Truaxes collect, show off farm antiques
Colorful fall leaves harken the heavy labor of harvest time for area farmers. For retired farmers Jim and Darlene Truax of Deer Creek, the days of planting and gathering crops are part of their happy memories of lives spent farming, and still enj...
Colorful fall leaves harken the heavy labor of harvest time for area farmers. For retired farmers Jim and Darlene Truax of Deer Creek, the days of planting and gathering crops are part of their happy memories of lives spent farming, and still enjoy the tools of their agricultural trade. The Truaxes' front lawn along County Highway 50 is a gallery for their collection of antique farm machinery.
Wheel spokes create triangular shapes. Spikes jut out from sickles. Wire winds around a rod of a corn planter. And curved bands of iron support molded metal seats that once bounced with the weight of local farmers.
The geometric shapes of the agricultural arrangement resemble a modern art exhibit. This display isn't a salute to the abstract, though. It is a celebration of the essential equipment that once drove the local farming economy. The old-time machinery includes plows, a hay mower, a swill cart, a hay loader, a dump rake, a disc, cultivators, corn and potato planters and a grain drill.
The Truaxes began compiling the collection of machinery around 10 years ago, they said.
Darlene shared a simple explanation for the genesis of the project.
"He retired and didn't have nothing to do no more," she said with a laugh.
They ended their farming career in 1998. A previous attempt to quit farming in the early 1980s proved unsuccessful. "You know how that goes," Jim said about the irresistible lure of farming.
Their retirement hobby began with trips to local auctions. At the time, a lot of old equipment was for sale, Darlene said.
"We'd go and he'd say, 'yeah I should take that home with me, paint it up," she recalled.
When they started collecting no one really wanted this equipment, Darlene said. Some of it was out in the woods and could be purchased for two or three dollars.
The increased value of the antique equipment and the influx of Amish has made some of the machinery harder to find in recent years, they said.
Jim was always interested in the old farming equipment, he said.
"A lot of this machinery I've used when I was young," he said.
Some of the equipment greatly predates Jim's era, however. He has a wood beam plow that he believes dates back to the early 1800s, he said. Next to the wood beam plow sits its successor, the steel beam plow. The yellow-and-green-painted plow is a John Deere, a brand Darlene said is Jim's favorite. His third plow is a three-horse saulky plow. The wheels and seat on the saulky were a step forward in plow development.
"Man didn't have to walk anymore, he could ride," Jim said.
Some saulky plows were driven by five horses, he said. Whereas the walking plows had two horses or oxen.
Another piece of farm history is on display in the form of a hay mower made by the Minnesota company. This company had a whole line of farm machinery, most of which were made by prison inmates in St. Cloud, he said.
Some of the equipment on display is harder to find than others. Few horse drawn grain drills like the one the Truaxes have are still around, Jim said. The wooden box has rotted away on many of them.
Crowning off the center of the circular-arranged collection is a cupola salvaged from Jim's sister and brother-in-law's farm. The cupola sat on top of the barn. It was decorative and practical.
The vents allowed moist air out of the hay mound so it didn't frost up in the wintertime, he said. A weather vane adorned with a metal cow indicated the direction of the wind.
All of the machines on display in the Truaxes' lawn are in working order, they said. And Jim loves to explain how they work.
The skeleton frames of the tractors allow for easy viewing of the working parts.
Jim can explain the process of checking corn before the advent of sprays and weed killers. He also demonstrated the ingenious design of the potato digger. A movable metal web would shake the dirt from the potatoes after they were dug up. It took a good team of horses to pull a potato digger because it dug deep into the ground, he said.
Although the equipment was cleverly designed, farming with the old-fashioned machinery was a difficult job.
"You know back then you didn't see many fat people," Darlene said. "They had to work."
Jim explained what a tiresome job cultivating corn was.
"You were always sitting here humped over looking at the row of corn," he said, "Your back was always curved."
Darlene spent many hours cultivating corn when she was a kid, she said.
The seats on the old machinery they rode on were definitely not ergonomically designed.
Jim's dad used to say that if you plowed in the rocks with the saulky plow the first thing that wore out was the seat of your pants, Jim said. And if a rock was in the right spot the whole plow could tip over.
Sharing stories about the old times and teaching younger people how the equipment works are some of the reasons the Truaxes formed the collection.
"It's disappearing and it's something that our future generations ... don't know anything about," he said.
Although practical knowledge about the machinery is fading away, interest in it is not.
Darlene said it's amazing how quickly people notice when they put out a new piece on display.
Jim will maintain the display as long as he can, he said. It's a lot of work, though.
When he first buys a new piece he takes it apart, hangs the pieces on a clothesline and paints them. The equipment has to be repainted every few years, as well. The old iron doesn't hold paint as well as the new metal does, he said. And each fall when the cold weather comes, the Truaxes pack the machinery up and store it in a shed.
The Truaxes are used to hard work, though. They are both life-long farmers.
Jim grew up on a farm in Hewitt. Darlene was born on the farm directly across from their current home on Highway 50. She farmed there with Jim after the couple married in 1952. The Truaxes raised six kids on the farm.
Darlene was always a farm girl, she said.
"Once you get into the farming thing, I don't think you ever forget it," she said.
"It's like they say, you can take the boy out of the farm, but you can't take the farm out of the boy," he said.