Restoring Old Farm Equipment for Maryland Museums

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

| May 2011

  • A New Idea spreader restored by Howard Waterworth
    A New Idea spreader restored by Howard Waterworth.
  • Howard Waterworth was raised on a Wisconsin family dairy farm, where he used farm implements like those he has since restored for farm museums in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.
    Howard Waterworth was raised on a Wisconsin family dairy farm, where he used farm implements like those he has since restored for farm museums in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.
  • John Deere grain binder, powered by a three-horse team, cut cereal crops such as wheat and oats
    This John Deere grain binder, powered by a three-horse team, cut cereal crops such as wheat and oats. It then delivered the cut grain to a mechanism that compacted the stems and tied a string around the center of the bundle before dropping it into a basket-like bundle carrier. “I spent many hours on a grain binder in the 1950s,” Howard recalls. “When six to 10 bundles were loaded onto the carrier, the operator dropped them in the field as a group, where they were later stood up as shocks to finish drying before they were hauled to a threshing machine.”
  • The potato digger, before restoration
    The potato digger, before restoration.
  • This PTO-driven John Deere potato digger dates to the early 1950s
    This PTO-driven John Deere potato digger dates to the early 1950s. “As the tractor pulled the digger forward, it forced the potatoes and dirt onto a chain belt, which knocked off the dirt and dropped the potatoes onto the ground to be picked up by hand,” Howard explains. “While this is a tractor-powered model, my grandfather still used a horse-drawn potato digger when I was an adolescent in the 1950s.”
  • This International Harvester hay tedder was pulled by two horses
    This International Harvester hay tedder was pulled by two horses.
  • Howard restored this McCormick-Deering corn binder
    Good as new: Howard restored this McCormick-Deering corn binder.
  • The binder before restoration
    The binder before restoration.
  • This mechanical fruit sorter, part of the Sandy Spring Farm Museum collection, came from a West Virginia apple orchard
    This mechanical fruit sorter, part of the Sandy Spring Farm Museum collection, came from a West Virginia apple orchard. As an operator turned a hand crank, buckets of tree fruit were dumped on a moving belt equipped with various sized holes to grade the fruit by size.
  • The sorter, before restoration
    The sorter, before restoration.

  • A New Idea spreader restored by Howard Waterworth
  • Howard Waterworth was raised on a Wisconsin family dairy farm, where he used farm implements like those he has since restored for farm museums in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.
  • John Deere grain binder, powered by a three-horse team, cut cereal crops such as wheat and oats
  • The potato digger, before restoration
  • This PTO-driven John Deere potato digger dates to the early 1950s
  • This International Harvester hay tedder was pulled by two horses
  • Howard restored this McCormick-Deering corn binder
  • The binder before restoration
  • This mechanical fruit sorter, part of the Sandy Spring Farm Museum collection, came from a West Virginia apple orchard
  • The sorter, before restoration

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.”



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