You Are What You Collect

I don’t know where the urge to collect things comes from. I myself am one of the most normal people I know, yet even I have a collection of several dozen antique yardsticks. I am especially drawn to the yardsticks with old phone numbers with named exchanges like MAin or ALpine, or with unusual advertising on them. My favorite is one for a renderer that boldly states, “WE WANT YOUR DEAD OR DISABLED LIVESTOCK”.Yardsticks

A few years ago I had the assignment to write about the country’s largest collection of washing machines. Basically this fellow, Lee Maxwell is his name, retired from being an engineering professor and began to take road trips with his wife. As they poked around antique stores and flea markets, Maxwell took an interest in the antique washers they encountered and began to buy a few and bring them home. Between trips, he would rebuild and refurbish them in his shop, and place them in an old barn alongside the machines he’d already done.

Ultimately, his collection outgrew the barn, of course. When I met him, most of the collection was in an enormous open-span metal building. At 1400 machines (he got into the Guinness Book of World Records in 2000) Maxwell’s assemblage is truly astonishing. There are machines with every conceivable type of agitation mechanism, including more than one with a treadmill intended to be driven by a goat or dog. There are machines that rock and machines that roll; some that would fill a room and others that sit on a table. He had an example of every single Maytag model there ever was.

Windmill collection

Maxwell’s may have been the most comprehensive collection I’ve seen, but we in Nebraska are not to be outdone for quirkiness. If you drive along State Highway 23 on the west side of Bertrand, you can see a collection of quite a number of old windmills that appear to be restored, set up and working. It couldn’t have been easy; it must have taken someone hours and hours of labor. The windmills are examples of some earlier time that someone thought were worth preserving not for any personal gain but just for their own sake.

Another quirky collection is actually what inspired this digression. I was driving near Alma not long ago and chanced upon a collection of manure spreaders. Interesting. If you’re unfamiliar with them, these devices are intended to deal with, uh, solid animal waste, by conveying it to spinning tines as it’s pulled behind a tractor. It flings the manure high into the air in a kind of brown cloud — and I know from experience you need to keep track of which way the wind is blowing.

Manure Spreader 2

Not to say that manure spreaders aren’t interesting or that they didn’t play an important role in Nebraska’s agricultural history. But here again, restoring them must have taken someone considerable effort, so it’s no wonder he would want to display them on his lawn. I guess.

As I say, I don’t know where the urge to collect comes from or how people decide what to collect. I just note that it seems relatively few people are completely immune.


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  1. Phil October 24, 2013 at 7:41 pm -

    It doesn’t seem to matter what it is, someone will collect it. Watches make more sense than some collections I’ve heard tell of…

  2. Hannah October 24, 2013 at 10:53 am -

    Thanks for the post! I love to collect vintage watches- there’s something about owning a piece of history and I find it ironic because it’s a time piece.

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