In the antique farm equipment hobby, dairy collectibles occupy a quiet backwater. Even in California’s dairy country, even when polished stainless, nickel and brass finishes shine like mirrors, old cream separators and milking machines garner little interest. And yet even these relics have their champions, collectors who work overtime to share their hobby and help people understand the history of dairying.
Joe Gomes, Hilmar, California, and Joe Pedro, Tulare, California, staged elaborate displays of dairy collectibles gathered over decades at this spring’s 22nd annual California Antique Farm Equipment Show in Tulare. Located in California’s Central Valley in the middle of farm country, the event is a useful reminder of the impact of technology on agriculture.
The dairy displays showed churns and separators, milk buckets and cans, stools and pails spanning a period from about 1880 to 1930. As in nearly every collectible niche, porcelain signs are popular; restored commercial vehicles rounded out the displays. With the possible exception of the delivery van and milk truck, none of these relics have the curb appeal of an antique tractor or stationary engine — but each speaks eloquently to the evolution of technology.
“I was born and raised on a dairy,” Joe Gomes says. “But my dad sold the cows when I was 12.” A graduate of the National School of Meat Cutting, Toledo, Ohio, Joe eventually became owner of Dairyland Market in Hilmar, and that’s where he launched his collection. “My mother-in-law gave me my introduction to the collection,” he says, “when she gave me my father-in-law’s two DeLaval milkers.” Creating his first display, Joe installed the milkers over the store’s produce case.
At one time, the dairy industry touched nearly every household in the valley. “Dairy was everything here,” Joe says. “I remember the days when you’d go to town at 7 or 8 in the morning and there’d be 100 pickups loaded with milk cans lined up at four creameries. Now there’s just one creamery left and no more milk cans.”
Today, “all of the good stuff” is in collections, Joe says, though great finds remain possible on online auction sites. Individual dairy collections are often large, but the number of collectors is shrinking. Joe’s had the opportunity to buy four collections to bolster his own, which includes 160 butter churns, more than 400 unique cream separators and milking machines made by 22 manufacturers.
Cedric and Dolly Kleinhans, Tulare, use their collection to showcase horse-drawn implements and other early pieces. At the Tulare show, their handsomely restored hay loader was nearly regal in rich coats of red, green and yellow paint. The centerpiece of their display, the 1930 John Deere No. 201 double-cylinder loose hay loader once represented cutting edge technology.
“This eliminated the days of shocking hay,” Cedric says, “and that was work. I know; I did that when I was a kid. It keeps you hustling if you have horses that move.” When he got the piece (it came from New York), it was not in the best shape. “A lot of the slats and chains were broken,” he says. He tracked down replacement slats, made of ash, from Amish craftsmen in Indiana and hired a wheelwright to turn the spool.
Putting the loader back together again was more complicated. “I have a good memory,” Cedric likes to say, “but it’s short.” He had a parts book but nothing that showed assembly, so Dolly tackled the puzzle. “I had a parts list with parts numbers,” she says. “I just started figuring out parts by size and shape.” She also painted the piece (the couple does all their own restoration work).
Potatoes were the focus of a big part of the couple’s display, which included a 1911 seed potato cutter, a planter dating to the 1940s and a plow slightly older than that. The showpiece of the potato display was a potato and onion grader in very good original condition. Built by Boggs Mfg. Corp., Atlanta, New York, the piece used two sets of screens to sort potatoes and onions.
Cedric and Dolly have been collecting antique farm equipment for at least 30 years. “My dad farmed with horses,” Dolly says. “He bought his first tractor in 1939. He grew hay and everything was done with horses. We cut it, raked it, hauled it and put it in the barn, all with horses … and I was ‘Junior.’ My sister stayed in the house and learned to cook.” Today, her dad’s hay wagon, mowing machine and rake are among her prized possessions. “I don’t know why,” Dolly muses, “but even before I was a teenager, I liked old things.”
Clinton Pigg, Visalia, California, showed a 1913 Sheffield 25 hp gas engine with deep roots in the Central Valley. Although the Sheffield was manufactured in Kansas City, Missouri, for decades it pumped water for the nearby city of Exeter.
A cosmetic restoration had already been done on the engine when Clinton bought it. But during a session with a wire brush, he found traces of red and pinstriping underneath the black paint so he gave it a fresh coat of paint. He also had replacement gears built. “I’ve only heard of one other Sheffield,” he says, “and it was a 3 hp engine.” His has a 10-inch bore and stroke; it weighs 7,160 pounds. “It runs good,” he says. “When it pops, it draws a crowd.”
According to C.H. Wendel in American Gasoline Engines Since 1872, Sheffield Gas Power Co. was established in 1909 as a reorganized version of Weber Gas & Gasoline Engine Co. In about 1913, the company was renamed Sheffield Gas Engine Co. It later resumed operations under the Weber name.
Mike Tyler, Ridgecrest, California, showed another rare engine, also built in the Midwest. His 7 hp Schmidt was built by the short-lived Schmidt Bros. Engine Works, Davenport, Iowa — making it a natural for Mike, who was born and raised about 30 miles away in Illinois City, Illinois. But the engine’s unique design also caught his eye. “The first thing that caught my attention was the spokes,” he says. “They’re all curved in toward the flywheel. I’ve never seen another engine with spokes like that.”
The Schmidt, which dates to about 1909, has what Mike describes as “lollipop” governor slides and a spark plug with a timer. The engine has no grease cup. Instead, a drip system functions as a single-point oiling system.
Schmidt used the phrase “chilled cylinder” in its trade name, referring to an unusual foundry process. “The cylinder wall was chilled during metal pouring process,” explains C.H. Wendel in American Gasoline Engines Since 1872. “Chilling gave the parts a peculiar surface hardness while remainder of casting kept its relatively soft properties. The hard dense grain of the metal on the cylinder wall experienced far less wear than ordinary casting and was theorized to be better able to transmit heat from the cylinder.”
An enterprising entrepreneur, company owner Ben Schmidt offered buyers a 10-day free trial. After that, the new engine owner would pay $7.50 down (about $192 today) followed by a series of “easy monthly payments.” Schmidt engines were guaranteed for five years.
California-built engines represent the bulk of Mike’s collection today. He has a 6 hp Union Hoist, a 5 hp Frisco Standard marine engine, a 4 hp Frisco Standard stationary engine, an early 6 hp Western, an 8 hp Hicks marine and a 1 hp Pacific marine dating to 1891 (the latter was built in San Francisco but Mike tracked it down in Australia).
Richard Borgaro’s 1918 Cleveland Model H is a California classic, customized in honor of Richard’s grandfather. “You have to open the rocker arm to oil this tractor,” he says. “I remember the first thing my granddad did when he got a new Cleveland or a Cletrac was take off the side panels so it’d be easier to work on that engine. He knew a tinsmith who’d build a hinged hood for him.”
Collector Robert Pratt gave the Cleveland to Richard; Richard is completing the restoration Robert started. “It’s important to pass these pieces on to the next generation,” Richard says. “We need younger people in the hobby. Without another generation to enjoy this, it will all end up in museums. Someday I’ll find somebody to pass it on to.”
Richard, who lives in Grass Valley, California, is making the Cleveland as original as possible, using a parts tractor from his collection. He paired the Model H with an Oliver No. 2 subsoiler that would have been used to break up California hardpan. On the Oliver is a length of manila rope stretching from the seat to the trip lever. With a clove hitch on one end and the end woven back into the rope on the other, it adds an authentic touch to the display.
Bill Irving, Paso Robles, California, was visiting his daughter in the Netherlands when he stumbled onto a pair of Porsche tractors: a 1959 Porsche Junior and a 2-cylinder 1961 Porsche Standard T. For a longtime Porsche enthusiast (Bill is a 34-year member of the Porsche Club of America), it was a case of love at first sight. Getting the tractors to California was a major undertaking but eventually they arrived in the Port of Los Angeles in a 20-foot container. “All I had to do was reconnect the battery cables,” he says. “The seller had tagged them with a few notes (in English) on starting operations, and they fired right up.”
According to the Porsche-Diesel Tractor Registry website, the line was designed by Dr. Ferry Porsche beginning in 1934. The tractors were originally equipped with a hydraulic coupling between the engine and transmission as the engineers didn’t believe farmers could handle clutches. Three prototype tractors were built in 1934, all with gas engines. Those designs led to development of air-cooled diesel engines ranging from 14 to 55 hp.
After World War II, Porsche was not allowed to produce tractors in Germany and licensed its engine design to Allgaier in Germany and Schrantz in Austria. In 1956 Mannmesman bought the license for the Porsche diesel engine and the Allgaier tractor design and produced the tractors until the end of 1963.
Between 1956 and 1963 more than 125,000 Porsche-Diesel tractors were produced. During that time, American Porsche-Diesel Corp., Easton, Pennsylvania, sold approximately 1,000 Porsche-Diesels in North America, mostly on the East Coast and in Canada. The bulk of the tractors sold were either Juniors or Masters as the Standard T and Super were not price competitive with American tractors of equivalent horsepower. FC
For more information:
— California Antique Farm Equipment Show, April 17-19, 2015, International Agri-Center grounds, Tulare, CA 93274; (800) 999-9186; email: email@example.com; online: California Antique Farm Equipment Show.