Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Farming history lives in heart, barn

December 09, 2007|Lisa Rathke | Associated Press

COVENTRY, VT. — Fred Webster fears that when he dies his 1,500-piece collection of antique farm equipment will die with him -- that it will be parceled up and auctioned off.

So he's asking the state to help preserve it.

"When I go, what's going to happen?" Webster, 86, says of his old tractors, carriages, sleighs, wheels and saws. "Then the buildings will start to fall in."

Webster, a former vocational agriculture instructor, started collecting artifacts of rural life when he retired 21 years ago.

His aim was to show how machinery had evolved, a phenomenon he witnessed growing up on the family farm, where he still lives.

"I wanted something to do when I retired," he said. "So I started collecting."

His collection, which is housed in 80,000 square feet of old barns and ramshackle buildings on his property, includes an 1896 single-horsepower machine, a horse-drawn hearse and hordes of old maple taps.

His son helped him record more than 300 hours of video documentation about the artifacts so he could pass on what he knows.

Still nimble, he ambles around the vast collection, stepping over and around the equipment, across rickety barn floors and planks and up and down stairs.

He points to a carriage he used to take to school and a sleigh he said his father used for courting. Nearby on the upper floor of the vast barn are stacks of wooden wheels and 60 old-fashioned washing machines.

Last spring, heavy snow toppled a roof covering his prized single-horsepower drag saw. The 1896 device, now covered in plastic, is powered by a horse running on a treadmill.

The collection draws attention -- sometimes from unlikely people.

When the rock band Phish played its farewell concert at a nearby farm in 2004, the organizers turned to Webster for props. He liked talking to the artists and hearing their ideas and was happy to oblige.

"They saw my horsepower drag saw and they said, 'Oh, boy. We can use that to saw watermelons.' Saw watermelons with a drag saw? I said, 'You guys are out of your mind.' "

They ended up renting 10 vehicle-type artifacts from Webster to show the agricultural heritage of the area, he said. The drag saw did in fact cut watermelons, powered by people operating the treadmill.

"They treated us really, really good," he said. "It was a tremendous event -- the best thing that ever happened to the future of Coventry."

Webster hasn't sought publicity but now hopes that the state will find a way to preserve his treasures. He doesn't want to pass them on to his children because he fears it's a burden. He'd prefer to have the pieces stay on his land.

He called state Sen. Vincent Illuzzi, who contacted state officials, who eventually put him in touch with Sylvia Jensen, a land-use planner for the state Agency of Agriculture.

"Personality-wise, he's an incredible resource and individual," Jensen said. "His life story is one of hardship and humor. He sees the glass half full all the time."

She envisions a learning center with exhibits and demonstrations and possibly carriage rides throughout the summer. She thinks some combination of grants, state aid and private donations could help Webster achieve his dream.

She's contacting historical societies, the Vermont Trust for Historic Preservation, the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board and the Vermont Land Trust in hopes of drumming up interest.

"Have I created a monster which I'm begging to help me preserve, or am I just a nuisance to people?" Webster said. "It's a big question."

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|