New life for old farm machinery

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Restoring rust farm relics a labour of love

By Fred Graham
After retiring from our jobs, my wife and I made the move from the city to a two- acre rural location in Northumberland County where we had a new home built.
After landscaping our property with flowerbeds and trees, there still seemed to be something lacking.
Although I've always been interested in old cars and antiques of all kinds, I've never really been a collector to speak of. But finding myself with some spare time on my hands, I thought it would be great to add an old horse-drawn farm machine or two to enhance our landscape.
A few people in our area had already done this, but it was apparent that some of the old relics were just plopped haphazardly in a flowerbed, left unpainted and in disrepair, which just doesn't do them justice.
Just like an old car, they need some TLC.
When you stop to think about it, our agricultural history is undergoing rapid changes and we have to rely on our older generation of farmers to provide us with the knowledge they have from the actual use of some of these primitive implements. If it weren't for these people, as well as the Amish and the Mennonites, much of this history would be lost forever.
As I became more interested in restoring old farm machinery, I attended a few auctions but found the prices to be higher than what I was willing to pay. Smart lady that she is, my wife, Pauline, suggested I should bypass the middle man and just ask the farmers themselves if they were willing to sell any of their old equipment. When this proved to be a successful tactic, I was well on my way into my new and rewarding hobby.
The first machine I obtained was a bar sickle mower made by Frost and Wood and built in Smiths Falls, Ontario, over a century ago as identified in a book by the name of American Farm Implements & Antiques , by C.H. Wendel (printed in 2004), which also covers many Canadian companies who made farm machinery.
Restoring this implement required disassembling everything that could come apart. Before doing so, I took photos from every angle so it would be reassembled correctly. Each part was straightened (if necessary), rust removed, primed and then painted with a few coats of rust paint. Most nuts and bolts had to be replaced, except for the square nuts, which were reused, as they are difficult to replace.
Once the work was completed, the mower was reassembled and placed on large patio stones on our property, giving the neighbours something to talk about and making a good roost for birds as well.
The next project was a cultivator, which wasn't in very good condition. This machine was also about 100 years old, made by Frost & Wood and built in Smiths Falls, Ontario. It had been left out in all kinds of weather over the decades and was missing a few vital parts that were needed.
On occasion, missing parts can be taken from other machines and I did have to resort to using some parts that weren't original to the machine. Although a “purist” wouldn't agree with this method of restoration, it's important to keep in mind that these implements are destined to be lawn ornaments and not museum pieces.
Working on the cultivator was more time consuming than the mower. All 15 shanks were taken apart individually and each one was comprised of six parts. Once again, each segment needed rust removal, priming and a couple coats of paint applied.
My next project began in July 2009 when a neighbour gave me three old cutters that looked quite beyond my abilities to restore them. These old sleighs were built oh-so-fancy, with metal ornamentations and curved wooden panels, which I knew I couldn't duplicate in my little basement workshop.
This was going to be a real challenge, but having three “parts” sleighs to work with it seemed probable that I might be able to rebuild one from the three.
As always, out came the camera to take photos from all angles of each sleigh. (One of these had been built by a small company in Cavan, Ontario, known as Cavanville at the time.)
Each metal part was stripped off and cleaned or replaced. Most of the wooden parts had to be replaced entirely. Wooden panels from two of the sleighs were rebuilt and placed on the first sleigh’s runners. After some improvising and lots of hard work, a “new” cutter emerged from the original three and it was used this past Christmas to decorate our front porch – lit up with festive lights and filled with gifts.
My final project (to date) involved a farm machine we had some trouble identifying. Even our trusty old farm implement book didn't offer any information on it. Turns out it is a Massey Harris horse-drawn gang plough.
After some research, we found that Massey Harris was based in Toronto, Ontario, originally and their equipment was sold mainly in Canada, although the company made many excursions to the U.S. where they bought up smaller companies. This included a 1917 acquisition of Johnston Harvester Co., which established a base of operations for Massey Harris in Batavia, New York.
The MH gang plough I was restoring had two rolling colters which were options that you could order at the time of their manufacturing, early in the 1900s. After removing a lot of crud and old grease the original green paint of the machine came up, followed by yellow wheels.
An added feature of this machine was a simple hand-lever that the operator could adjust in order to tilt the wheels to enable the plough to work the hillsides … great old technology from bygone days.
1 - Restored Massey Harris gang plough
2 - Frost & Wood cultivator before
3 - Frost & Wood cultivator after
4 - Restore cutter, from three old cutters
Fred Graham and his wife, Pauline, reside in Northumberland County and are enjoying their retirement living in the country and touring around in their restored ‘67 convertible Camaro. Fred, who also builds bluebird houses, and Pauline, are members of the Hastings Historical Society.

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