Farm Collector


Mr. Lester C. Norris of Marcellus, New York, sends us the sad
news of the passing of Mr. Willard Durkee. We present Mr.
Norris’ letter, a clipping from the Post-Standard, Syracuse,
New York, and a tribute which Deacon Doubleday paid to Mr. Durkee
on the radio Feb. 3, 1961. We are indebted to Mr. Norris for all
this material.

I am enclosing the death notice of Mr. Willard Durkee, who died
in Syracuse on January 26, 1961, after a month’s illness.

As you probably know, my Lang and Button engine was on the cover
of the Jan-Feb 1961 issue of the IRON-MEN ALBUM. The man in the
picture standing beside the engine was Willard Durkee.

I am enclosing a tribute which Deacon Doubleday paid to Mr.
Durkee on the air February 3rd, also the notice of his death as it
appeared in the Post-Standard, Syracuse.

Mr. Durkee was, at the time of his death, writing a book on the
history of farm machines in New York State. Last summer P. Hal
Higgins visited Mr. Durkee. He took Mr. Higgins around to visit and
see the steamers in this locality. Durkee and Higgins have been
working very closely with historical articles.

(s) Lester C. Norris, 33 North Street, Marcellus, N. Y.


Willard J. Durkee, 64, of 212 Kensington PL, died yesterday in
Veterans Administration Hospital after an illness of three

Prior to retiring in 1953, he was manager of the Syracuse branch
of the J. I. Case Co., where he had been employed 40 years.

After his retirement, he became an enthusiast of historical farm
machinery of New York State. In 1959, Mr. Durkee was in charge of
the Historical Farm Machinery exhibit at the State Fair. At the
time of his death, he was writing a book about farm implements.

He was a member of the Army Ordnance Association, American
Society of Agricultural Engineers, Onondaga Historical Society, and
was on the advisory board of Alfred University. He was also
honorary and charter member of the New York State Steam Engine
Association, past president of the New York State Farm Equipment
Club and a member of the New York State Farm Equipment Dealers
Association Inc.

Mr. Durkee was a native of Belcher and a veteran of World War


Bill Durkee has left this planet for a bigger one but somehow it
will always seem that Bill is around. Durk was a business man, a
showman, a producer of business spectaculars, the most successful
of which was an annual gain in sales for the J.I.Case Co. in the
East so long as he was district manager. A genius for making
friends, Durk always wound up in the middle of things and he got
the job done. If this can be any measure of statesmanship, then so
be it.

One’s influence follows after him and this is the story of
Willard Durkee . That is why the wired woodshed feels today that
while Durk may have left this scene in a very sure sense, in just
as true a sense his being hovers nearby and that is a very fine

When the State Fair was pried open in 1947 for just cattle,
there he was in the thick of it when do the machinery boys move in?
That was the next year in the infamous limited State Fair but Durk
was there. When in 1949 the lid was taken off at Sludgeville and
new management improved the fair so very much, Durk was one of 5
men who helped bring it off and he was the only man who went the
whole way in the discussions.

Then Bill retired from the Case Co. after successfully
introducing the famous Case baler to the world through such
competent single authorities as Dr. Ed Harrison, manager of Harden
Farms. Ed was then at Cornell and he decided with Durk on the
merits of the machine and that was it – just like that.

Durk staged a two day program at Williamstown, N. Y., over just
a slab of printed steel alongside the road saying that J. I. Case
had been born there. It was broadcast, written, sung, and talked
about and only Durk could have done it. He came out of retirement
with reams of material on farm machinery in New York State and with
him he brought the steam traction engine. His letters should be
printed for no other person ever dug detail out of old barns and
earth like he did and when the State Fair asked him to head a steam
engine department in 1959 he had 3 engines in mind. He had 16 and
14 were under steam, and then he spearheaded the formation of the
State Association of Steam Engines owners and operators. This group
will show live steamers at the 1961 State Fair and this should be
fitting memorial to Willard Durkee. For it was through 7000 miles
of driving and hundreds of dollars from his own pocket that he
succeeded in presenting the greatest show on the fairground in
1959. It moved, it smoked, whistled and blew hot water, it ran a
shingle machine, an old thresher, and it rolled the road after
hours where the cleats of other wheels had torn it up. He bought
the soft coal and almost had to dig the ditch to run water to the
panting boilers, and when the amateur horsemen complained that
whistles rattle their steeds nearby, Durk got got a ruling. And the
whistles continued to blow.

Somehow it was all Bill Durkee and there isn’t a man in that
engineer group who would have had it any other way. To Bill Durkee
the idea had to make sense, it had to add up moneywise and it had
to have all the trappings of a show. If then the show took on added
proportions it was only natural that the Durkee touch was there
once again. His approach to discussion was friendly but firm and he
could spot a phony at 3 miles and he did often but somehow the
phony was upended and Durk continued to smile in his friendly way
because his life was built on his favorite expression and he showed
it and lived it and still does we’re sure – ‘that it’ll
all work out ok, everybody will love everybody after all.’

  • Published on May 1, 1961
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