Dillon Farm Museum

Bygone agricultural tools and practices can still be found at the Dillon farm museum.


| February 2006



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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.

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.