If you throw a rock from Fred’s porch and you have a pretty good arm, you can almost hit Canada. He lives way up in Coventry, Vermont, and when I drove up to his place, I found him covered in paint, in one of his barns. He was just finishing building his fifth stage coach, parts of which he’d painted bright yellow and cherry red.
Most of his barns—and there are a lot of them—are filled with old farm equipment. He says he’s trying to show the evolution of farm machines in New England from as far back as he can go, up through the 1960s. He says he figures someone else can carry on after that.
To be honest, historical collections don’t interest me very much. But Fred’s collection does. We picked our way together through miles of plows and cultivators and buggies and logging sleighs, in barns that mostly Fred built or shored up himself. We didn’t talk very much. If there was hayseed still in the back of a sleigh by the time he hauled it home and up into the hay mow, it’s still there, and to Fred that’s part of the story. In other words, this is not a clean or polished collection. There’s still the feel of use on these objects. And my guess is, there are a lot of ghosts of old farmers in those barns at night, and they all know each other.
Fred and I talked for a couple days in the front parlor of his house, downstairs from the room he was born in ninety-four years ago. We talked about a lot of things. His father, his farm collection, the women in his life, his nine children, and some more ephemeral things. I guess we talked about the past, but to me these are not stories about the past at all. These stories come up out of a blood connection to a place.
Thank you to listener Lou Snyder for writing to me with stories about Fred. I love it when stories happen that way.
You can actually see Fred’s collection in this story from WCAX News.
To make a donation to Fred’s collection, send money to:
Fred Webster, 378 Webster Road, Coventry, Orleans, VT 05860