A collection of a lifetime

This past week, I saw something amazing with my own eyes.

I had heard stories about what was in a series of buildings in Elgin, but I had never actually seen it . . . not all of it and certainly not at the same time.

Last Friday evening, it finally happened.

As I rode in the back seat of my in-laws’ vehicle, I anxiously waited to physically see the legend . . . the legend of Uncle Ronnie’s massive antique collection.

Ron Wilkinson is my husband’s uncle . . . but all of us imports call him Uncle Ronnie just the same.

Uncle Ronnie is quite a character.

He is a cowboy, a race car driver, a card player, a veteran, a historian, a mechanic, horse enthusiast, Husker fan, husband, father, grandpa, great-grandpa . . . and an antique collector.

His antiques aren’t just old . . . they are special.

And they follow the theme of the way agriculture once was.

There they were . . . so many antique tractors I was overwhelmed. Some were of company lines I’ve heard of . . . John Deere, International, Case. Others were more mysterious, with names like Oliver and Cockshutt from Canada.

They were manufactured and used in the 1930s, 1940s and older.

“They all turned over,” we were informed by my father-in-law, Bud, while his brother nodded in agreement as he sat nearby on an upside-down crate.

“Yep, they sure did,” Uncle Ronnie said as he surveyed what he has amassed over many decades.

“He’s been collecting as long as we’ve been together,” said Aunt Sharon, Uncle Ronnie’s wife. “And that’s been 55 years now.”

I heard the total number of tractors is somewhere in the ballpark of 17 . . . Uncle Ronnie has enough to run his own evening parade at the Nebraska State Fair.

The tractors were just the beginning.

There are dozens upon dozens upon dozens of horse-drawn farm equipment pieces.

Uncle Ronnie knows what each piece is, how it was used, when he took possession of it and where it originated.

Some have wooden wheels, some have wheels made of iron.

Some are one-row, others are two.

All were used in the early days of farming.

There are plows, farrows, cultivators, mowers, stalk binders, stalk choppers, stalk shredders, listers, discs, manure spreaders, dirt scrapers, hay racks and dump rakes.

Faded writing on the sides indicate they are McCormicks, Adriances, Ideal Grants, Milwaukees and more.

There was a piece I stared at for the longest time without a single inclination as to what it was. I was promptly informed it was a New Aspinwall potato planter. Who knew?

Well, Uncle Ronnie did.

An interesting piece leaned up against a fence. This was a rare one, we were told. It’s called a “loose hay pickup” that is intended to be tied behind a hay rack. Most people have never seen one, I learned.

Well, until now.

From there, we moved to the buggy/wagon area. It was amazing and nearly brought tears to my eyes as I pictured little kids, with their folks, riding under blankets in the two snow sleighs.

My eyes surveyed the many horse-drawn wagons . . . with a variety of spoked wheels.

And there were the covered wagons and pleasure wagons that Uncle Ronnie proudly pulled in many a trail ride around the Midwest. I remembered seeing Uncle Ronnie guiding a beautiful wagon behind his beloved horses and being the star of Elgin’s Centennial parade as he and his fellow horsemen entered town.

I also remembered seeing an amazing photograph of Uncle Ronnie doing the same elsewhere, which was captured by a staff member of the Omaha World Herald who realized Uncle Ronnie was a character even though they didn’t know each other.

Uncle Ronnie’s horses have gone to new homes, I was told. But his many harnesses, collars and horse-related pieces hang on a wall, to later be used by someone else.

“It’s quite a deal,” Uncle Ronnie quietly said, while the rest of us excitedly chattered about how amazed we were by the vast amount of history laid out before us.

“Yeah, there’s a few odd pieces here and there, I guess,” Uncle Ronnie said. “And yep, I remember where it all came from.”

Where it came from, where it’s been . . . and now it’s time for it to go.

Uncle Ronnie has cancer. He and Aunt Sharon are handling his illness the best they can . . . and part of that was making the decision to sell these incredible pieces of history.

It’s time for someone else to appreciate these treasures . . . I hope whoever does remembers the appreciation Uncle Ronnie had for them as well.

After all, this is the collection of a lifetime.

The lifetime of Uncle Ronnie.


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