Farm Collectibles ... the Old Way

Arkansas collector preserves the past and old way of life with intricate restorations of farm collectibles

| August 1999

Roy Nelson, Clinton, Ark., wants to preserve machines and implements that are the tangible history of farming in the south-central United States for the last 100 or more years. 

He expends the kind of energy and resources on his collection that one might expect from a business, but he doesn't do it for money, and he sees trade in such objects as counter to his purposes. A caring, practical historian of old farm equipment, Roy collects the treasures with no small difficulty wherever they've been left, and then treats them as if they are alive, but sick and dependent on him for recovery.

"I completely rebuild every one of these machines," he says, "so that they will do the job they were designed to do. All of my equipment, whatever it takes to fix it, that's what it gets."

At 76, Roy is definitely hitting on all cylinders. He laboriously and happily works on old machines, collects others, tends to the many plants in his greenhouse (which he built), works a huge garden with his old 1947 Ford "Super C" tractor, and even fixes the occasional golf cart.

"I feel like I'm 25," he says, as he pulls around a 50-pound horse-drawn "hillside plow" and demonstrates how it works.

Most of the machinery that Roy fixes date from 1850 to 1955. About 155 pieces – seed planters, plows, mowers, stump grinders, tractors and stationary engines – are completely restored and in perfect working order. Another 50 or more await restoration. Many of the pieces in his collection may be one-of-a-kind, especially some of the engines from the 1920s and '30s. Twice a year, he displays parts of his collection at shows put on by clubs in nearby Damascus and Bee Branch.