July 1, 2016

Intermittent clouds

Farm museum secures the past for the future

John Gladden | The Gazette

WADSWORTH TWP. — Junior Silchuk lived by a pretty simple motto: Save everything, share everything.

His family keeps that ideal alive at the Silchuk Farm Museum — founded in 1964 and open by appointment — on Wall Road, just north of Rittman. Junior, who died in 2005, was a collector of all things odd and old, with a special eye for pieces of America’s agricultural history.

Rambling pole buildings on the family farm contain everything you can think of — and a few things you’d never think of.

Halley Merrill, 5, of Norton, befriends a Hereford cow recently on the Silchuk farm in Wadsworth Township. (John Gladden | Gazette)

Junior’s son, Jim, reached into a display case and pulled out a dark, glossy ball — a little smaller than an apple.

“Know what this is?” he asked, opening it in two.

It’s a hairball from a cow’s stomach, Silchuk said. Shellacked and cut in half, the compacted hair inside makes a perfect pin cushion. The old-timers let nothing go to waste.

“I remember Dad saying they used the squealer in the pig,” said Silchuk.

The family once farmed up to 500 acres, including a lot of rented land and barns — which were often filled with stuff the owners didn’t want. So, the Silchuks cleaned out the buildings, an arrangement that worked out for both. One man’s junk is another man’s museum piece.

The collection includes gas pumps, buggy jacks, wooden-wheel wagons, railroad scales, early grain drills, toys, tools, zinc bath tubs, hand mowers, cooking utensils and collectibles — the everyday things of life long ago. They once cleaned out a former one-room schoolhouse, discovering a paddle and the school bell.

“Back 40 years ago, nobody wanted that stuff,” said Silchuk.

Other items were bartered, bought at auction, or even found in dumps — like a brown Coke bottle and a pair of button-down shoes. Silchuk is still finding things his dad squirreled away.

The museum contains 15 tractors — some purchased new from local dealers and used on the farm until being retired for display.

The 1947 John Deere is a favorite of Jim’s sister, Sharon Van Arnam, who remembers its putt-putt sound lulling her to sleep as a little girl, riding with her dad in the fields.

One building contains a wonderful horse-drawn sleigh fitted together with wooden pegs and detailed with hand-carved eagles. There are Native American relics found on the farm and clumps of locally grown tobacco from the days it was a major cash crop.

There’s a “pig bottle” — which looks like a soda bottle, but with a marble in the neck. When the bottle stood upright, the marble sealed the opening, held in place by the pressure of the contents. When the bottle was tipped, the marble slid neatly out of the way.

The collection features a dog-powered churn — a wooden treadmill on which a dog would walk or run in hopes of reaching a tasty morsel of meat suspended just out of reach. In the process, gears would turn and butter would churn.

“The guy we got it from had it in his basement and said the dog would run on it like a hamster,” said Silchuk, who continues to be amazed by the enduring workmanship and utility of vintage tools.

“Everything you see here — the old stuff — you could take it out and use it,” he said.

School and church groups have been frequent visitors to the farm and museum. It’s hosted the Medina County Fall Foliage tour and as many as 6,000 children per year.

“Dad just had a passion to share what he had,” said Van Arnam.

She said it’s a joy to watch city children, who may scarcely see green grass at home, run and play at the farm.

“They don’t care about anything but rolling down the hill,” she said, laughing. You show them an outhouse and they ask: “How do you flush that?”

It’s vital, she said, for young people to understand history is three-dimensional, not just words and pictures on a page. Another of her dad’s mottos was: “We can enrich the future if we borrow the best from the past.”

“You can’t learn everything from a book,” Van Arnam said. “You have to see it, touch it and be with it.”

On a recent Saturday, the Silchuk farm hosted a group of kindergartners and their families from Norton City Schools — 198 in all — for a cookout, nature hike and fishing.

The Silchuks raise hay and handsome, white-faced Hereford cattle on about 70 acres of hills and valleys, rich with trees and natural springs. For the kindergartners, the highlight of the day was a hayride that ended in the pasture with feeding bread to the friendly cows.

Over the years, many visitors have returned to the farm bearing gifts to add to the collection — some agricultural, some just cultural.

Silchuk lifted an Elvis candle from a display shelf.

“Not too many have a wax thing of Elvis, but a kid brought it in,” he said.

The family has had offers for the collection, but, spoken like a true farmer, Silchuk shrugged and said: “Money’s not everything.”

Besides, most of the items come with stories — where they were discovered, how Junior worked to find them, gifts given to the Silchuks in trust … like the Elvis candle.

“How do you get rid of that?” asked Silchuk.

Contact John Gladden at gladden@ohio.net.