To Restore or Not

| March/April 1997

 Curator of Collections Ontario Agricultural Museum Sent to us by William M. Honey 4 Elias Lane, P.O. Box 3141 West Tisbury, Massachusetts 02575

The following article is reprinted with permission from Peter Ledwith and Canadian Antique Power Magazine in which it originally appeared in the January/February J 994 issue.

For most hobbyists involved in the restoration of farm tractors, gas engines, implements or other antique machinery, the planning stages of a restoration project usually consist of seemingly endless rounds of questions. 'Where can I find that missing carburetor?' 'What brand of magneto did this tractor use?' 'Those fenders are pretty bad. Should I fix them up, or are reproductions available?' 'What are the proper paint colors and what brand should I use?' 'What is all this going to cost me?'

In the museum world, a similar round of questions also precedes such projects, but one essential query overrides all others: 'Should this artifact be restored or not?'

Restoration of farm machinery is a wonderful process with impressive results in the appearance of the machine, and in the ego of the restorer. Nothing instills more pride in a hobbyist than to be able to pull out those before and after pictures and discuss in intimate detail just how that 'sow's ear' was turned by tender loving care and hard work into this 'silk purse.' Restoration can turn jumbles of unrecognizable steel and iron into beautiful, impressive, operating and understandable mechanical units. Other hobbyists are impressed, the general public is amazed and enlightened when they see the finished projects, and the machine itself, after many years of neglect, is once again appreciated by all.

But, while restoration can reveal a machine's former glory, it can also hide important detail, remove original material, and reduce the historic importance of particular machines. For most museums today, machinery is no longer revered only as a mechanical marvel from a former time, but appreciated as a record of lives of people from days gone by. Every machine, in fact every man-made object, was created to satisfy a perceived need. Some machines filled that need satisfactorily, others failed miserably. But all were acquired, used, appreciated or cursed, and ultimately replaced by something supposedly better, bigger, faster, or just plain nicer, by someone. All artifacts are much more than what they were made to be: they are a record of a part of someone's life.