A lot of people wouldn’t give a horse-drawn plow a second look. But Gerald Zimmerman knows a special piece when he sees it. And for him, a wooden moldboard plow said to date to the late 1700s is worth preserving as a window to the past, helping him understand a lifestyle almost unimaginable today.
According to documentation provided to him when he bought the piece in 2019, the plow was used on a Long Island, New York, farm owned by the Underhill family, among the first Europeans to settle on Long Island. “They grew potatoes and corn and operated a dairy,” he says. “Their fields were maintained by use of this plow.”
Gerald says he was told that by saving the plow, he would be preserving a piece of Long Island history that should never be forgotten. One look at the plow is enough to transport him back in time. “It reminds you that the pioneers’ lifestyle was quite amazing compared to modern day life,” he says. Until the 1820s, says C.H. Wendel in Encyclopedia of American Farm Implements and Antiques, “most plows used a wooden moldboard. About this time, the cast iron plow appeared.”
The plow was assembled with wooden pegs in much the same manner as an early barn. It has a wooden moldboard – possibly made of ash, Gerald says, because of its fairly straight grain – with iron on the share and bolts. One handle had been broken and was replaced with a handle salvaged from another implement. “The replacement does not match,” Gerald says. “Originally it had been used on something else.” Instead of bolts, hand-forged rose-head nails were used to secure the replacement handle.
“I think it was all made by one man, probably a blacksmith,” Gerald says. “You could see on the moldboard where the metal pieces were swedged on.” There are no markings on the plow and Gerald readily admits that it’s hard to be completely sure of the piece’s provenance. “So many people want to make a quick buck,” he says. “But someone thought something of that plow, and that saved it.”
A collection built over 50 years
Over the past 50 years, Gerald has built a collection of cast iron implement seats. He rescued his first seat from a farm sale junk pile in 1972. Today, his collection numbers roughly 270 seats. “I don’t have a lot,” he says, “but I’m happy with what I have.”
Among the standouts in his collection is a brass Archer seat. “It’s the only brass seat known of,” he says. No one knows why a brass seat was produced. Gerald has a hunch that it was used to make the original mold, or possibly it was part of an elaborate farm equipment display at the Columbian Exhibition of 1893.
The brass seat entered Gerald’s collection as a gift in 2007. “My wife, Frances, bought it for me for our wedding anniversary,” he says. But the Archer was not a complete surprise, as Gerald sat next to his wife as she bid on the piece. “I told her, ‘If you bid one more time, I’m going to hold your hand down!'” Frances was not swayed. “When we have supper tonight,” she told Gerald, “we’re not going to say we should have bought that seat. We’re going to say we did buy it!”
A Buckeye seat is another rare piece in Gerald’s collection. “I tried to buy that seat for 19 years,” he recalls. The Buckeye company produced a full line of equipment, but this seat is one of five or fewer of its type known to exist. Gerald believes it was part of a horse-drawn reaper.
“You just have to admire it”
Gerald’s whetting cone would have held a whetting stone used to sharpen a scythe or a blade on a grain cradle. Formed from a steer’s or cow’s horn, the piece has a blacksmith-made hook on the back so it could be hung from a farmer’s belt. “They’d put water in it and use that piece inside to sharpen blades in the field,” he says.
A date and initials – 1845 and NBK – are carved into the horn. “I was really excited because it is such an early piece,” he says. “I have some other horns with no lettering or carving on them.” Gerald believes it would come with a peening hammer and denglestock for use in field repairs. After the auction, he began to have second thoughts. “Should I have bought that?” he asked himself. “But I got home with it and looked at it, and you just have to admire it.”
Another unique piece in his collection tells its own story. His Conestoga wagon jack, dated 1833, was part of the equipment on a wagon used to haul rye whiskey. Built from soft wood, the piece is painted red but the words rye whiskey, stamped in the wood, still show through faintly. “I never saw anything else like it,” Gerald says. “I have five wagon jacks. Some have the initials of the blacksmith who built them. But none of the others were painted.”
Telling the story of the past
Gerald’s collection includes one-row horse-drawn corn planters, walking plows, cattle dehorners, cast iron milking stools, small frying pans used as promotional pieces and brass door knobs – including one from the Pennsylvania state capitol bearing the state seal, rescued by a friend when old doors were being scrapped.
Many of his treasures are on display in his home. The Redding frying pans, for instance, occupy a shelf in the kitchen. The shelf is packed full, but “we can make room for more,” Frances says. Others – like a tractor and a pair of stationary gas engines – are stored in a shed. The early pieces speak eloquently of life in the past.
“I look at these things and I try to remember how they did things back then, because they didn’t have stores,” Gerald says. People could buy food here and there, but there were no clothing stores or manufacturers, only blacksmiths or carpenters. They just had to figure things out on their own.” FC
For more information: Gerald Zimmerman, 82 Church Rd., Hegins, PA 17938; phone: (570) 391-2055.
Leslie C. McManus is the senior editor of Farm Collector. Contact her at Lmcmanus@ogdenpubs.com.