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John Turner's Antique Plow Collection Becomes Permanent Part of North Carolina History

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Photograph of the late John Turner By: MA Andrews

It all started back in the 1970's when John (Bill) Turner started his collection of antique plows and other farming equipment. Having grown up farming in the Walls Church Community, Bill knew a thing or two about plows.

"He had around 60 plows. He was always on the look out for plows and other antique farm implements," David Turner, Bill's son, tells us about his father. "I think his interest goes all the way back to his youth when he actually used this type equipment to work on the farm and then, when he got older, he wanted to keep that part of his history alive through his personal collection. I am positive that his 'pride and joy' was the plow he called the Hillside Plow. It was made specifically to turn earth downhill when plowing either direction. It is a very rare item and he also had two Cole Planters that still had the original paint."

Thursday, July 13, 2017, Bill's legacy became an official part of our state's history as the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services came to pick up his collection "When the researcher for the Department of Agriculture and NC State University initially came out to look at the collection, he immediately contacted the Secretary of Agriculture to begin the process for us to donate it to the state to be displayed as the 'John Turner Antique Plow Collection' " says David. Part of the collection will be housed at the Antique Farm Museum in Raleigh and will be exhibited during the 2017 North Carolina State Fair while other items will be exhibited during the Mountain State Fair at the WNC Agriculture Center in Fletcher, NC.

Although the collection will no longer be here in the county, David and Frances will always have their own memories of their father and his 'farming' roots. "When I was young" says David, "we didn't have money for a tractor to use for our family garden, which was pretty large, so my dad bought a Sears lawn tractor and took the mower deck off. Then he would hook one of his horse drawn plows behind it and I would drive the lawn tractor and he would walk along behind it just as if the plow were being pulled by a horse. We did this many times in my young years, and it's one of my favorite memories. He taught me a lot about life through that time of gardening." Frances recalls her father saying "If you auction off this collection that I took a lifetime to collect, I will come back to haunt you." Knowing that Bill would be so happy with their decision to donate it has provided comfort for the family. "My Dad had the heart of a giant" says Frances. "He was an honest, hard working, soft spoken, down to earth super hero with many abilities, but he kept his family his number one priority."

Instrumental in getting the collection noticed was his grandson, Jacob Clary. "Though it may seem hyperbolic, the donations of these plows have come to embody a life lesson, for myself, more profound than I could have realized when I set out to have them donated. Following the advice of others and my own intuition, I initially contacted several local, small museums and displays in regard to the plows, all of which declined my offer. Struggling with fear of failure, my last-ditch hail-Mary effort was to contact the Smithsonian in Raleigh, where my Grandfather always said the plows belonged (a notion I attributed to delusions of grandeur). As readers of this article will have noted by now, it was the Smithsonian, and in turn The Agriculture Department of NC, that realized the value of these artifacts and eagerly accepted them for display. Instead of the meager handful of people that would have seen my Grandfather's plows, had one of the original museums accepted, they will be seen by more than 1.2 million people yearly - not bad for the relics of an old farmer. And so the lesson, which my Grandfather taught me over a year after his passing, was this: find your passion, embrace it, and make the goals that grow from it as impossibly big as your heart has room to dream, regardless of outside doubt, then make those dreams come true. I hope my Grandfather is watching with vindication and joy, and I thank him for still teaching me, after all these years."

John (Bill) Turner and Helen Doris Turner, his wife of 55 years, both passed last year in what must have been a very difficult time for the family. It was always their father's dream to have his 'small part of history' on display where others could learn about and enjoy them as much as he did. And now, after more than 40 years of collecting, Bill's dream will have come true. Countless visitors, for decades or even centuries to come, will be able to explore the historic collection that began right here in Rutherford County.

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