In the antique farm equipment world, many collectors naturally gravitate to the pieces they used while growing up. But in Raymond Mattox's case, he's happily jumped back two generations. Raymond, who lives in Crete, Ill., just south of Chicago, collects and restores horse-drawn implements typical of those his grandfather used.
'I wish I had been born back in the era when this stuff was being used,' Raymond says. 'It reminds me of the days when my grandfather had horse-drawn equipment, and when there was stuff like that in my dad's saddle shop. My grand father used mules to pull his machinery.'
Raymond's collection is fully restored and in working condition. It includes a 1923 International Harvester one-row cultivator, a 1925 International Harvester cultivator, a 1925 International Harvester two-row corn planter, a 1925 John Deere No. 999 corn planter, a John Deere two-row cultivator dating to approximately 1900, a 1907 McCormick-Deering dump rake, a 1940 Case one-row corn binder, a 1930 Oliver hay loader and a 1935 Case sickle-bar mower.
Raymond's father, the late John Mattox, introduced him to the hobby in 1987. 'My dad asked me if I wanted to go to a steam show with him,' Raymond recalls, 'and I said sure! So, he took me to my first steam show at Crown Point (Ind.).'
John was a regular exhibitor at shows near his home in Crete. He displayed a 1/5-scale Case steam engine built by his father, Elbert Maddox, and used it to power an antique corn sheller.
'We did a lot of exhibiting as father and son, beginning in 1987,' Raymond adds. 'It was really exciting, and I started enjoying it more and more.' The two men were regulars at area shows until 1991, when John's health began to deteriorate. After John's death in 1994, Raymond says he quit going to shows.
Then, in 1997, Raymond realized he missed the camaraderie of the shows where he and his father had been exhibitors. 'I went back that summer,' he says, 'and I fell in love with it, actually. When you enjoy farm history like I do, it's just nice to see live steam. I started going on my own as a spectator. But then I told my mom I was going to go back and take the little steam engine, a couple of old cultivators and our little green wagon. And that's how it started back up for me. Now I'm just following in my father's footsteps.'
The next year, his passion for horse-drawn equipment took off. 'An old cheese factory building near my home fell down that winter,' Raymond says. 'There was a 1923 International Harvester one-row cultivator in there and an old binder. We took the binder to the junkyard, but I hated to junk that cultivator.' He pulled the cultivator out from a pile of bricks, and miraculously, the harness part of the gooseneck was the only broken part. Raymond hauled it to his workshop, doused it with WD-40 and got the handles moving. 'I worked on it for three months,' he recalls. 'When I got it going again, I just fell in love with it.'
A steady parade of projects followed. He worked on a 1925 International Harvester cultivator that took three months to rebuild ... a 1925 corn planter minus a box ... and then, a prize: a 1925 John Deere No. 999 corn planter.
'It sat out for about 50 years, but the boxes were in excel lent condition,' Raymond says. 'I did have to put a seat on it because when it was last used it had been rigged up to a tractor. It was all original, otherwise. I just love that one. That's my baby.' Last year, he was thrilled to find two spools of John Deere check wire for the planter. 'So now, that planter looks exactly the way it did 70 years ago.'
His biggest challenge so far has been restoration of a 1940 Case one-row corn binder. 'I worked on that for seven months,' Raymond says. 'Just getting it home was a trick. It was stuck between a couple trees and had a wheel stuck in the mud ... It sat outside for 40 years at least.
'The fun part was figuring out where to start,' Raymond says. 'I tore the whole thing apart and built a tripod with three pipes and a pulley to hold it up in the air. Putting it back together again was the hardest thing to do, especially by myself.' Raymond added new nuts and bolts, but the piece is otherwise all original.
Raymond tackled a John Deere cultivator next, then he restored a McCormick-Deering dump rake. Not content to rest on his laurels, another challenge followed: an Oliver hay loader.
'We found it in the trees behind a shed,' Raymond says. 'It's all original, including the prongs -except for 15 that I rebuilt. The wood is all new, and the teeth in front are original. I even put new decals on it.'
Raymond is a self-taught restorer. 'I've done all this restoration work on my own, and all the painting has been done on my own,' he says. 'I haven't had anyone helping me. Sometimes I just close my eyes and think about how it would have looked in the past, and that's the way I end up doing the painting. You learn through all this - you learn the hard way. I never was a machinist or a painter. I was just a farm hand. I milked cows by hand for 12 years.'
The response to his collection is enthusiastic. The Case corn binder, in particular, is a crowd pleaser at the annual South Lake County Agricultural Historical Society Antique Power Steam Show in Crown Point, Ind. 'People like seeing what I've done,' Raymond says. 'I don't pat myself on the back for it, but I do like teaching young people about what these machines were used for. At the shows, we need to turn the clock back, even more than just to threshing. What came first? Farmers were using horses before they used steam engines.'
When Raymond sets up his display, it includes reproduction operator manuals for each implement, before-and-after photographs and more. 'I like to get people more involved in this hobby,' he says. 'I leave my books out, and people look through them. People take a lot of pictures of these machines. Where else are they going to see them?'
Raymond's a board member for both the South Lake County show and the Will County Threshermen's Show at Minooka, Ill., which makes him well aware of the need to offer new displays that attract new blood. For instance, he'd like to see more shows hold old-implement demonstrations. 'But you have to have horses,' he says, 'and I don't have horses. We just keep working on it, trying to attract new people and young people. Sometimes you just have to mix the show up a little bit to make it more interesting.'
Raymond's already planning for this summer's shows. 'I'm going to take six different cow stanchions to Crown Point this year,' he says. 'We'll see what the old-timers think about them and explain what they are to the younger people.'
Restoring antique farm implements and exhibiting them at shows is its own reward, Raymond says. 'It's a lot of fun, and a lot of hard work, but I enjoy explaining the history of old farm equipment even if I didn't grow up around it,' he says. 'I'm just a regular old-fashioned kid who likes to play with this stuff. It's something just to get away and meet new people. I'm ready for a steam show right now! I wish it was summer!'
- For more information, contact Raymond Mattox at 1560 E. Richton Road, Crete, IL 60417; (708) 672-3732.