Most collectors can tell you how they amassed their treasures. No doubt every collector would have an interesting anecdote. How each started collecting would be even more intriguing.
Jim Meister, Bucyrus, Ohio, has a fascinating collection of farm memorabilia, literature and manuals. Jim can visit for days, telling how, when and where he found every piece in his collection. He even remembers the bartering that took place until he got it bought.
The “how” of his collection’s start is yet another story. “An Allis-Chalmers dealer was selling out just north of here in New Washington, Ohio,” he says. “Boxes of sales literature and manuals were offered at the sale. I saw a few pieces in those boxes that caught my eye and ended up buying most of them. I kept the things I wanted and sold the rest. I did that a couple more times at other sales and suddenly I had started a collection.”
Jim and his wife, Virginia, live on the family farm just north of Bucyrus in Crawford County. The county was named for Col. William Crawford, who was burned at the stake in 1782 by the Delaware Indians with help from the British. Col. James Kilbourne originally laid out the town of Bucyrus. Seeking a unique name, he joined fragments of the words beautiful and Cyrus (an ancient Persian general) to form Bucyrus.
Collections tend to reflect collectors’ backgrounds and Jim’s is no exception. Like most farm youths, Jim was active in 4-H and Future Farmers of America. His family’s farm enterprises were typical for the time. “We had a small herd of cows that we milked by hand,” he says, “and we kept a few sows and fed some feeder calves. Our farm of 100 acres provided most of the feed for our livestock. We still had Belgian horses into my youth, but switched over to tractors in the early ’40s. I was probably 15 years old when I drove our first tractor, a 1940 Case Model SC. It was a real thrill driving that tractor after plodding behind horses for many years.”
After Jim and Virginia married, they gradually took over the family farm. “We kept the milking herd at 15 head, always milking them by hand, until 1956,” Jim says. “Then we sold those and got more involved in feeder cattle. At the peak we were farming 300 acres while maintaining about 150 steers. We stopped feeding cattle in 1982. We had a Case dealer close by so we farmed with that line of equipment. With our good experience farming with Case, I became attached to that machinery. In 1990 our son, Tim, took over the farm that had expanded to 400 acres.”
While still farming with his dad, Jim took up auctioneering in 1947. Following two years of military service, Jim returned to the family farm and the auction business in 1953. “The auction business taught me a lot,” he says. “I learned the value of old relics that helped me later with my collection. I also learned three basic business principles that served me well. First, be honest. Second, treat people with respect. And third, exercise good judgment.”
Jim’s farm background and experience with Case equipment created a natural focus for his collection. “My stash of Case manuals and literature is the biggest part of my collection,” Jim says. “But I also appreciated machinery that was manufactured throughout the region. I have material for most of that old equipment.”
He’s also interested in dealer premiums, customer appreciation gifts given by local farm service agencies and dealers. “Dealers were different when I was farming,” he muses. “They were smaller, close by and always accommodating. And their customer appreciation gifts were always unique and greatly appreciated. If only I had kept those original ones, I’d have quite a collection.”
Not that his collection is anything to sneeze at. Jim estimates his farm memorabilia collection includes about 15,000 farm equipment manuals. His farm machinery literature collection exceeds 1,500 pieces. He has more than 300 pieces of advertising and more than 100 pieces of manufacturer memorabilia. He also counts some collectible signs in his treasure trove.
Jim’s John Deere treasures include a 1957-vintage hand-held maze-style game featuring JD Model 50, 60 and 70 tractors and the medallions (sometimes referred to as “copper pennies”) commemorating John Deere’s centennial in 1937. Pocket ledgers serve as a window to the past. “The farm equipment pocket ledgers are unique,” he adds. “I have some that were filled out by farmers in the late 1800s and early 1900s.”
Numerous farm equipment manufacturers once operated within a 40-mile radius of Bucyrus. Each flourished during America’s industrial revolution and contributed to the evolution of agriculture progress. Jim has captured some of that history by specializing in literature from local manufacturers, including Aultman & Taylor Machinery Co., Mansfield, Ohio (traction engines and field tractors); Centaur Tractor Corp., Greenwich, Ohio (garden and field tractors); Dauch Mfg. Co., Sandusky, Ohio (Sandusky tractor); Fate-Root-Heath Co., Plymouth, Ohio (Plymouth and Silver King tractors); Huber Mfg. Co., Marion, Ohio (revolving hay rake, traction engines, threshers and tractors); Shelby Truck & Tractor Co., Shelby, Ohio (Shelby tractor); Tiffin Wagon Co., Tiffin, Ohio (wagons and shellers).
“These companies were very unique in what their equipment contributed to the progress of farming,” Jim says. “And it was all right here in our backyard. It’s been exciting to find and maintain literature about their products that I’ve added to my collection.”
Over the years people have learned about Jim’s interest and knowledge in old “farm equipment paper,” as he refers to it. “People know about my hobby and interest, so I get calls all the time about paper they have,” he says. “Often they want to clean out their house or close out an estate. I’ll generally buy everything, sort through it, keep what I want and sell off the rest. I’m always looking for that rare item so I also attend auctions, hunt through flea markets, attend tractor shows, scour the newspapers and talk to other collectors. Eventually something will pop up that interests me, so I keep collecting.”
And why not? “This hobby has been very interesting,” he says. “It has allowed me to stay involved in farm equipment well into my retirement years so I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve developed many friends through the years that I’ll always cherish. From my standpoint, it’s a hobby that will never go bad.” FC
For more information: Jim Meister, (419) 563-7397.
Freelancer Fred Hendricks owns a dairy cattle consulting business based in Bucyrus, Ohio, and is an avid farm toy collector. Contact him at email@example.com.