Barnstormers Preserve Local Agricultural History
By Jacqui D. Sinarle
The homemade farm machinery of yesteryear may have been replaced by modern high-tech farm equipment, but the Patterson Township Historical Society Barnstormers are hard at work collecting, preserving and restoring the valuable evidence of our unique agricultural history, one piece at a time.
“The West Side was very important in creating some of the agricultural equipment that is used in the industry today,” explained Ken Herger, large equipment curator for the Patterson Township Historical Society Barnstormers. “In fact, many people would be surprised at how much unique farm equipment was built and designed in the community of Patterson and on the West Side.”
In the past, area farmers and machinists frequently invented and built original farming equipment or modified existing machinery like old cars and trucks to meet their unique farming needs. Herger noted that Patterson area farmers who grew crops like peas and beans were responsible for creating specialized machinery including string bean harvesters and dry bean farming equipment. And during wartime in the 1930s and 1940s, few new tractors were available so local farmers often constructed their own.
By finding and restoring vintage farm equipment, the Barnstormers not only preserve the area’s agricultural history for future generations to appreciate and enjoy, they also maintain a physical record of the technological progress of farm equipment over the years. Even more importantly, the Barnstormers honor the local men and farming families who designed and built farm equipment with their bare hands.
The Patterson Township Historical Society’s farm equipment collection was initiated by Ken’s father, the late Frank Herger, and continued by Frank’s friend, Ed Torrison. Ken accepted the post of large equipment curator in 2014 after Torrison’s passing, and the Barnstormers were born in 2015.
These days, the 20 volunteer members of the nonprofit Barnstormers include Ken, his brother Karl, and friend Mario Martinez. They’re all constantly on the lookout for vintage farm equipment to add to the Historical Society’s collection.
“The Barnstormers meet once a month to discuss projects and work hands-on to restore what we have gathered up,” Herger added.
Currently the Barnstormers display both restored and unrestored pieces of farm equipment at the annual Patterson Apricot Fiesta, but someday in the future they hope to have an official museum to house the items. The collection includes John Deere and Minneapolis-Moline tractors; a John Deere plow; an assortment of engines; a rare Tiura forklift; and a large, 100-year-old grain harvester that was made to be pulled by 31 horses. There are also small, homemade tractors that were made to teach children how to drive them and use them.
One item in particular holds fond memories for Herger.
“My favorite piece is a small, garden-like tractor that my father built out of old car parts to teach my brother and I how to drive and back up a small trailer,” he explained.
Herger is the shop supervisor of Del Mar Farms in Patterson and has been involved in agriculture for his entire life, learning how to restore vintage agricultural equipment from his father. While restoring antique farm equipment may be a fading art, he and fellow Barnstormers are determined to pass their skills and expertise on to keep them alive through future generations.
“My son, my nephews, and many young adults in the area are interested in learning about antique farm equipment and the history of West Side,” Herger said. “I think the Barnstormers’ greatest accomplishment has been putting together a group of young and old men who want to learn the same traditions about early farming equipment.”
For more information about the Barnstormers or to make a donation to support their preservation of local agricultural history, contact [email protected] For information about the Patterson Township Historical Society, visit www.pattersontownshiphistoricalsociety.org.