The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

December 10, 2012

Donation expands collection

Farming equipment from Lenox ties agriculture, transportation

ASHTABULA — When C. Langdon “Rudy” Campbell first saw the farming equipment that the Lenox Historical Society donated to the Ashtabula Maritime and Surface Transportation Museum, he questioned the connection.

Campbell, historian and model maker for the museum, was accustomed to thinking of transportation in terms of trains, car ferries and freighters, not grain drills pulled by horses.

With a little help from Glenn Beagle, the museum’s assistant director, it all made sense, however. So much sense, Campbell and Beagle are planning to open in May 2013 two displays dedicated to the farm machinery and implements that came from Lenox Township.

Campbell likens it to “Phoenix rising from the ashes,” referring to the defunct Lenox Historical Society’s collection being perpetuated by “The Lenox Pioneer and Settler Farming Museum.” The displays are tentatively planned for a garage and two rooms in a colonial house west of the museum.

Finding storage space for the donations was a challenge, let alone a display area.

“We are up to our ears in displays,” said Campbell, who supports the idea of greatly expanding the museum’s physical structure. Only $6 million stands between the plan and its execution. Campbell says the expansion would allow a fuller exploration of the museum’s surface transportation mandate, which the donations extended to farm machinery.

The connection between farming and transportation, even on the Great Lakes, is not as tenuous as it may seem at first pass. Campbell points out that it was the settler’s quest for more productive farm land that fueled the westward expansion from the East Coast. In that region, a yield of three or four bushels was good. In the Western Reserve, yields were at least 50 percent higher.

The pioneer often started out living in a village rather than on a farm. He purchased wilderness land, walked or rode a horse to his plot, built a lean-to for basic shelter, then labored for weeks clearing and planting. After several years, the farm would be large enough to support the family, and the settler would move them onto the property, necessitating a better connection to the outside world than the footpath he followed into the wilderness.

As the farm produced a surplus, the need for even better transportation routes arose — roads wide enough to accommodate a wagon, reliable bridges to span fickle streams.

When the farmer had enough cash in hand to strike out again, he often sold his farm and pushed farther west, repeating the cycle until he was worn out or bust.

“His business was not farming, it was creating farms,” Campbell said.

Ashtabula and Cleveland developed as terminals for the surplus raised by the farms that followed this pattern of expansion. Initially, poor transportation options necessitated “value-added” agriculture — such as converting surplus corn into whiskey. Transportation remained a factor; exporting whiskey gave Ashtabula Harbor its start in the early 1830s. Meanwhile, herding routes criss-crossed the landscape as everything from geese to hogs, sheep to cattle, were driven to markets in Pittsburgh, Baltimore and other eastern livestock hubs.

The Great Lakes became a major transportation artery for grain raised in the upper Midwest and Great Plains, providing yet another connection between farming and the maritime industry. In Ohio, the farming industry also gave rise to the manufacture of farming equipment, some of which is among the donations that Lenox Historical sent to the Maritime Museum.

“We’re directly related to (farming) because of the transportation,” Campbell said, explaining why the museum accepted the farming equipment.

Its paint fading, its metal rusting, much of the machinery is familiar to Beagle, who grew up in rural southwest Pennsylvania.

“I knew exactly what it was, because I used it,” Beagle said.

He recalls using a scoop pan like the one that came from Lenox and said it is especially appropriate considering that those devices, powered by horses or mules, help scoop the harbor out of a swamp.

Among the larger farming items is an Oliver corn planter, most likely manufactured for a beast to pull and later adapted to tractor use. Beagle is so familiar with how the device works, he can point out the location of missing parts and describe their function. He likewise is personally experienced in the operation of the potato digger, and recalls what a muddy, cold task it was to harvest spuds, despite the benefit of horse-drawn mechanization.

There’s also a corn sheller, silage cutter, grain drill, hay seed broadcaster and many smaller implements that the volunteers plan to display come spring. Both Beagle and Campbell say there is much work to be done in the interim, and they sure could use help with the project this winter.

A love of history drives these retirees’ efforts, but even stronger is their passion for making history relevant to every person who visits the museum.

“So many people know so little about how their grandfather or great-grandfather started out,” Campbell said. “Back then, a day’s labor had to be a day’s labor. It had to be done, or you couldn’t eat.”

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