Dillon Farm Museum

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Above: It is hard to imagine using a glass canning jar as a fuel tank, but that is exactly what this 1918 Maytag engine was designed for. Collector Chuck Stewart notes such pieces are particularly rare because they were made only a relatively short time before being recalled because of safety issues.
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Left: Sparks fly on impact, as Dave Merceruio works a piece of steel, transitioning it from a round-sectioned taper to a square-sectioned shank.
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Above: This aged orchard sprayer points the way to the L. Norman Dillon Farm Museum.
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Left: Wooden wheelbarrows were once commonplace on Apple Pie Ridge.
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Upper left: W.P. Miller of Swan Pond, W.Va., built this wagon box, one of several schooner-style wagons in the museum’s collection.
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Above: Portable apple graders were once prevalent on orchards in West Virginia’s eastern panhandle. Boxes of freshly picked fruit were dumped in the hopper at the top, and individual apples either dropped through openings in the chain-like conveyor, or were conveyed to the platform at the bottom.
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Left: In the first station, the smallest apples dropped through the conveyor and onto the slatted chute below, which deposited them into a suitably positioned box or bucket. Apples deemed large enough were delivered to the conveyor at the second station, which had holes larger than the first. Medium-size apples fell through this second set of holes and into a container below. The largest apples rode the second conveyor to the end and were hand-packed to prevent bruising.
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Above: Close inspection of the apple grader’s conveyor links show an ingenious shape and connection that created grading loops in the spaces between the links, as well as in the links themselves. Note also the pyramidal cogs on the conveyor’s drive mechanism.
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Right: With a helper turning the crank, the Stewart sheep shearing machine made shorter work of that chore than more primitive scissor-type hand shears.
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Left: The museum’s Farmall Model H and McCormick-Deering No. 2 steel husker shredder look perfectly at home from this vantage point on Apple Pie Ridge.
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Below: Detail of the Stewart Ball Bearing No. 9 sheep shearing machine’s driveshaft connections. These specially shaped gears allowed the shear operator plenty of flexibility and prevented binding.
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Below: Volunteer blacksmiths forged this hasp and staple. Diamond-head nails were also handmade for the project.

In 1974, when life-long farmer L. Norman Dillon
retired, he’d already witnessed substantial erosion of the agrarian
way of life in eastern West Virginia’s panhandle, especially his
beloved Apple Pie Ridge of Berkeley County. Because he so valued
his own experiences on the land, he felt compelled to plant a
tender but generous seed to ensure that generations to come could
share in the hard work and joy known by those who settled the ridge
and turned it into a diversely productive area.

“Mr. Dillon’s seed came in the form of a $10,000 gift to the
school board,” explains Dillon Farm Museum board member Tim Yates.
“That money came with the stipulation that a volunteer advisory
committee assist with planning and eventual implementation of an
agricultural heritage museum.” A shrewd businessman, Dillon also
ensured that neither the funds, nor the income earned from their
investment, would be used for anything but the museum project,
which took over a decade to become a reality.

The L. Norman Dillon Farm Museum, formally dedicated in 1987, is
situated on 8.3 leased acres of land once part of the original
Dillon farm, but now owned by the Board of Education. The museum’s
mission is to pay tribute to this country’s founding
agriculturists, offer a portal for young and old to make that
powerful connection with the land, and showcase how food was raised
and processed in West Virginia’s panhandle. “I think our biggest
strength right now is in the diversity found in our collection,”
Tim says, “although our educational outreach and demonstration
capabilities are also significant.”

Panhandle prize

West Virginia’s eastern panhandle was home to a diverse range of
agricultural practices, including tree fruit, small grains, row
crops, dairy, beef, sheep and timber. And though a number of
working apple orchards remain, even more remnants of old orchards
can be discovered among housing developments, where a few trees
escaped the bulldozer. Gone with the old orchards are some of the
tools and practices of the trade, but those things can still be
found at the Dillon museum.

For example, a number of apple-centered artifacts are found in
the museum’s collection, including a beautifully preserved (and
recently restored) apple grader. This hand-cranked device allowed
the apple producer to quickly and relatively easily process boxes
of fruit into three different size categories.

Close study of the grader reveals an intricate series of
interlocking cast iron rings connected chain-like to form a
perforated conveyor belt that transports larger fruit, allowing the
smaller to pass through. The size-sorting device uses two such
conveyors – one with larger diameter rings than the other. In
operation, the smallest apples in the batch fall through the first
perforated belt, the medium-size fruit fall through the second, and
the largest fruit ride all the way to the collection hopper at the
end, where they can be carefully collected without bruising.

The museum also is home to a pair of old orchard sprayers, cider
presses, huge copper apple butter kettles and more. And in the
fall, when the apples are ready, museum volunteers bring out the
grader, cider presses and butter kettles for an old-time
demonstration of how the fruit was once handled and processed on
Apple Pie Ridge.

Because of the collection’s diversity, even a slow, deliberate
walk through the museum’s 40-by-100-foot main exhibit building can
overwhelm visitors. In the center aisle are horse-drawn buggies, a
beautifully refurbished Fordson tractor and a lever-operated drag
saw. Along one wall, heavy freight wagons and prairie
schooner-style covered wagons overshadow a large collection of
smaller implements such as an International Harvester ground-driven
mower, sickle bar grinders, hand rakes and leather-working tools.
Along the opposite wall are smaller stationary barn implements such
as a fanning mill bearing the label T.Y. Woolford, and a
hand-cranked Montgomery Ward feed cutter.

Horse harness, eveners and trees are displayed high on one wall,
while log chains, hand tools (carpenter and mechanic) adorn
another. Overhead, a loft features scores of land plows in various
configurations. The museum’s dairy collection includes milking
machines, cream separators, butter molds and more. Barn
ventilators, poultry feeders and waterers, and even an old
moonshine – or should we say tractor fuel? – distiller are other
unusual items in the collection.

One of the most interesting farmstead tool displays features
Stewart Ball Bearing No. 9 sheep shearing machines built by the
Chicago Flexible Shaft Co. These devices utilize a stand-mounted
gear head connected to a pair of power shears through a series of
enclosed shafts. The shafts transfer power to one another through
specially formed gears at either end that allow them to hinge with
respect to one another by over 90 degrees – with no loss of power
transmission. Later iterations of this same design took their power
from overhead line shafts or small stationary engines and electric
motors.

The Dillon museum’s bounty is only partially contained in the
main building. A quick look around the grounds reveals larger
pieces of machinery, including sawmills, tractors, husker shredders
and tillage machinery. And should you visit the museum during one
of its two annual shows, much of that equipment is likely to be
working. For example, the recently installed Frick sawmill was put
to work last June to show how lumber is made from logs, and
produced enough board feet to build a shelter for that recently
restored machine. In a prior demonstration of woodworking power,
the mill created enough lumber to complete the museum’s newest
facility, the blacksmith shop.

Anvils ringing on the ridge

Several times a year now, a once familiar ringing sound is heard
echoing along Apple Pie Ridge. The sound, accompanied by curls of
sulfurous smoke drifting down the valley, draws visitors to the
Dillon Farm Museum as surely as dinner bells once pulled threshing
crews to the table. “People usually start gathering as soon as they
smell the smoke,” says Martinsburg blacksmith Dave Merceruio as he
tends to his recently lighted fire of green coal. “When the smoke
dies down, the coking is completed and we can heat metal.” In an
age-old process, Dave burns the sulfur and other impurities from
the pile of coal neatly situated in the museum’s new brick
side-draft forge to produce the pure carbon fuel known as coke.

Dave has been working metal for almost 18 years, but notes that
he has only been smithing for the past 15. “What I like about the
anvil and hammer is that you can make just about anything from just
about anything,” Dave says, taking a cherry-red bar of scrap steel
out of the fire and laying it on the anvil. “I specialize in making
period hardware.” And with several deft blows of the hammer, Dave
made the anvil ring at the Dillon Farm Museum as he tapered,
twisted and shaped steel scrap into a beautiful coat hook, the
likes of which you would expect to see serving duty in an 18th
century New England public house.

“We made most of the hardware for this new shop,” says smithy
Mike Shade over the din of Dave’s steady ringing. “It was a fun
challenge, and it really gives the building a nice look.” Though
Mike’s ancestors include a grandfather who was a wheelwright for
the Auburn Wagon Co., and an uncle who was a welder, he learned the
craft on his own. Like Dave, Mike’s blacksmithing skills are broad,
but he also specializes. “I really like to make knives, shovels and
other tools,” Mike says as he gives the forge’s recently restored
overhead two-chamber bellows several pumps, infusing a piece of
steel with a brilliant glow.

At the anvil, Mike’s first hammer strikes flatten the blank and
a blade begins to take shape. After the next heat, the knife’s tang
emerges as the blade is refined. And after tossing the steel back
into the fire a few more times, the knife is ready for its final
shaping, which is accomplished with a few strokes from a file.
“Shovels and other tools take a little longer,” Mike says with a
smile. “I usually spend more time on a knife, too, but we don’t
have all day here.”

The Dillon Farm Museum’s blacksmith shop is well equipped and
makes a comfortable place to work, with plenty of space for
onlookers to gather. And while it’s easy to get mesmerized in that
dimly lit space filled with the sound, smell and sight of hot metal
being wrought, show days at the museum offer plenty of other
distractions to draw visitors back outside.

Delightful distractions

The Dillon Farm Museum plays host to a pair of shows each year,
in addition to offering a destination for area school children and
casual weekend visitors. In the spring, the museum’s antique
tractor and gas engine show welcomes the season with a gathering
that now draws exhibitors from many states and even Canada. This
event, held last June 4-5, featured Case tractors and Maytag
engines. The museum’s Fall Festival was held Oct. 8-9 and featured
Ford tractors and Fairbanks-Morse engines in addition to
demonstrations.

The Dillon Farm Museum now includes several buildings but is not
yet where the board wants it to be. “We’d like to create more of a
homestead theme with our facilities,” Tim says. A master plan
created in 2002 includes a farmhouse, authentic regional barn and
milking parlor. Someday, visitors will literally step back in time
and experience Apple Pie Ridge’s unique and diverse agricultural
heritage. The seed L. Norman Dillon planted more than 30 years ago
is beginning to bear premium fruit.

Subdivisions, a few farms and even fewer orchards now surround
the Dillon Farm Museum. With Hedgesville’s proximity to
Martinsburg, W.Va., and the commuter rail lines there that lead to
Baltimore and Washington, development pressure along Apple Pie
Ridge continues to rise. “The orchard to the south of the museum
was recently sold for development,” Tim says while deftly
navigating his pickup on the winding country roads around the
museum. “But there are a few farms around that are in the
preservation program.” Tim, a restoration architect by trade, grew
up on a farm just over the hill from where the museum is now
situated. Like Dillon, he has a personal stake in the museum’s
success. “It won’t be too many years before the kids that grow up
around here won’t even have friends on the farm,” he says
wistfully. “We have to keep our agricultural heritage alive.”

For more information:

The L. Norman Dillon Farm Museum, located at the
intersection of Route 9 and Ridge Road across from Hedgesville High
School, is open Saturday and Sunday afternoons April 1 to Oct. 31,
and by appointment. Mailing address: P.O. Box 2731, Martinsburg, WV
25402; (304) 754-3845 (museum board member Chuck Stewart)
.

Oscar “Hank” Will III is an old-iron collector and freelance
writer and photographer. 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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