MOUNT HOPE, Wis. — Collecting antiques reminds Bob and Sharon Wood of their childhoods when many families, including their own, lacked possessions.
Now their homestead is filled with them, a byproduct of decades of attending auctions, flea markets and garage sales.
“This is what you do when you get old,” said Sharon, 74. “Er — older.”
Tools and machines hang from the walls and crowd the floor space of three steel sheds: scythes from an era when laborers cut grain stalks by hand to oxbows when plows were pulled by draft animals to the first modern diesel tractors.
Their latest acquisitions have caused a stir among antiquarians in Ohio.
Poking online, Bob, 78, located a 19th-century hay rake and antique reaper retailing at an estate sale. He purchased both for $1,000 last March.
Hay rakes from the period lifted and deposited cut grasses into rows, where they could dry before they were baled or rolled.
The Woods’ reaper is comprised of a metal slide, the front of which is attached to a toothed sickle that oscillated while horses pulled it across fields.
As it cut, a set of spinning reels, onto which tines were attached, pitched the hay into rows, which farmers later bundled by hand.
The Woods, both retired farmers, desired to learn about their machines’ history, but the technology that drives the implements fell out of use long ago, leaving few alive with knowledge of how to operate them.
They reached out to staff at “Farm Collector” and “Antique Power” magazines. Among the responses they received was an inquiry from the executive director of the Springfield (Ohio) Historical Society, who expressed an interest in displaying the devices at a local museum.
“We’re thrilled,” said Dan Hearlihy. “I’ve been looking for one of these units for about 15 years.”
The reaper, a precursor to the modern combine, was manufactured by Champion, a Springfield company later purchased by a predecessor to International Harvester Company. The rake, meanwhile, was manufactured by Chambers, Bering & Quinlan Co., of Decatur, Ill.
Several months later Bob decided to donate the machines to the museum and they will be shipped this spring.
“Other people will get to see them,” Bob said. “It makes me feel good.”
The two additions represent just an iota of Bob’s relics.
He started collecting Winchester rifles and tools more than 25 years ago, before transitioning to tractors of all scales.
Seventeen full-size models are wedged like puzzle pieces in the storage sheds. The oldest, a shiny emerald John Deere, dates to 1939.
Bob loans the still-operational vehicles out for tractor rides and parades.
Tucked into a corner behind two trailer loads of toy pedal tractors and cars, is a wooden circus wagon the Woods discovered at an auction.
Last year, Sharon intended to place Bob inside and haul him through town using a tractor during the Mount Hope Dairy Days parade, which organizers ultimately canceled.
“COVID saved him,” she said.
In their basement, Bob has lined wall-mounted shelves with at least 100 collectible farm toys. Some are stacked waist-high on the floor.
He does not know why he enjoys acquiring them.
“He was always a John Deere man, let’s put it that way,” Sharon said.
The Woods also have amassed an assortment of other antiques: a pump-action vacuum cleaner and chaps and a lasso belonging to Billy Buschbaum, a famous rodeo sportsman.
Photographs of their four smiling grandchildren rest on bookcases and an antique secretary in their office.
Nearby, a stuffed 500-pound black bear stands atop a pile of stones. Bob shot it at Clam Lake in northern Wisconsin, where the family owns a share of Dog Town camp.
For nine years, owners have hosted youth with critical illnesses or disabilities for an annual bear hunt, a happening organized by the United Special Sportsman Alliance.
“Every one of those kids shot their own bear,” Sharon said. “It’s just phenomenal. You just cry.”
The Woods had few belongings growing up in Mount Hope, but Sharon said that was the case with many southwest Wisconsin families at the time.
“We didn’t know what we didn’t have,” she said. “You appreciate things more.”
Sharon and Bob lived down the road from one another, but it was not until she was a high school student that they started dating.
“I tell everybody that when I started farming, I needed somebody to cook and wash for me,” Bob said, jovially. “So, I took the first thing that come along and she come with her own pots and pans!”
They recently celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary.
“Always stories,” she said.
They raised a son and a daughter, both of whom worked on the farm, even during college.
Their children’s latest chore will involve determining how to deal with their parents’ antique collection, especially the toys.
“I guess we’ll leave them for the kids and have it be their headache,” Bob said, laughing.