Toms Brook resident mows hay like in the heydays

By Ryan Cornell

Richard Stickles won’t comment on any of your YouTube videos. He won’t reply to any of your emails. And he certainly won’t add you as a friend on Facebook.

That’s because the 46-year-old Toms Brook resident doesn’t have any of those things. After all, it was only three months ago that his wife, Christine, taught him how to use a computer and connected him to the Internet for the first time in his life.

It might sound strange. It might sound like the tale of someone who decided to leave an Amish community at the midpoint of his life. Stickles isn’t Amish, but his horses are.

Max and Fay are two white Percherons. They’re brother and sister rescue horses and they’re inseparable. Stickles recalled the first time he made the mistake of keeping them apart.

“It was actually at the Great Train Raid reenactment. Instead of bringing them home, I decided to board them in Strasburg,” Stickles said. “She [his friend who gave him the horses] had a horse barn with separate stables maybe 10 feet apart. They attempted to tear the barn down to be in the same stable.”

Stickles doesn’t know the exact history of Max and Fay’s life or why they ended up on his family’s 30-acre farm. He said he thinks they were born on an Amish farm and were given away because they were too slow. He knows the two siblings spent part of their lives in West Virginia, where they were presumably mistreated. And then his friend, who rescues horses and large dogs, gave him the draft horses.

But this story really isn’t about Max and Fay. It’s more about what they pull behind them. Stickles is interested in antique farm equipment. Saying he’s a history buff would be an understatement. But he doesn’t just collect old machinery such as hay tedders, wagons and dump rakes. He actually uses them.

His most recent acquisition, a hay tedder that he uses to voluntarily mow hay at the Moose Lodge in Strasburg, was purchased for $300. Stickles bought it at a state auction and had to outbid the curator of the Luray Valley Farm Museum.

“I didn’t even care how much it was because I was going to buy it, regardless,” Stickles said. “I was able to find one in Kentucky and one in Wisconsin. And all of a sudden, one shows up 10 miles down the road for auction.”

Large and rust-colored, with metal tines hanging down from an axle like a loose comb, the tedder looks like something taken from a Civil War battlefield. Stickles said that it’s used to fluff the hay and help it dry. The last time Stickles used it to mow hay, it broke a couple times, but unlike today’s machinery, he was able to fix the loose nuts and bolts right away.

Although he might make his living working as a plumber, his true love is farming with horses. Sometimes, he said, he feels like he belongs more in the year 1915. One look around his farm and you might think you accidentally stumbled out of a time machine.

Back then, he said, everybody had a job. “You were an integral part to the family’s survival,” he said.

Jean Miller, Stickles’ mother, added that today the only things kids seem to do is take out the trash.

“If you didn’t do your job, if I didn’t milk the cow, then she was going to be miserable and we weren’t going to have milk. It just made sense and I think it made people more responsible,” Miller said.

But Stickles wasn’t always interested in farming. Actually, he said he used to feel the opposite way. He grew up on a farm west of Strasburg in Clary. His grandfather, who refused to buy a tractor or a pickup truck, instead relied on horses and wagons to plow his fields.

One time, Stickles said he got so tired of having to plow corn that he decided to break the handle right off the plow. He watched as his grandfather, without showing any emotion, fixed it in a matter of seconds.

Other kids on the school bus would tease him. “The wagon wheels would make marks on the pavement and I would be embarrassed,” Miller said.

The hay tedder Stickles now owns, a McCormick relic from before the 20th century, is the same model his grandfather used in the 1980s.

“I probably grew up in the early part of the century by the way we lived, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Stickles said. “All of that stuff I hated then, I look back on it now and I’m extremely thankful.

“It didn’t make sense to me to do it this way. But now it doesn’t make sense to do it the other way.”

Stickles said he wants to get in touch with the family who owned the old farm equipment. He wants to let them know that it’s still being used and that it hasn’t been sold for scrap metal, like the final resting places of so many other similar pieces.

“I spent the first half of my life trying to get out of this type of stuff and the second half trying to get back into it,” Stickles said.

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com