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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

The Collector: Gary Pietz tools through time with antique farm equipment

Gary Pietz beams as he takes a stroll through the display of historic farming equipment on Sept. 28 at his home in the Four Mound area of Nine Mile Falls.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
By Cindy Hval For The Spokesman-Review

Gary Pietz’s grandparents settled on the Four Mound Prairie of Nine Mile Falls in the early 1900s.

“They had dairy cows, then beef cattle, and later wheat and hay,” Pietz said.

His 40 acres are part of that original farm.

“I grew up a quarter mile away,” he said. “I was never a farmer, but I helped Dad and Granddad.”

After attending Washington State University and a stint in the Army during the Vietnam War, he returned to the prairie, working for UPS and then as a dispatcher for the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office.

Though he never farmed, his collection pays homage to the hard work and ingenuity of his ancestors. Seventy pieces of antique farm equipment stretch along the road in the front of his property, and many more rest near his home.

He had several items from the family farm, but his collection began in earnest 20 years ago when he and his brother found a rusting piece of equipment near the Spokane River.

“I didn’t know what it was, so I sent a picture to Country magazine,” he said. “Three months later, I got a letter from a lawyer who said it was an orchard sprayer. I ended up with 250 responses from 40 states and Canada!”

The collecting bug bit him hard.

“I’ve got about 15 plows, all from 1900-1925,” Pietz said.

He patted a large iron and wood plow.

“This took four horses to pull it.”

Pietz and his brother, Don, build stands for many of the items and replace rotting wood when possible.

“You won’t find anything that had rubber tires here,” he said.

One piece in his collection isn’t farm equipment – it’s the original school bell from Four Mound School. He has his grandmother’s 1908 diploma from the school.

When the district consolidated with Reardan, his grandmother asked for the bell. Then his mother displayed it. When she died, Pietz moved it to his property and built a new tower for it.

But the rest of his displayed pieces were all once part of a working farm, blacksmith shop or lumber yard.

He pointed to an antique drag saw.

“This sat for years in Dad’s barnyard,” Pietz said. “It moves like a wheelbarrow. These old boys were pretty ingenious.”

A rusting acetylene generator with a patent stamp of 1915 stands near a rooter dated 1889.

Pietz demonstrated how a corn silage cutter, patented in 1890 and found in Medical Lake, worked.

“You shove corn stalks in and turn the wheel, and it would cut them up so you could feed the cattle.”

An Adams Leaning Wheel road grader has the operating instructions bolted to the frame.

“This took eight horses to pull,” Pietz said. “I found it out in the valley.”

He’s used a smaller version.

“I have a two-horse grader that was used to build Four Mound Road,” he said, gesturing to the road in front of his home.

Another PNW find: a cylindrical metal barrel on a wooden wagon marked “Burke.”

“Burke was a little mining town near Wallace,” he said. “This held water or some type of fuel.”

A similar but larger container bears the stamp “U.S. Army Ft. George Wright.” It was likely used to haul water for the fort established in 1896.

He has a large buck rake on wheels that horses pulled to gather hay.

“I’ve actually ridden on one like this,” Pietz said.

He pointed to the small metal seat.

“You sit there and hang on like hell, with nothing to grab onto!”

He’s spent a lot of time and energy amassing his collection but not much money.

“I bought some stuff, but a lot of people just say, ‘Take it,’ ” Pietz said.

Sometimes, he finds old farm equipment in the most unusual places – like a side-delivery hay rake.

“I found it in a park in Kahlotus (Washington),” he said. “A tree had grown around it.”

With permission from the city, he cut the machinery out – a piece of the tree is still enmeshed in the rake.

He found a corn planter circa 1891 in someone’s yard in Hillyard. A moss-covered potato planter rests near a huge antique hay stacker he found across the street from a bank in Spangle.

But his favorite item is a corn grinder that was delivered from Ohio, by train in 1882.

“While everything else here was pulled by horses, this is actually horse-powered,” Pietz said, pointing to the large rusted gears. “The horses walked in a circle to move the gears to grind the corn.”

He does have a long-sought-after Holy Grail of farm equipment.

“I’ve looked for years for an antique stationary hay baler,” he said. “If we get that, we may quit.”

Pietz said he loves the thrill of the hunt and delights in putting his finds on display for passersby to enjoy.

He’s erected fencing along the front of his property so people can pull over and walk among the relics.

“People stop and I get to hear their stories,” he said. “I like that.”