On page 22 of this issue of Farm Collector is a photograph of a completely intact and beautifully preserved salesman's sample hay trolley. Such pieces turn up occasionally, but almost never perfect and complete. It reminded me of a very beautiful, very old crystal punchbowl a friend and I once saw at an antique store. Surrounded by 12 matching cups, the bowl gleamed in the darkness of the shop. Each of the pieces was perfect: Not so much as a chip could be found. "Someone loved that bowl very much," my friend observed, "or it would never have survived in such condition."
The salesman's sample belonged to an employee of F.E. Myers & Bro. At some point, he tucked it away in the attic, where it likely was soon forgotten. Why, though, did the owner save it in the first place? As a Myers employee, had he achieved particular sales success with trolleys? Or had he helped produce trolleys? Did he prize it as fine technology of the day? Did he appreciate the workmanship evident in the pint-size version of the real thing? Did he recognize the rapid evolution of technology in agricultural equipment, and save the sample for posterity? All we'll ever really know is that he cared enough for the piece to put it safely away, preserving it for later generations.
Shift forward nearly a century. Americans today still keep things. Those rental storage units you see around town? The modern version of a fencerow or an attic, they're part of an $18 billion-a-year industry. What's in all those units? Makes a person queasy just to consider it. Still, the things we keep say much about us. Ancient steam engines and tractors protected from the scrap drives of the second World War now form the foundation of this hobby. Today, young people more familiar with microchips than carburetors are able to reconnect with a long-lost era through the things we keep - antique farming tools.
Fifty years from now, what will have happened to all the tractors and engines and cream separators and hay trolleys? All that cast iron and steel, all those intricate mechanisms, the original lettering and shining new paint, the carefully gathered and hoarded parts inventories … what will become of it? If it truly matters, it'll endure. Collectors are little more than caretakers, but it is precisely that care that preserves another generation's legacy … the things we keep.