People put a lot of strange things in their yards: plastic pink flamingoes, ceramic garden gnomes, even giant plaster dinosaurs.
But in the Intermountain West, we tend to go for something a bit more organic. After all, in farm country, it sometimes feels like antique agricultural equipment is growing out of the ground, so why not use it to decorate our yards?
“It was simple, but things were strong, sturdy,” said Jeff Holladay, who lives on Clear Lakes Road near Buhl and collects old farm machinery. “It’s just a fascination with the simple mechanics.”
Holladay’s yard includes a ’22 Ford truck, three John Deere manure spreaders, Crosley cars (the maker went belly-up in ’52), and a horse-drawn single-row spud planter. “It’s all about the potatoes,” he joked.
And that’s after the collection was culled. “I used to have more, but I narrowed it down because the property’s not big enough,” Holladay said.
Since he keeps the implements orderly, the neighborhood doesn’t seem to mind, even the church next door. “Some of my neighbors who are farmers, they like to see it,” Holladay said. “I used to bring home a lot of old trucks, and my wife would say, ‘As long as everything’s lined up nice and neat.’”
He once got a complaint from an insurance company that the antiques were a potential safety hazard, but it didn’t result in much.
What have resulted from the machinery in his yard are offers to buy it.
“I’ve had people who will want to buy them and stick flowers in them, but then things get cut up and hauled off for scrap,” he said. One offer he did accept was from a man who wanted to carry Boy Scouts in a parade; that manure spreader he gave away for free, and he enjoys seeing it refurbished in the event each year.
But once a collector of antique farm equipment claps hands on a piece, it’s rare that an offer to buy will result in sale, no matter how often those offers come along.
Like the 35-foot-long, 8-ton 1920 Caterpillar road grader owned by Bob Garner, who lives off Golf Course Road near Jerome. The purchase price — $500 from a farmer in Arco who was retiring — was nothing compared with its sentimental value for Garner.
“When I was a boy growing up, I used to play on it,” he said, remembering that unique grader, which used to be owned by his family. “I didn’t have any toys when I was a kid, I grew up very poor, so I considered this a toy, I guess. There were a lot of pieces on it you could move and adjust. As a 10- to 12-year-old boy I’d be on there daydreaming.”
When Garner moved from Arco to Jerome, the 16,000-pound beast came along, and he has kept it maintained. “It’s 100 percent complete — which is rare for a machine that’s 90 years old — 100 percent original except for the paint, which is gone.”
Other collectors might not have such personal connections, but machinery inspires them all the same.
“Steel prices have gone sky-high and people are selling this stuff (for the metal). Down the line, what are kids going to remember?” said Jim Freideman of Malta, who regularly welcomes classes of children to tour his massive collection of antique machinery at 1470 S. 2200 E. “If we can make kids laugh, smile, have a good time, that’s really enjoyable.”
If a visitor can’t find his property, he said, just ask at the grocery store or the gas station for Oscar the Grouch — that’s the kid-friendly nickname he goes by.
Between the manure spreaders, spring-tooth plows, wooden-spoke wheels and nine tractors outside, and household antiques like washing machines inside, there’s plenty to show.
“We’re looking at the remembrance of the old times, how people used to work,” Freideman said. And he’s always accepting donations, so if you have an old piece of machinery that needs a home, look no further.
Other folks are more urban and have less space. But even they can’t resist the siren call of an antique cultivator.
“If I find something interesting, why, I’ll pick it up at auction if the price is right,” said Oliver Lowman, who lives on the 600 block of Fillmore Street in Jerome.
In addition to that cultivator, he has a dirt slip, used by horses to move earth around; a goat cart, which resembles a manger on wheels; a wagon-wheel mailbox; an ore bucket that was on the property when he bought it; and an ore cart that belonged to his mother-in-law.
“I just like the old stuff,” Lowman said.
And that’s really what it’s about — the old stuff, right in Idaho’s front yards, where every day we can see the history of agriculture and the history of our farmers, one antique at a time.
Ariel Hansen may be reached at ahansen@ magicvalley.com or 788-3475.