1880s farm machinery passing through Mt. Hope en route to new museum home in Ohio

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Sharon and Bob Wood, of Mt. Hope, are pretty proud of the 1880s reaper they acquired through an online auction. They will be donating it to a Springfield, Ohio, museum this spring. (Photo by Correne Martin)

This CBQ wooden side delivery hay rake was also made in the 1880s and is believed to be one of the first five delivery rakes ever made. This piece of machinery is also slated to be transported to Ohio this spring.

By Correne Martin

 

It’s surprising what treasures can be found through an auction. 

What may be used and unwanted belongings for some, can end up being worthy valuables for others. They might also be a part of history.

Bob and Sharon Wood, retired farmers from Mt. Hope, have a penchant for classic farm equipment. In early 2020, they discovered online and purchased a Champion reaper and a CBQ wooden side delivery hay rake, both estimated to have been made in the 1880s in Ohio. The Woods plan to donate them to the Springfield (Ohio) Historical Society’s Made in Springfield Museum.

Antiques appreciation

Browsing through the Woods’ sheds and their home is a nostalgic flashback for anyone who also has an appreciation for antiques. Their collection includes the entire 30 Series of John Deere tractors: six two-cylinder Johnny Poppers from the 330 on up to the 830; two trailers full of pedal tractors of various brands; and a long basement wall covered from top to bottom with toy tractors still in their boxes. 

Caring for their collectibles simply gives them something to do, Sharon noted. Sharing them among the Grant County Antique Club, of which they are members, is also a passion.

Late last winter, the Woods came across an estate auction near Milwaukee, on the internet. They happened upon a couple unfamiliar pieces of old farm machinery. Even though the pictures were thumbnail-size on the computer, the two items—the reaper and hay rake—caught Bob’s eye.

“I just thought they were unique,” he said. 

It seemed few others wanted them. Yet, Bob felt they were significant enough finds that he gave $1,000 for the pair. 

“When I buy something, I figure I can make a buck,” he shared. 

In March, he recruited friends John Collins and Doug Moris, of Fennimore, to travel to Milwaukee and haul them home to his farm. 

“When we got there to pick them up, no one was around. They were sitting in an old barn. We had to load them ourselves,” Sharon recalled of the heavy job. 

“The seat stuck over the trailer, so we had to take the back roads home,” Bob laughed.

Learning about the reaper and rake

Upon getting his findings home, Bob sent pictures, asking for information about them, to the “Farm Collector” and “Antique Power” magazines. This garnered only a few responses, mostly from Ohio because they had been manufactured there. 

“I think they’re from an era that was too long ago. There’s barely anyone around who knows much about them anymore,” Bob stated.

One of those interested was Dan Hearlihy, from the Springfield, Ohio, museum. He said he had only ever seen one other reaper of its kind, and it was in the Heritage Center museum in Clark County, Ohio. He contacted the Woods with interest in both pieces of machinery, as the Springfield Historical Society is renovating an old building and would like to display them in the museum.

Aside from the Ohio connection, one other person contacted Bob to talk more about his 1880s discoveries. Everitt Olson, of Viroqua, eventually visited the Woods  to see the reaper, specifically. He used to run one as a young boy, cutting many acres of grain back in the day. 

“He showed us how it worked,” Sharon said. “He took an oil can and went to work. After jacking up the bull wheel, he had it working like it should.”

According to historical information Hearlihy passed along, the Champion reaper was invented by William Whiteley in 1855. They were made in Springfield, in the largest factory in the world in the 1880s, covering 40 acres. This factory burned to the ground in 1902, and nearly all the records were lost. The reaper was invented to cut grain and sweep it off into bunches. Then, usually women came along, gathered a bunch in their arms, and took a few stems of grain to tie them into a bundle. When there were enough in a row, the women came along and made shocks. 

“This reaper made the wheat business,” Bob explained. “It could cut more than six guys with a cradle.”

“It was basically the first combine,” Hearlihy added.

The CBQ (Chambers, Bering & Quinlan Co.) wooden side delivery hay rake was made in the 1880s but not perfected until the 1890s. Their function was to lift hay into light windrows with the green leaves turned in, protecting them from sunshine, thus enhancing the curing process. Kick forks in gangs of three were mounted on the shaft with four gangs in all. The shaft was operated by a gear from one of the wheels.

“The rake has some wood in its makeup, and not long after that, [manufacturers] went to steel and iron,” Hearlihy described. “That would indicate this was a very early piece of equipment.”

Bob said they’ve been led to believe this rake may be one of the first five delivery rakes ever made.

Donation plans

Realizing the lack of general purchaser interest for the reaper and hay rake, Bob and Sharon decided recently to donate the pair to the Made in Springfield Museum. 

“It feels good knowing they’re going to a good home where they can be appreciated,” Sharon remarked. 

The Woods are happy to have owned the reaper and rake, even if only briefly. They feel it’s neat they’re passing through their  little town of Mt. Hope.

Hearlihy, although superstitious about saying much before actually acquiring the two, is pleased as well, “They’re pretty tremendous as far as we’re concerned.”

As the museum gets ready for the large items, they won’t be shipped to Springfield until April or May. Fisher Trucking, of Mt. Hope, will transport them. 

“If anyone would like to see them before that time, you are welcome to call and set up a time,” Bob said. Call (608) 988-4600 to make plans. 

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