Collection Underscores Water Pump's Importance to Early Farms

One collector's basement museum of water pumps is based on function

| March 1999

  • Bob Emery and some of his biggest pumps.
    Bob Emery and some of his biggest pumps. The larger the spout, the higher the capacity. "(Those with a big spout) pumped a bucket of water in a hurry," Bob says.
  • A piece from Bob's collection: a Stag beer mug, complete with handle, used as a courtesy cup.
    A piece from Bob's collection: a Stag beer mug, complete with handle, used as a courtesy cup. "As kids, we learned that if there was no cup on the well, don't drink the water," Bob says.
  • Bob's transfer pump (front), used to fill steam tractors. The pump's metal handle is an unusual feature.
    Bob's transfer pump (front), used to fill steam tractors. The pump's metal handle is an unusual feature.
  • Bob's collection of pitcher pumps.
    Bob's collection of pitcher pumps.

  • Bob Emery and some of his biggest pumps.
  • A piece from Bob's collection: a Stag beer mug, complete with handle, used as a courtesy cup.
  • Bob's transfer pump (front), used to fill steam tractors. The pump's metal handle is an unusual feature.
  • Bob's collection of pitcher pumps.

People collect things for many reasons. But for Bob Emery, who collects water pumps, the motivation for his collection is, simply, function. 

"In their times, these pumps were really important," he says. "Every farm and every home had one."

The Emery household in rural Carlinville, Ill., is a water pump showcase, starting at the front yard. The family's mailbox is attached to a pump, and a pump is used as a lawn ornament.

Bob, a carpenter, started collecting water pumps about four years ago. He's an avid collector.



"Lots of pumps are in pieces, and I always give away duplicates," he says. "I buy and restore them."

His collection consists of 20 big water pumps and a dozen smaller ones. Most were made during the 1920s. All have been restored and repainted.