week I’m heading the opposite direction, to the Hay Tool Collectors Assn. annual swap meet and show, in Viroqua, Wisconsin.

In August, my husband, Jeff, and I will lead a group of more than 40 on the Farm Collector tour of England, Wales and Ireland, winding up at the Great Dorset Steam Fair for a day and a half. Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, the event will showcase a record-breaking display of 500 full-size steam engines. Covering more than 600 acres, the Dorset show is one of Europe’s largest outdoor events with annual attendance of about 200,000.

Well aware that good things come in small packages too, the group will also take in a couple of shows on a much smaller scale, and I’m sure that everyone is excited by the possibility of getting acquainted with like-minded folks in Wales and Ireland.

Members of the Farm Collector team will wind up the show season with a visit to the Midwest Old Threshers Reunion in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, where we’ve long enjoyed the opportunity to visit with old friends and new during the Labor Day weekend. If you’re there, swing by the tent and have a chat with editor-in-chief Richard Backus and ad rep Terri Keitel.

Wherever your show travels take you this summer, remember to have fun, take lots of photos to share with us in our Show Photo issue (deadline: Nov. 1!) and, last but not least, be careful out there. Driving, loading, unloading, operating: Bear in mind the essential need to protect your safety and that of others. And that includes ice cream. Don’t eat and walk (cones excepted). Don’t indulge while operating a tractor. And know your limits. With careful pacing, it’s possible to squeeze in more than one serving in an afternoon. It’s show season: Scoop up some fun! FC

In a Manner of Speaking

Every now and then, when I want to amuse myself, I speak to my kids in a foreign language. “I think you’re counting your chickens before they’re hatched,” I’ll say. Or, “Don’t be looking a gift horse in the mouth.” Or, “You’ll be fighting those dandelions until the cows come home.”

Members of younger generations understand these words, but not the meaning. In that sense, references like those are a foreign language to them. The death of the family farm and the revolutionary changes in agricultural technology over the past century are conspiring to make farm-related figures of speech obsolete.

The old expressions have clear and deep meaning – to those of us who have a connection to traditional farm life and rural America. We all know, for instance, that you can’t beat a dead horse. Each of us know somebody who’s as stubborn as a mule or somebody who’s living high on the hog.

We nod gravely when we hear that someone is being sent like a lamb to the slaughter. We roll our eyes when a young person is described as “sowing wild oats.” We understand that when someone says, “The chickens have come home to roost,” he’s actually saying something along the lines of, “Well, what did you expect would happen?”

Buy the farm. Get your goat. Put out to pasture. Pig in a poke. A tough row to hoe. Bring home the bacon. Tall cotton. Interestingly, some young people seem to have a sort of rough comprehension of some of these phrases. They have, for instance, a general notion that “running around like a chicken with its head cut off” refers to a state of panic or agitation. Having never observed such a scene, though, they fail to grasp the nuance. The rest of us know that a headless chicken can carry on like a whirling dervish, but it will be a short-lived performance.

In the pages of Farm Collector, we routinely run into the concept of “separating the wheat from the chaff.” It always reminds me of my father’s similar description of an event that he predicted would “separate the men from the boys,” a phrase that would be met with disapproval in many circles today.

Time marches on, and I am determined to march with it. I expect to become fluent in today’s figures of speech. Just as soon as pigs fly. FC

Leslie C. McManus

Mona Lisa on the Farm

Leslie C. McManus

One of my favorite ways to lose 15 minutes is to examine an old black-and-white photo with a magnifying glass. Something of interest nearly always turns up. But when I took a look at the cover photo of this issue, I didn’t need a magnifying glass to get my attention.

It is admittedly an unusual photo. It’s not every day you see a pre-1920 photo showing two women doing fieldwork with a tractor and plow. Taken during the years of World War I, when men were in scarce supply on Britain’s home front, this photo shows the Women’s Land Army in action.

There were no surprises for me as I studied the woman at the controls of the tractor. Her posture tells a simple story. Even seen from the back, there is something businesslike about her. The plow is where it should be and she is focused on her work. I think of her as Martha or Maude or Melba.

The woman operating the Ransomes plow, however, has something up her sleeve. Wearing boots and a dress, sporting a beret and a numbered armband, she holds a delicate balance atop a thin strip of iron. Hers is no smooth ride, but her posture on a tiny perch suggests confidence.

And then there’s her face. We can’t quite see her face but I am convinced she is smiling. Something about her profile suggests a toothy grin – at the very least, a broad smile. I think of her as Mona Lisa.

What in the world is making her grin so big? Is she amused by imagining the horror that would register on the faces of farmhands-turned-soldiers if they could see women running the farm? Is she a tomboy at heart, blissfully happy to finally have an opportunity to engage in the kind of meaningful work previously off-limits to her? Or is it just the sheer adventure of it all?

Mona Lisa guards her secrets. All we know for sure is that a photographer captured a singular moment in time a century ago. In this issue of Farm Collector, through photos like this and others, columnist Josephine Roberts gives us a look at life in Wales 100 years ago. Take a break and enjoy this little bit of time travel! FC

Opening a Window onto the Past

Leslie C. McManus

The next shiny thing: True collectors are always on the prowl for the next addition to their collections. But a good story could be your real coup.

Things tell us something of the past. In the evolution of mechanization, we see the incredible impact tractors have had on small farm operations. We know what the windmill has made possible. Hand corn-husking devices – something as simple as a glove-like thing with a metal hook – tell us much about the monumental labor demanded by a farm a century ago.

But you cannot beat a story from an old-timer: When it comes to understanding the past, that story is the gold standard. Whether he’s recalling a firsthand experience, or whether she’s sharing a story told to her in girlhood, our elders provide us our best window onto the past.

The fast-approaching show season presents a unique opportunity. Many of you hustle like crazy to get displays ready for shows, but often have little to do (other than trolling the swap meet and standing in line for ice cream!) once you get there. This year, why not make it a point to collect some stories?

Bring an extra lawn chair. Stash some bottled water in a cooler. When an elder pauses at your display, invite him or her to sit a spell. Almost everybody appreciates the chance to tell their story. If someone says your display reminds them of a childhood experience or something their dad told them, take that ball and run with it!

You may hear nothing of importance. It’s equally likely that you may be given a gift of a singular moment in time. If you’re able to share the story with another, so much the better. Perhaps you retell it at the next meeting of your antique tractor club. Maybe you even write it down and send it to us at Farm Collector. The important thing is to keep the flame burning.

The history of an early manufacturer is enlightening. Production records tell us a lot. But when we learn how people worked with early machinery, when we learn how that technology was incorporated into daily routines, and how it changed those routines, that is when we truly understand the importance of the old iron we all love! 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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