Complementary Antique Collections

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Above: The beautiful finish on this John Deere Model AW is the result of months of hard work. The tractor has the 42-inch rear wheels that were installed after the Hi-Crop version was discontinued in 1947.Left: The dash finish on Bob’s John Deere Model AW is every bit as smooth and shiny as the glass in the gauges.
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Left: A farm-made grain wagon with running gear and wheels from old truck parts has found new life in the McCausey garden.
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Above: Bob saved this Model L from donating its critical organs to a homemade tractor project.Left: Bob assembled this Fairbanks-Morse engine from a pile of parts, and smoothed its surfaces before applying the finishing touches. The nicely contrasting truck rails were cut from a wild cherry log.
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Above: The McCauseys found this beautifully weathered tobacco transplanter near Pall Mall, Tenn. Lichens now grow on the thigh-rests in front of the seats where laborers once sat as they placed tobacco seedlings into the furrow by hand.Top left: When he finished the restoration of this Meade Mighty Mouse crawler, Bob didn’t have the heart to drive it, so he built this aluminum trailer, allowing him to take it to shows without ever having to load or unload it.Left: This old cistern pump’s chains and cups no longer reach below the surface for water.
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Left: Often called flax wheels, foot-treadle-powered spinning wheels such as this aged horizontal bobbin and flyer model are among Jo’s favorites.Above left: This relatively evolved butter churn employs dasher paddles mounted on the crankshaft that literally beat the butter out of the cream.Above right: This treadle-powered grindstone, now out to pasture at the McCausey estate, is only one of many such devices that now find firm footing in the garden.Right: Early American farms used covered wooden firkins such as these to store lard, butter, sugar and other foodstuffs.

“We didn’t know what it was, but we knew we had
to have it,” Bob McCausey explains while rolling an ancient,
horse-drawn tobacco transplanter out of the shed. “We found it near
Pall Mall, Tenn., on one of our trips through the U.S. 127 Corridor
Yard Sale.” That event, now in its 19th year, has become a virtual
Mecca for collectors, but Bob and his wife, Jo, have many other
sources.

The Mulliken, Mich., couple has been collecting together for as
long as they can remember, and though they search for different
things, they support one another’s efforts. Bob enjoys making old
machines work perfectly and look beautiful, but he is particular,
and likes them to be fairly complete from the beginning. Jo finds
fascination in wooden and stoneware vessels, and other farmhouse
objects, but they have to be in nice condition to get through the
doors to the house. Both are drawn to well-weathered pieces, like
the tobacco setter, which they put back to work by innovatively
installing them in their yard.

Fantastic finishes

“I started painting many years ago because I wanted it done
right,” Bob explains, pointing out that the castings on his 1949
John Deere Model AW are perfectly smooth. “I might have gone a
little overboard on this one, but I like a smooth finish.” The 1949
AW isn’t the first tractor he ever painted, but it was the first
that he really went all out on, and it required some creative
repairs to get it running.

“I bought it from a guy who had overhauled the engine, but he
couldn’t get it to run,” Bob explains. “It had new pistons, new
rods, a new crank and everything, but it wouldn’t run.” The tractor
had been parked for quite a while when he negotiated the purchase,
but it was still loose. “It took me a while to figure out what the
problem was,” he says. “Turns out the cam was out of time with the
crank.” Bob took care of that problem by removing the engine’s
flywheel and timing cover, and carefully removing the cam bearing
with the aid of a cutting torch.

With the bearing gone, there was sufficient clearance to move
the camshaft gear away from the crankshaft gear just enough that
they disengaged. Bob then rotated the crank and cam independently
of one another until the timing marks were aligned, and he
reengaged the gears, installed a new bearing and buttoned up the
engine. “I still needed to do some work on the governor and the
ignition system before it would run right,” he says.

Once the tractor was mechanically sound and free of leaks, Bob
prepped it for paint. The sheet metal was all there, but it was a
little rough and required a good deal of straightening and repair.
Along the way he also decided that he was going to take every nub
off of every casting and make the tractor smooth. “I spent about
five months grinding castings and taking care of the sheet metal,”
he says. “And then it took about another month of sanding, priming
and blocking before I painted it.” Bob chose authentic John Deere
paint for the project, and finished with a new set of tires.

“I had so much fun with the Model AW, that I went looking for
another project,” Bob says with a chuckle. “I found it in a garage,
and like the AW it was complete, but not pretty.” His new project
was a tiny crawler called a Mighty Mouse, built by the Mead
Specialties Co. in the late 1950s (see Farm Collector,
April 2003). “The Mighty Mouse ran great so I played with it for a
while first,” Bob says. “Then I tore it down and gave it the
works.” Since the mighty little crawler was mechanically sound, he
cleaned and straightened components, and prepped them for paint.
“It looked so pretty when I was finished that I hated to drive it
at all,” Bob admits. His solution was to fabricate a pint-sized
aluminum trailer to haul it on, and it hasn’t been off the trailer
for a few years now. “I start it up now and then and work the
hydraulics to keep it up,” he says. “But I just can’t bring myself
to mess up those tracks by driving it.”

Among Bob’s other fine finishes, two in particular stand out: a
1939 John Deere Model L, and a Fairbanks-Morse 3-hp engine he
believes to be a 1913 model. Bob found the engine in Traverse City,
Mich., and thought it looked like an interesting project. “I had
never done an old stationary engine, so when I saw it, I had to
have it,” he admits with a laugh. “It’s my first and only engine.”
Like many of his projects, the Fairbanks-Morse was complete when he
obtained it, but it was completely apart – and putting it together
was a learning experience.

When it came time to mount the engine on its trucks, Bob opted
to replace the aged oak. “I found a beautiful wild cherry log at a
sawmill, and bought it,” he explains. “I took it over to a friend’s
house and we cut the timbers.” Bob used the original oak from the
trucks as a template and applied the same care with finishing them
in a way that would be satisfying and beautiful. “I thought the
color of the cherry would go nicely with the green of the engine,
so I finished it with clear (varnish).”

As collectible as the John Deere Model L has become, Bob’s 1939
was facing a most uncertain future when he discovered it. “I was
visiting with a guy who built homemade tractors, and found it in
his basement,” he explains. “He was going to scavenge parts from it
for his projects, but I talked him out of it.” Once the deal was
struck, the Model L had to be winched out of the basement. It too
was relatively complete. Once Bob had the Model L back together and
running, he spent untold hours prepping it for paint, and making it
quite beautiful again.

“I put so much time into those projects that I don’t do many of
them,” Bob explains. “I enjoy the mechanical work, but I really
like to give them a fine finish.” Jo agrees that while Bob’s
finishes are the finest around, he doesn’t feel compelled to
refinish everything they find.

Firkins, flyers and finer things

Jo isn’t certain how she first got interested in storage
vessels, butter churns, spinning wheels and other practical pieces
that provide links to the past. “I think I got the collecting bug
in part from garage sales,” she says. “I saw interesting and
decorative things, and brought them home.” Jo’s passions have
included old bicycles, tools and galvanized metal objects, among
other things, and she often found ways to incorporate her finds
into a perennial garden or border planting. Later she brought
nicer, more delicate pieces into the house.

“I am really into firkins right now,” Jo says. “These were once
used at the farm to store bulk supplies like sugar or lard.” The
containers are constructed of tapered slats bound with bent wooden
hoops in a manner reminiscent of a barrel, which is no surprise
since the word firkin comes to us from the Middle-Dutch
vierdekijn, defined in the late 1300s as a fourth of a
barrel. Unlike most barrels, however, the firkin’s sides are
straight, though the vessel’s diameter tapers, with bottoms wider
than the open tops, and removable lids. Although it is difficult to
date unmarked firkins, they are considered to be relatively
primitive early American (or older) containers and are most
valuable when found with their lids and wooden bails intact.

Jo is also interested in early stoneware vessels, particularly
jugs, and containers with rounded sides. “I don’t keep very good
track of the makers,” she explains. “I collect the pieces that
catch my eye.” Jo particularly looks for salt-glazed jugs and jars
with blue embellishments, and she uses the pieces as a significant
part of the décor in her house. “I like to display these things
around the house,” she says, lifting a dasher from one of a neatly
arranged trio of stoneware butter churns in the corner of the
kitchen. “Dusting is a real chore, but it looks nice.”

A glance through the door leading from the McCauseys’ kit-chen
to their living room reveals a museum-like space adorn-ed with even
more vintage vessels, primitive wooden bowls, utensils, toys and a
pair of beautifully preserved spinning wheels. “I am fascinated by
spinning wheels,” Jo explains. “I think they are beautiful.” She
collects two kinds of wheels – a foot-treadle horizontal bobbin and
flyer model, and a larger wheeled horizontal spindled wool wheel.
Although neither device has been put to work in the manufacture of
yarn from farm-fiber in recent years, the fact that they once did,
and that they survived intact, is testament to their once important
place in the homestead.

Jo isn’t certain where her collecting passions will lead her
next. Today she is focused on candle molds and rocking horses, but
that could change tomorrow.

Meeting in the middle

Despite divergent collections, Bob and Jo are fully supportive
of one another’s passions. Each looks for items that might be of
interest to the other, and both appreciate the efforts of their
partner. And better yet, the two manage to combine their interests
with certain pieces.

“When I bought the old auger wagon, I didn’t know what I was
going to do with it,” Bob explains while pointing out the solid
rubber tires on the wooden-wheeled relic. “We decided it would look
nice in the yard.” Knowing that exposure to the elements would be
hard on the farm-built, oak-sided wagon box, and that if left open,
it would collect leaves, which would rapidly destroy the auger
mechanism and floor, Bob oiled the wood, and built it a roof. The
wagon now provides a perfect backdrop for an interesting old
poultry feeder and several other artifacts in one of Jo’s perennial
flower beds.

A careful look around the McCauseys’ yard reveals many such
displays, and some in the making. A delightfully dilapidated
foot-treadle-powered grindstone looks perfectly at home in front of
a backdrop of Bee Balm, and a 1950s vintage factory-errand bicycle
bearing a decal of the Perfect Circle Co., a maker of piston rings,
looks just right leaning on a fence that also supports several
galvanized metal fuel cans. In one corner of the yard, a small
island of flowers seems to sprout from an old cistern pump and
barrel, while in another a well-worn grinding stone rests easily in
a bed of hostas, shaded by a large maple tree.

One of the McCauseys’ more recent discoveries, the horse-drawn
tobacco transplanter, is the next likely major addition to the
yard. “We really didn’t know what to do with it, but it was too
interesting to pass up,” Jo explains. “We haven’t decided whether
to fix it up, or put it in the yard.”

The tobacco transplanter consists of a large metal water tank in
front of a planting shoe that opened the soil wide enough to
hand-place tobacco seedlings. Water from the tank gave the newly
placed seedlings a fighting chance, and the closer gently collapsed
the furrow on tender roots. A driver, leaning on the front of the
tank, controlled the horses and the flow of water, while two people
seated on either side of the shoe set the seedlings in the furrow.
“It’s hard to imagine spending a day sitting in those seats,” Bob
says shaking his head. “It had to be hot, dusty and uncomfortable.
And while Bob has thought about trying to restore the relic, he and
Jo agree that it would make a perfect focal point for that “new”
flower bed.

The McCauseys aren’t sure whether they will participate in the
Route 127 Corridor Yard Sale this year. If they do, they will
surely discover items of interest in their travels. “We always find
something,” Jo says. “But we never know what it is going to be.”
Bob agrees, adding that it may be time to get rid of some of their
collection to make room for more. Should that be the case, there is
no doubt they will find some way to meet in the middle to put it
all together.

– For more information:
Bob and Jo McCausey, 8680 Eaton Highway, Mulliken, MI 48861;
(517) 649-8862.

World’s Longest Yard Sale, Aug. 4-7, 2005: (800) 327-3945;
www.127sale.com

Oscar “Hank” Will III is an old-iron collector and freelance
writer and photographer who retired from farming in 1999. He splits
his time between his home in Gettysburg, Pa., and his farm in East
Andover, N.H. Write him at 243 W. Broadway, Gettysburg, PA 17325;
(717) 337-6068; e-mail: willo@gettysburg.edu

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