To Restore or Not

By Staff
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While often restoration is the only acceptable route, consideration should be given to reproducing important modifications, such as the factory canopy and homemade cab on this 1927 28-50 Hart Parr. Unfortunately, both were removed and destroyed during the
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Sometimes there is no option but to restore a machine, as will be necessary with this unusual 6 HP gas engine, manufacturer unknown.

 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.

Through restoration, much of a machine’s deeper meaning can
be lost not always, but often enough that a restorer should add the
question, ‘Should I restore this or not?’ to their
repertoire. Very often, there is no choice but to restore. Neglect
and time probably cause more damage to the
‘meaningful-ness’ of machinery than do all the efforts of
restorers combined. Nonetheless, there are many times when
important details are sandblasted away, painted over or thrown away
to be replaced by a reproduction part.

As I look over photographs of many of the early tractors in the
Ontario Agricultural Museum’s collection, many of which were
acquired in the mid-1960s and restored nearly 20 years ago, I
realize just how badly the automatic restoration ethic has reduced
the meaning of many of our pieces. I see factory canopies simply
discarded because they were ‘too rough’ to restore;
tractors with 75 percent or more of their original paint, including
decals and stencils, repainted ‘to original,’ yet
exhibiting none of the charm or character the original finish
exuded; and homemade modifications or repairs ‘corrected’
or removed, despite the important message these features provided
about repair techniques from a former time or modifications made to
improve the practicality of a machine or to make it better suit its
working environment. How I wish we could turn back the clock, and
save these features for the benefit of future generations!

Of course, restoration does not exclusively mean returning an
object to its ‘new’ condition, although most restorers
would seem to think so. ‘Restore,’ according to the
dictionary, means ‘to put back into a former state,’ which
not only includes ‘new,’ but also any particular time of
the object’s life. By combining restoration practices with the
preservation ethic museums preach, it is possible to convert old
pieces of machinery to something restorers can be proud of and
other people can enjoy seeing, without losing the meaning that can
be lost by a narrow desire to return everything to its new
condition, at the cost of the removal of original or need-driven
features.

So, when you begin your next restoration project, ask yourself
just how far you should go. Determine not only what you might gain
by a restoration, but what you might lose. Think about your
project, not so much as a machine, but as a document that relates
to a story about someone else’s life. And, most of all, enjoy
your project because it is, after all, a wonderful hobby we
share!

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