Unique handmade farm tools, implements and equipment abound in one Marylander's collection
Buck Gladhill’s farm collection is a sight to behold.
The 90-year-old lifetime resident of Damascus, Md., says he has never thrown anything away. A few hours spent in an outbuilding behind his modest brick home confirms the observation.
“My dad was a school teacher,” he says. “There were eight of us children. He got a farm in the early 1930s. I got married in 1931, and in my early days, I helped him around the farm. I used the implements, and I saved them. Maybe they’re not all in good shape, but I could fill a couple of books with them.”
The collection covers almost every inch of the 14,000-square-foot building, including most of the wall space and a multitude of shelves. Even the ceiling is festooned with a selection of wooden plows, scythes and anything else that can be hung from the rafters.
“I intended for it to be a museum,” Buck says. “I thought when I retired, I’d spend all my time restoring, but it didn’t go like that. It’s a collection I can just look at, but I do intend to preserve it for history. I’ve got the joy out of collecting and showing it to people.”
While much of the Gladhill collection is factory-made, a careful search among the shelves reveals some genuine handmade implements that include a wooden sausage grinder, a wagon jack, a collar used to wean calves, and a wooden butter churn. “Farmers only bought staples,” Buck says. “Years ago, they made their own equipment and hand tools. They didn’t have the money to buy them even if they were available. In my kid days, the farms around this area had two cash crops: a pen of hogs, and an acre or two of tobacco. The rest of the work was for getting something to eat.”
Buck says he doesn’t know the history of the sausage grinder, and has never seen another one like it. Made of oak, it comes in two pieces held together with heavy iron bolts. The interior features a row of crude metal blades at the top, which interact with a crank-driven cylinder on the bottom. The meat goes in the top, and comes out freshly ground at the end.
“It’s about as primitive a handmade thing as you’ll find in this building,” Buck says. “But it does work: I’ve tried it.”
Another handmade implement in the collection is a wagon jack, also made of oak. It was used when wagon wheels required routine greasing.
“You just put it under the axle, jack it up, and lock it into position,” he says. “The wagons were of different heights, and you can adjust it.”
Before the advent of electricity in the 1920s, gasoline engines were the main source of power on the farm.
“There were two kinds of power: muscle power and engine power,” says Buck, who has more than 250 gasoline engines in his collection. “You had three or four engines around the farm. They were used to pump water, to run the milking machines, to grind corn, to grind apples for cider, to run corn shellers. And there was always one on wheels to move around.”
And if you didn’t have an engine handy, you could always use your Model T Ford as a power source. Buck has a handmade wooden belt pulley the size and circumference of an automobile wheel that was used as part of an alternative power source.
“This fits on the rear wheel,” he says. “The hub goes through the hole, and the J-bolts fit over the spokes. Jack up the car, and you’ve got belt power to grind corn or whatever. You turn on the engine and let it go. It’s made of layers of boards, the same as the hogsheads on the tobacco barrels.”
The blacksmith, Buck says, was an important person in every small town. Farmers often designed and made their own tools and implements, with the smith doing any needed ironwork.
“A fellow would make something, and people would like it, and the next thing was, he had a little factory,” he says. “People made stuff in little shops like you would make it in your basement today. They also made parts for things that broke.”
Buck likes to show off a wood-and-metal frame he designed and made for use on his father’s farm. It holds a sack open at the top while grain is shoveled in.
“You can’t shovel into a sack and hold it open at the same time,” he says. “This takes care of that.”
One factory-made item in the collection was modified by a creative farmer. It is an implement made of iron that cuts potatoes into sections for planting. It’s mounted on a handmade wooden frame with a sloping board underneath, so the pieces fall into a container on the floor.
And then there’s the gigging light. While not strictly a farm implement, it was used to aid in providing food for the farm family. Gigging, which is now illegal in Maryland, is a means of catching fish at night.
The light, which Buck says was once shiny, was made of whatever was available, probably an old pan of some kind. Powered by kerosene, it has three cotton wicks which, when lit, provide enough light to fish at night. “We’d go down to the crick at night,” Buck recalls. “You’d set up the light and you’d take your gigging stick, and you’d get eels and suckers. In a couple of hours, you could get enough to eat for a couple of days. Eels is tough: you skin ’em and fry ’em.”
The handmade items are just a small fraction of Buck’s massive collection, most of which does not fall into neat categories. There’s a corner overflowing with blacksmith tools, including an outsize pair of bellows. There are harness and hames for horses, and yokes for oxen, dating to a time before tractors. There are shelves of carpenter’s tools, including an awesome selection of planes. There are antique tractors, pieces of a locally-built farm wagon, and farm implements in every state of repair.
“I had this building put up because the house was full, and the farm buildings were all full,” he says. “I got some stuff in other places, but all the best stuff is here.”
While many of the items were saved by Buck himself, others have come from auctions and donations.
“A lot of people have brought me things,” he says. “They say to me: ‘You keep it – I got no place to put it,’ so I take it. I used to go to the sales, but I can’t go anymore. I just give out.”
Buck is happy to show off his collection, but visitors should make an appointment. A sign-in book by the door of his museum is testament to the many people who have stopped to visit what has become a piece of Maryland history.
Ethel Gladhill, Buck’s wife of 67 years, has her own view of her husband’s hobby.
“I thought he was off his rocker when he started it,” she says. “I never thought it would expand to where it is. He gets stuff from all over ... books and such. It’s sharing a common interest. But it gives him something to do, and gets him out of the house. It’s cheap entertainment.” FCJill Teunis is a freelance writer who has lived in Damascus, Md., for 35 years. She enjoys writing about communities, their residents and history.