What inspires a complex restoration project? For Daniel Peterson of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, it was a story he read about the delivery of new farm equipment in the late 1800s. The result is a handsomely restored Massey-Harris No. 33 mower and an exacting reproduction of the flare-box wagons once built by Bain Wagon Co., Woodstock, Ontario, Canada, for Massey Mfg. Co., then based in Newcastle, Ontario (the Massey-Harris merger did not occur until 1891).
An event known as Canada Delivery Day is at the heart of the project. When Daniel read about the event, the story captured his imagination. As he learned more, he began to sense the enormous impact of Delivery Day on the life of a community – and he began to dream about bringing that to life.
In the 1880s, Massey Mfg. Co. – like most manufacturers of the era – did not have dealerships as we know them today. Instead, the fledgling company relied on travelling agents to represent the company. “In the late 1800s, Canada was a big, open country,” Daniel says. “There were not a lot of towns. So the agent would go to farms and sell equipment.”
It was a different world. When a farmer was finally persuaded to make a purchase, the order was not filled immediately. Because of the great distances between towns, orders were grouped until there were enough to warrant the expense of delivery.
When an agent accumulated enough orders in one area, a delivery date was scheduled. The resulting event – Canada Delivery Day – was a full-blown spectacle in a remote rural outpost.
If a town had rail service, Massey shipped the equipment in rail cars. Otherwise, the implements were loaded into wagons and hauled there. The manufacturer threw in a bit of razzle dazzle. “The Massey company had its own marching band, the Cornet Band, made up of Massey employees,” Daniel says. The band would lead the procession of wagons, each laden with new equipment and draped in festive Massey banners, through the town.
Once the wagons were unloaded, the equipment was put on impromptu display. “The local people would turn out for this,” Daniel says. “All of the equipment was viewed, inspected and admired. The agent capped off the event by taking the buyers out for a steak dinner at a local hotel.”
In remote areas in an era before TV and radio and automobiles, Delivery Day had to be one of the most exciting events of the year. “I can’t imagine what a big deal that would be in a small town,” Daniel says.
Intrigued by the article, Daniel decided he wanted to create a display that would demonstrate the delivery. “We had an old mower that had never been restored,” he says. “I thought it’d be fun to restore it and put it in a wagon.”
The project started with a 1934 Massey-Harris No. 33 mower. Today, the mower gleams with fresh paint, in marked contrast to its condition when Daniel got it. “My uncle called one day to say he was planning to do some bulldozing on a ditch. ‘There’s a Massey hay rake, a mower and a plow, and you can have it all,’ he said, ‘but you have to come get it.’”
The horse-drawn mower (with a belt drive rather than a pitman) was almost beyond hope. “There was not one thing on that mower that would move,” Daniel says. “It was the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. It was the most rusted solid piece of equipment I have ever restored, and I have seen my share of rust.” A thorough restoration brought the relic back to life. “It actually works now,” he says. “I even mowed 5 feet with it.”
The mower even has a sweet link to the past. Daniel’s grandfather and father once owned a Massey dealership near Mt. Pleasant, and stray pieces of inventory from the dealership are stored in Daniel’s shed. Among those treasures, he discovered a new, unused tongue – one for a Massey-Harris No. 33 mower.
Wagons built in the late 1800s tended to be very narrow, but to accommodate the mower he wanted to stage in the wagon, Daniel needed a wider one. After posting details of his project on a Massey website, he got a response from Malcolm Robinson in Lincolnshire, U.K., who sent pictures of a flare-box Massey wagon in his collection.
Daniel went to work. “We went out in the timber and cut six oaks and took them to the sawmill,” he says. “I estimated the size of the boards the best I could by looking at another wagon of the same size and decided how much wood I would need.” It took 18 months to get the logs cut. Once he had the lumber, he stacked it to dry for a few months.
Massey-Harris never built a steel-wheeled wagon. “They went right from wood wheels to rubber,” Daniel says. Since Massey’s early wagons were built by Bain Wagon Co., Daniel decided he would recreate a Bain. While the lumber dried, he set to work on the wagon gears. “I had two New Idea metal wagon gears,” he says, “and one of them was going to become a Massey gear.”
He started with the one that was in better shape, but even it was rusted solid. “Using a torch and a big hammer, I started to get it freed up,” he says, but one axle balked. Daniel enlisted the aid of his 23-year-old son, but in the process, the casting broke and fell on the floor. “He and I have different definitions of what ‘tap’ means,” he says wryly.
Daniel knew the needed repairs were beyond his skills, so he turned to a blacksmith friend. “I told him to think back to the 1930s and pretend I was a farmer and had brought this to him to fix,” he says. A week later, the axle was repaired, but sensitive to the mower’s weight, Daniel opted to set the repaired wagon gear aside for another project. He then tackled restoration of the second wagon gear and it was soon finished, complete with fresh paint, decals and pinstriping.
With an eye on the calendar – Daniel wanted to take his display to the Midwest Old Threshers Reunion in Mt. Pleasant at the end of August – he began building the wagon box in June. He contacted Malcolm to ask if he could provide measurements of his wagon. “He was incredible,” Daniel says. “Every part had to be made; metal brackets had to be hand-forged. But every time I got stuck, Malcolm sent more measurements.”
Working every night and weekend, Daniel slowly moved forward. Every board in the wagon had to be bolted down, “and that took some time,” he says, “as there were more than 80 bolts to put in.” Boards had to be glued together to create the wagon’s 13-inch sides, and braces were built to hold them in place. Then came end gates (with their own brackets), rods to hold the ends, and braces for the flare boards.
After primer and three coats of enamel, Daniel’s final step required patience. “I had to wait until it was good and dry before I put it back on the wagon gear,” he says. When he compared the finished piece on the wagon gear, he realized he’d forgotten to make stake pockets for the flares. After that revision, and application of decals, it was time to load the wagon with the restored mower.
Daniel’s well-equipped shop includes a large hoist that his son used to lower the mower into the wagon. After a bit of trial and error, they found the right spot in the wagon and screwed wedges into the wagon floor. “Then we bolted the front tongue support down and put U-bolts over the wheels so the mower would not jump out of place, and the project was complete.”
Daniel’s display also includes a 1934 Massey-Harris 12-20 with family ties. His grandfather owned Peterson Implement just north of Mt. Pleasant. “My grandfather sold the tractor new to his cousin,” he says. “Later, the cousin traded the tractor in on something new and it was parked in a shed at the dealership. Every time one of the mechanics walked by, they’d pull up on the crank.”
Daniel started restoring tractors when he was 15. “I had no idea what I was doing,” he says. “Mechanics at the dealership helped me.” He painted the 12-20 himself and took it to the tractor display at Mt. Pleasant in 1972. “There were 13 other tractors there and a few engines,” he says. “I’ve been going to that show ever since.”
His next project is a 1937 Massey-Harris Challenger. “The man who’d had it took it apart to restore. He told me I’d be able to take it home in a pickup. I should have known. My son told me I have to restore it because no one else could.”
The Challenger will be a big job, but one he can tackle on his own – unlike the Delivery Day project. On that undertaking, several friends and relatives lent a hand. Daniel’s quick to acknowledge Malcolm’s assistance in particular. “This would have been impossible without him. He sent me countless photos, drawings and measurements,” he says. “It is hard enough to reproduce something when the original is on the bench, but to do it when the original is 3,500 miles away is a challenge.” FC
For more information: Daniel Peterson, (319) 931-2630; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Leslie C. McManus is the senior editor of Farm Collector. Email her at LMcManus@ogdenpubs.com.