Restoring Old Farm Equipment for Maryland Museums

Volunteer restorer gives helping hand to Maryland museums by restoring old farm equipment

| May 2011

Howard Waterworth, a retired plant pathologist living in the Maryland suburbs outside Washington, D.C., does not own a single piece of old farm equipment, nor does he consider himself a collector. But over the last quarter of a century, he has restored more than 80 pieces of old farm equipment, vintage farm implements, tools and horse-drawn vehicles for three Maryland museums. 

“My interest in restoration began with old cars: namely three Studebakers and a DeSoto,” he explains. “And I still have one of each in my garage. I grew up on a family dairy farm near Randolph, Wis., so I’ve always been interested in old farm equipment. During the years I’ve lived here I became acquainted with people from three area museums and I thought it would be interesting to volunteer to help restore some of their old machines.”

Since 1985, Howard has repaired, restored and repainted dozens of items for Patuxent Rural Life Farm Museum, Upper Marlboro; Agricultural History Farm Park, Derwood; and Sandy Spring Farm Museum. His completed projects include horse-drawn planters and drills, cultivators, mowers, grain binders, potato diggers, manure spreaders and plows. He’s also restored antique buggies and sulkys, sleighs and wagons, and a large assortment of vintage tools and household items.

“In all cases, each item is delivered to me on a trailer by the museum, so there is no logic to the sequence of items I’m asked to restore,” he explains. “I do all the restoration work in my garage, which can accommodate machines no larger than 9 feet wide by 7 feet high. I personally used, or saw my father use, many of these old machines in the years I lived on the farm. Occasionally I run into something unfamiliar, like a machine designed specifically to apply lime. I’ve also restored interesting pieces like a hay tedder and a horse-drawn machine used to place small transplants like cabbage or tobacco into a slit in the ground. Two people sat on the machine and alternated placing a seedling in the slit at 18-inch intervals as it moved forward.”

Proceed with caution

Howard begins each project by photographing the implement from several angles as an aid to later reassembly. Then he makes sketches showing the strategic sequence of groups of connected pieces.

“When I disassemble the machine, I tag pieces that are similar but which may have a left versus right, or upper versus lower designation,” he explains. “This stage can be difficult if the nuts and bolts are severely rusted. I start by soaking them with WD-40. Often I have to rethread the old rusted bolts and nuts with a tap and die set or replace broken bolts.”