Touring Ron Bush’s agricultural museum is akin to taking a step back in time—back to when Long Island’s dairy farmers made a decent living delivering glass jugs of unpasteurized milk, and a time when East End whalers hunted on the open seas, motivated by the worldwide need for blubber, at the time an ingredient used to power oil lamps and in luxury perfumes.
Bush began collecting tools and other farming equipment 60 years ago, and now he’s accumulated about 6,000 pieces, which are housed at his family’s farm in Brookhaven. The grounds are home to several structures dating back to the 1920s, including a cow barn, where most of the collection is held.
Displayed at the farm is nearly everything to do with Long Island’s agricultural history.
“Butter churners, whaling stuff, killing lances, harpoons, blubber hooks, blubber ladles, hammers, axes, planes, milk bottles, milking machines, planters, rakes, hammers, axes, apple peelers, apple corers, horse drawn ploughs, fish spears, pulleys, house jacks, automotive jacks, covered wagon jacks,” Bush said of his vast collection.
His collection also includes more than 1,500 wrenches; a friend from the Long Island Tool Collector’s Association helped him catalogue and identify them.
“There’s a man whose forte is wrenches. He numbered every wrench, identified every wrench, valued every wrench and now we have them all on display,” he said.
Bush also has rooms dedicated to shoemaking, an ode to an aunt who manufactured high heels and sold them to celebrities around the globe; and a section dedicated to horse racing. The horse racing artifacts are a nod to his daughter, Megan Bush, who rode horses as a child and followed as the fourth generation of her family to farm. She now owns and operates Megan Bush Farm Stands. He also has several tractors on display, all of them vintage.
“The newest ones are 1950s,” he said.
Bush’s collection is made possible by strangers who call him and tell him of agricultural treasures they no longer need or want. Some call because they saw him on TV and others call because they saw him in an advertisement he takes out in an agricultural magazine, letting people know he’s on the lookout for old tools and farming equipment.
“A woman called me this morning. She saw me on the news. She wants to come out with her husband because she has an ox yoke,” said Bush.
Ox yokes were used to harness oxen, back in the 1700s and 1800s. Bush said he will take the ox yoke, which will fit in well with the other two he has.
Bush said he doesn’t know what made him decide to start collecting, nor does he remember his first piece, but what he does remember is when he first laid eyes on his favorite piece. Bush was in a friend’s barn and saw something out of the corner of his eye.
“I saw this grain scoop in the corner of his barn. I said ‘What is that?’ He said, ‘My grandfather carved it from wood in maybe the late 1800s,’ and so that’s my favorite piece,” said Bush.
Bush’s collection was once located within his Bayport home. In 1987, he bought the Brookhaven farm and eventually began moving stuff there. Once the collection was on the farm, he began to display it.
“I said, ‘We should start displaying this,’ and then we put shelves and track lighting in the hay lofts. The heavier wooden pieces are down in the cow barn. Right now, I have a fellow who works for me and he helped put the things away,” he said.
Bush’s interest in farming is spurred by a family passion, beginning with his grandfather, who began farming in the 1920s. Bush learned from his grandfather, including how to care for the family’s cows
“Remember, this is before Little League and organized sports, and so my friends were the cows. I mean, kids would come over from school, too, but, my grandfather would have me, at 3 years old, sweeping the grains and corn solids into the mangers,” he said.
The Bush Farms, an agricultural museum on Montauk Highway in Brookhaven, can be toured by appointment only. Call (631) 472-0530 for more information.