Double Feature Show: Dairy Collectibles and Hay Equipment

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Dennis Nickerson with what he believes to be a one-quart Dandy churn. He recalls a similar model used in his home when he was a boy.
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A corn spear from the collection of Jay Hankee, Viroqua, Wis. The spear (at the end of a long wooden handle) was used when the farmer was headed home from the field with a wagon load of corn. “When the load shifted and an ear or two fell off, the guy on the wagon could use the spear to pick up the lost ears without getting off the wagon,” Jay says. “This is from the days when an ear of corn meant something.”
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Part of Keith Oltrogge’s collection of separator oil cans. These are from Massey-Harris in Canada.
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A snowshoe for a horse, from the collection of Jay Hankee. “They probably just used them on the horse’s front feet,” he says.
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Muck shoes, used on horses’hooves in muckland. These date to the late 1800s, and were displayed by New York collector Ron Bennett.
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A salesman’s sample cow stanchion from the collection of Charlie Hahn, Neosho, Wis. Charlie also displayed a rare 2-gallon Red Wing lye crock. “When I see something odd,” he says, “if it’s in good condition, I’ll buy it.”
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Keith Oltrogge with his display. At lower left, a Perfection milking machine sold by Massey-Harris Ferguson Ltd., Toronto, Canada. Top right: a rare Massey table-top separator.
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A cream separator made by the Melotté company in Belgium from the collection of the late David Stralow. “He milked for 40 years and he collected everything related to the dairy,” says his wife, Linda, Sterling, Ill. “Butter churns, cream separators, milking machines, pails, stools, milk and cream cans, milker pumps, cream pails and kickers.”
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Detail of the Perfection milker sold through Massey-Harris Canada.
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David Evans with a few pieces from his collection of dairy items. At the back of the table are insulating sleeves used to keep bottled milk at the right temperature after delivery. At lower left, containers to hold cans of sweetened condensed milk, once a table staple. At lower right, an early fiber milk bottle. Such containers were produced as early as 1912. The metal box with the stork image (far right) is an ice cream mold.
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Hay carriers displayed at the hay tool show.
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Items on David Evans’ table display included a device designed to prevent cows from kicking while being milked (left) and a Conant Tail-Still (right), designed, as the manufacturer concisely notes, “to keep the cow’s tail still” while milking.
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Antique bridle bits from the collection of Jay Hankee.
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Steve Weeber, who hosted the combined dairy/hay tool show near Iowa City, Iowa, has an extensive collection of hay carriers and related pieces. Many are displayed in this building, which provided a quiet place for collectors to visit and compare notes during the show in June.

Take a bunch of dairy collectibles, throw in vintage hay equipment and related pieces, encourage the kind of cross-pollination collectors specialize in and what do you get? A remarkable assortment of antique farm tools and equipment.

That’s exactly what transpired in early June near Iowa City, Iowa, when the 21st annual national convention of the North American Dairy Foundation was held in conjunction with the second annual Hay Tool Swap Meet and Show (for more on hay tools, see Farm Collector, August 2006). While the two groups have no plans to merge, the dual event was a reflection of undeniable realities.

“Our group is not growing,” admits Dr. Paul Dettloff, editor of the dairy foundation’s quarterly member publication, the Cream Separator & Dairy Newsletter. “But collectors are collectors. Some of the dairy collectors have hay items, and the hay tool collectors are showing interest in dairy things. There’s a little-known gene called ‘packrat’ and we’ve got it!”

The hay tool collectors group, just two years old, has no formal means of blanket communication other than mailings. Like good neighbors, the dairy collectors offered space in their publication. Today, the newsletter goes to about 140 dairy collectors and about 40 hay tool collectors, and contains information of interest to each group. “I think the dairy collectors have welcomed the hay people,” Paul says. “There’s a kind of camaraderie. It’s been kind of spontaneous. They help us and we help them.”

The hay tool collectors group is loosely structured. As yet, the group has little interest in official trappings like bylaws, minutes or officers. But you can’t argue with success: The group’s mailing list is at 225 and growing; about 100 members attended the dual show.

About 25 members attended the groups annual meeting in June. “They’re almost like a family,” Paul says. “They come from all over the country.” The group puts a priority on preserving dairy antiques … and on fun. “We usually have a display, swap meet and auction,” Paul says. “We’ve had conventions where we separated milk and made butter. We’ve run Babcock testers at conventions.”

Collection runs the gamut

David Evans, Litchfield, Mich., knows all about Babcock testers. David is interested in almost anything related to the dairy, and that includes spin-offs like ice harvesting.

“I started by collecting Michigan milk bottles,” he says. “Then I branched out to dairy items in general. But refrigeration was critical to the dairy industry, so I got into ice harvesting.” A century ago, David notes, as much as 25 tons of ice a year was harvested from rivers in the northeastern U.S. “It took 113 days to get it from New York to the Far East,” he says, “and on arrival, 70 percent of it was still frozen solid.”

Like many collectors, David soaks up the history related to his treasures. “I think about the work it took at the turn of the century just to get a bottle of milk from the dairy to the city,” he says. “It had to be packed in ice, put in crates, crates loaded and hauled, packed in ice again, then loaded into a truck or wagon or a train. In the city, milk was delivered by wagon one block at a time.

“The dairy would unload the milk for the entire neighborhood on one corner. They’d insulate it and cover it up. The delivery man would go to that corner, pick up milk for customers on one side of the block, deliver all that, then drop off the empties and load up again. Later, the wagon would come and pick up all the empty bottles and wash them all. And after all that, milk only sold for 3 cents a quart and the cows were all milked by hand.”

David grew up on a farm (including 48 cows in a stanchion barn). Decades later, he still milks a herd of 24. He’s been collecting dairy items for nearly 20 years. “I don’t look for things on the internet,” he says. “I love to travel. I go to antique shows and malls. If I find something I don’t have and have never seen, my day is made.”

His collection stretches into every corner of the category, including ice cream collectibles. He has an ice cream freezer dating to the 1850s, an ice cream sandwich maker and two cases of scoops. Still on his wish list: a rocking chair churn. “With one of those, the wife could rock, shell peas, hold the baby and churn butter,” he says with a grin. “Someday, somehow, I’m going to find one.”

Recalling dairy traditions

Keith Oltrogge, Denver, Iowa, has collected dairy items for two decades. “I was raised on a dairy farm,” he says, “and I can just barely remember cream separators in use.” Like many, he notes wryly, “We milked until I left home.”

His collection includes Massey-Harris tractors, milking machines, separators and separator oil cans. “Every separator had its own oil,” he says. He showed two unusual pieces at the Iowa show, both related to Massey-Harris: a Perfection milker sold by Massey-Harris Ferguson Ltd., Toronto, and a Massey cream separator.

And what would a dairy collectibles show be without at least one butter churn? Dennis Nickerson, Menahga, Minn., displayed what he believed to be a 1-quart Dandy churn. He remembers a similar model in use in his home when he was a boy. “Everybody took turns shaking it or you didn’t eat breakfast,” he recalls with a smile.

Dennis and his sons are active collectors of milking machines and cream separators. They attend several shows each summer, often displaying gas engines. “It’s always more fun to have an engine running something than to just sit there,” Dennis says. FC

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