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Brown Farm Central City farmstead offers antique machinery, glimpses of the past

HISTORY HAPPENINGS | Joe Coffey

Lloyd Brown was an early “picker” of antiques, salvage and scrap metal. This was the scene at a 1971 antiques auction at the Brown farm near Central City. (Central City Historical Society)
Lloyd Brown was an early “picker” of antiques, salvage and scrap metal. This was the scene at a 1971 antiques auction at the Brown farm near Central City. (Central City Historical Society)
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The Brown Farm in Central City is like a pioneer stew. There’s no recipe. To truly appreciate it is to understand that what you put in the pot is what you’re able to gather, grow and hunt down on your own.

Similarly, visitors to the farm shouldn’t expect to see a well-preserved farmhouse full of museum-style displays explaining how pioneers and subsequent generations lived and farmed the land. The best way to experience Brown Farm is to go out there and put some effort into making history come alive.

There are two ways to do this: Visit the farm during Brown Farm Pioneer Days, an annual event celebrating agricultural heritage that takes place the last weekend of July, or just pick up the phone and call. One of the volunteers with the Central City Historical Society will be glad to arrange a visit.

The Farm

The farmstead encompasses 84 acres east of Central City, where Jordans Grove Road intersects with Sawyer Road.

Folks at the historical society say the main part of the original farmhouse was built in the 1870s. Despite repairing a storm-damaged roof a few years ago, the house is not in tour shape and probably isn’t worth long-term restoration due to its loose rock foundation that continues to give way.

Lloyd Brown died in 1988, leaving the property to the Central City Historical Society. Its volunteers operate the farmstead as a kind of living museum. They host farm tours, tractor shows and other events. They rent the land to Jim Greif, 63, who manages the farming operations.

Greif describes Brown as a Mr. Haney kind of character, referring to the opportunistic farmer-turned-junk seller on the ’60s sitcom “Green Acres.”

Brown left behind a menagerie of antiques, curiosities and ag equipment debris that occupies a massive storage shed on the property. It’s the kind of assemblage the antique collectors on “American Pickers” probably dream about.

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Nothing is for sale, but visitors are welcome to peruse the collection and participate in the beloved farming tradition of looking at old contraptions and machine parts and explaining what they are or at least bluffing your best guess.

Greif, as a high school student, worked with Brown on old tractors and has been putting those classic machines to work on the land ever since.

He fields a lot of calls from antique tractor owners who want to come out with their equipment, roll up their sleeves and step back in time.

People have come from as far away as Australia to check out the farm and work the land using old machinery.

Pioneer Days

You’ll see an impressive range of coal-, kerosene- and gas-powered tractors at Pioneer Days.

The event last July drew about 2,000 visitors from five states and 23 Iowa counties. The fields stayed busy hosting demonstrations of how farmers used to plow, seed, thresh and more.

This year’s event featured a John Deere-themed display with tractors and implements from every decade, starting with a 1919 Waterloo Boy.

Recent Brown Farm Pioneer Days events have included steam-powered sawmill demonstrations and a hay-baling machine running on real horsepower. Visitors also could see blacksmiths pounding metal into shape and pioneer enthusiasts known as buckskinners setting up teepees and demonstrating homesteading skills dating back to the early days of westward expansion.

The event is free, but attendees are encouraged to make a donation. Financially, the event keeps the Brown Farm alive, along with proceeds from farming profits, grant awards and the occasional estate donation.

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The Central City Historical Society also owns and operates three other entities — the Sawyer House, the Library Museum and the Paris School. Volunteers are welcomed. More information is on the Brown Farm Pioneer Days Facebook page or by calling (319) 540-5950.

Volunteer David Goodlove, a farmer who lives around the corner, is excited about the elbow grease and ideas that younger generations can bring to the farm.

“It’s not all of us that are 78 years old anymore,” he said. “We’ve got some younger people that are willing to step up and take some leadership roles so us oldies can kind of sit back and say ‘OK, this is your baby now, let’s see what you can do with it.’ ”

Joe Coffey is a freelance writer and former journalist, educator and content marketer in Cedar Rapids. He has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Iowa and is writing a book on Grant Wood. Comments: coffeygrande@gmail.com

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