At Pioneer Park Days in Zolfo Springs, Fla., a special area is set aside for small collectibles. The area includes a park, campground and nature preserve. Held in late winter, the event is one of the oldest and largest shows in the Southeast. The 2011 show was the park’s 43rd annual event.
Highlights from the 2011 show included about 400 exhibits of tractors, gas engines, steam engines and farm equipment. Additionally, there were antique cars and trucks, a railroad steam engine and several buildings dedicated to museum items. The Florida Frontiersmen set up a camp to demonstrate pioneer living, cooking with a dutch oven, wood burning, basket weaving, pioneer toys, and hands-on instruction in making and playing a Native American flute. More than 500 vendor booths offered tractor parts, tools, produce and more.
As with all shows, the displays change from year to year. But you will always find a large selection of exhibits and exhibitors willing to share their collecting experience. Among the small collectibles at Pioneer Park Days:
Collecting corn items
Prior to World War II, most corn in this country was picked by hand. Several companies manufactured corn husker/shredders similar to threshing machines. They were expensive and took a lot of horsepower and manpower to operate. Interestingly, the husker/shredder and husking rolls became the main components of the modern corn picker.
Corn item collectors have a wide range of items to choose from. Although many farmers husked corn directly from rows, others harvested corn to use as fodder for livestock. In that case, stalks were cut, gathered into bundles and shocked for later processing. For the collector, there are many varieties of husking hooks, corn knives, shock starters, shock tiers, fodder cutters, ear corn driers, kernel graders, single- and double-row hand corn planters, shellers, grinders and grist mills.
The mortgage lifter
Hogs were one of the most important animals on the American farm. They were the main source of food and cooking oil. Until the mid-1960s, hogs were referred to as the “mortgage lifter” because they were prolific, produced two farrows each year, grew fast and were rather easy to raise.
Keeping them in their enclosures, however, was a challenge. Their habit of rooting food provided them with one of the best built-in shovels of all time: their snouts. Farmers tried many devices to stop hogs from digging holes in their feedlots and under fences.
Plier-like devices were used to put rings in hog snouts or cut through the cartilage of the snout in an attempt to prevent rooting. But first the farmer had to catch and hold the hog. Many used a noose-type or wrench-type hog holder.
Hog oilers came into production at the turn of the 20th century in the Midwest as a means of combating disease-carrying lice and vermin. Oilers were used to apply oil to a hog’s hide; since hogs like to rub, the oilers were designed in such a way that in rubbing, the oil was transferred to the hog’s skin.
Various kinds of oil were used, including crude oil, kerosene, coal-tar dips, used motor oil and store-bought medicated oils. Early hog oilers were made of cast iron. Later, wood, wire, steel and aluminum were used.
Almost all farmers butchered their own hogs. At minimum, they needed an iron kettle, a barrel for hot water, a hook to hold the hog for scalding, scrapers to remove hair, sharp knives and meat saws, a tripod of some sort to suspend the hog from, a gambrel for hanging hogs open for butchering, a meat grinder, brine barrel and a lard press/sausage stuffer. All are fair game for the collector.
Nothing but hard work
Putting up loose hay was a time-consuming and laborious task, and every farmer who raised livestock had to store sufficient fodder to last through long winters. Haying tools improved from hand scythes and pitchforks to mowing machines, rakes, loaders for the field and hayforks, carriers, rails, hangers, pulleys and sheaves, and a lot of rope for the barn. Small item collectors look for hay carriers (trolleys), pulleys, forks and rail.
Manufacturers provided a wide variety of hay carriers and each manufacturer made its own pulley arrangement and rail to fit its carrier. That way, a manufacturer could plan, build, install and maintain all the equipment in each of its customers’ barns.
With baled hay came hay hooks. First the local blacksmith made hooks for hay handling. There are as many styles of hand-forged hay hooks as there were blacksmiths. In fact, rarely did a blacksmith make any two hooks the same. Later, manufacturers got in on the act and mass-produced hay hooks. Even though bale hooks all have the same general characteristics, each is slightly different in design. Included in collections: hay bale hooks, hog butchering hooks, cordwood stacking hooks, longshoreman’s hooks, ice hooks, and easily sterilized hooks used in packing houses and breweries.
Extra revenue stream
Many farms had a small dairy herd to provide milk and cream for home use and additional income. For years, milking was performed by hand. Most housewives made butter, cottage cheese and cheese. Ice cream was a special summer treat. Collectors today look for cow stanchions and chains, milk stools, stainless steel and galvanized buckets, cream and milk cans, strainers, cream separators, butter churns, paddles and molds, milking machines, ice cream freezers, glass milk bottles and anything else they can find related to the dairy industry.
And while coal oil lanterns may not be true dairy items, they were necessary for the early dairy farmer to complete chores during the short days of long winter months. As with many other farm products, a large number of manufacturers produced large numbers of lanterns in many varieties. The most difficult part of collecting lanterns is in finding glass globes still intact.
Farm machinery small items
In this category, collectors look for cast iron items. The most important of these is cast iron seats. Seats are displayed in many ways, but one of the most popular is to show them from a trailer with the seats arrayed in rows on exterior walls, with interior reserved for storage.
Don’t overlook really small items, like spark plugs and steam engine oilers and gauges, toys and models, oil cans and grease guns, wrenches and hand tools, yardsticks and folding rules, pencils and pens, barbed wire and fence insulators. Then too there are blacksmith tools and anvils, sheep-shearing rigs, shears and hoof shears, washing machines and homemade soap, dairy centrifuges and asparagus bundlers, boat engines and fishing gear, lawnmowers and gardening tools, gunny sacks and feed scoops, chicken crates and waterers, coal oil lights, candle molds, rope-making machines and wire tighteners.
Lifting jacks are also a favorite. Manufacturers made a jack for a specific purpose and designed it to fit. Wood wagon and buggy jacks seem to be the most rare. But probably the most often displayed are automotive jacks. Tractor and railroad jacks (used to lift buildings and heavy equipment) are also popular. Rarely seen but equally important are buggy and wagon weights. There is no limit to the number and types of farm items to be collected and displayed.
A little home brew
Not every farmer was a teetotaler, not by a long shot. Almost every farm had a cider press to make apple cider, apple cider vinegar, hard cider and applejack. Quite a few made homemade wine from grapes. Others made dandelion, pumpkin and watermelon wine. More than a few brewed beer. Many had a home still to produce stronger drink, usually rye whiskey, vodka or corn liquor. Collectors find and display nearly all the items needed to produce homemade alcoholic beverages. Some shows frown upon seeing a still used to make liquor, but others are more accepting.
If you have a collection of small farm-related items, consider displaying your collection at one of Florida’s oldest shows, Pioneer Park Days at Zolfo Springs. This show is held the week after the Florida Flywheelers Antique Engine spring show. Next year’s show starts on Feb. 29. Leap ahead with your plans and scratch in this date on your calendar. See you there! FC
James N. Boblenz grew up on a farm near New Bloomington, Ohio. He now lives in Marion, Ohio, and is interested in antique farm equipment, particularly rare and lesser-known tractors and related items. E-mail him at email@example.com.