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Relate ag past to present

Agriculture.com Staff 07/06/2010 @ 5:17pm

Fifteen years ago, Jim Cuddeback got a phone call from a neighbor, Dale Statler. "He said he wanted to return a piece of farm equipment his family had borrowed," Jim says.

It wasn't unusual for the two Washington, Iowa, families to loan each other equipment. But Jim didn't remember Statler borrowing anything recently. Nevertheless, he drove to his neighbor's to haul the machinery home.

Much to his surprise, the borrowed farm equipment was a wooden harrow made with metal teeth. "Dale said his father had borrowed it from my grandfather," Jim says. "He finally uncovered it in a hay barn." Jim wasn't sure what he would do with a harrow. He almost got rid of it. Instead, he stored it in a shed.

Today the harrow is proudly displayed in the Cuddebacks' farm museum, created in 2002.

The idea came about when Jim and his wife, Jane, took part in a statewide tour including small-town museums. "I realized we had a lot of old equipment," he says. "We built a 27x40-foot pole shed to store it."

Jim, a nine-generation farmer, says almost every item was owned by his family. "We have a 300-year farm history in the U.S. and 100 years in Iowa," he says.

His collection includes a Woods Brothers one-row picker as well as two-row, six-row, and 12-row corn planters. "We have a wooden, walk-behind dump rake made by John Deere," he says. "I've been told it was built in the 1860s." The horse harness hangs on pegs made from wagon wheel spokes by his grandfather. His grandpa's first tractor, a 1939 International B, also is on display.

"My earliest recollection of farming is of riding in the wagon of oats while my dad drove the tractor and my mother scooped oats into the seeder," he says. Each item includes a laminated card identifying it and explaining its use.

When Jane, a teacher, mentioned the museum to other teachers at her school in 2004, they wanted to bring students for a field trip.

The Cuddebacks host six sections of second-graders each May. "The class does a farm time line unit, and they come here afterwards," Jim says.

Jane leads one section through the museum, while Jim shows another class their new equipment, including a 60-foot-wide Hardi sprayer with GPS.

"Our oldest granddaughter was in the group last May," she says. "It was neat." For the Cuddebacks, it's all about family. "About 1,000 visitors have signed the guest book, and that surprises us," Jim says. "But we made the museum so our family could see our own farm history."

In fact, the McDowell branch of his family gathers there every five years.

It's unusual for a family to create a farm museum and uncommon for a school to trace ag's time line. As the portion of farmers shrinks, we must find ways to help nonfarmers uncover their farm roots and tie ag advances to the future of the U.S.

Fifteen years ago, Jim Cuddeback got a phone call from a neighbor, Dale Statler. "He said he wanted to return a piece of farm equipment his family had borrowed," Jim says.

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