Like many collections, this one started small.
Steve Melton — whose family owns about 1,500 acres of farmland in northern Pasco County — began with just a few tractors.
“We were poor, in farming, growing up.
“Because we were buying land, we couldn’t afford any nice tractors.
“So, we bought all of these different makes of tractors, which were John Deere and Farm-Alls and Fords,” he said.
They ran the old tractors for years, because they couldn’t afford to buy new ones.
Later in life, when the family could afford new tractors, Melton began acquiring old tractors.
“And my Dad said, ‘Son, we have spent all of years trying to get rid of these tractors and you’re buying them back,’” he recalled, with a laugh.
Now, he has a tractor shed where he keeps his old tractors.
“I don’t restore them. I keep them in what they say, is their working clothes,” he said.
He has a John Deere corn cultivator, which he uses in his garden patch.
Its top speed, when driving, is 12 mph; when cultivating, he runs it at about 2 mph.
While his collection began with tractors, it didn’t end there.
Not by a long shot.
Next, he began picking up pieces that would reflect “the old way of life” — the kinds of tools his grandfather would have used for farming.
Melton became curious: “How did we get from so agrarian, to the place where we are now?”
“I just got enthralled and passionate about collecting farm implements and farm machinery that would have shown that (simpler way of life),” he said.
He officially established Melton’s Machinery Museum on his property in 2002.
Some of the items he bought, some were donated, and others were gifts.
The museum sign, which hangs overhead, explains what he’s after: Investing in the future, by preserving the past.
The collection is eclectic — featuring farm tools and equipment, but also household items.
He has a General Electric refrigerator, a double-drum wooden washing machine, butter churns and an antique bathtub.
The collection includes authentic railroad signs and equipment, from Trilby and Dade City.
He has barbed wire, dating back to the 1800s, a gas engine used to run lathes, a mechanical vacuum, and a yoke designed for humans to haul heavy loads.
His corn-sheller is well over 120 years old.
He has horse-drawn farm implements, such as a hay mower, seed planters and plows, to name just a few.
He has a sod cutter, dating back to the late 1800s, which would have been used to create little houses, on the prairie.
“Picture yourself in Kansas, Missouri, 1870s,” he said.
“You’ve just moved to the wild prairie to farm. You get out there, and there are no trees.
(You think to yourself): ‘What am I going to build my house with?’
There, he points to the sod cutter: “You hitch a horse to this and you cut the sod, for your ‘soddie’ home,” he said. “You could make blocks of sod with this.”
Melton’s long history as a farmer and his fascination with antique implements reveal themselves, as he walks through his museum, weaving stories about Florida history and the agrarian way of life.
For instance, he shared: “People do not realize the turpentine industry 100 years ago was the No. 1 industry in Florida.”
Once the turpentine tapped out, the lumber was harvested, he said.
Then, once the turpentine and trees were gone, the land could often be bought for a few dollars an acres, at tax sales.
Melton enjoys sharing his knowledge, and also likes to get visitors — especially children — involved, so they can see for themselves how the equipment works.
He does demonstrations, too.
“I love to demonstrate things that go from a raw product to a finished product that you can use and utilize,” he said.
“I like to do blacksmithing – take a raw piece of metal, form it into a spoon or to a knife or some kind of thing we can actually use,” he said.
“I grow corn and what I do is let kids see where food comes from. I put it in here.” He said, pointing to a piece of equipment. “I let them shell it off the cob. I take that and let them take the corn kernels over here (to a grist mill) and let them grind it into cornmeal and grits.
“Then, they sift it into the respective corn meal and grits — grits for breakfast and cornmeal for supper.
“What I’m doing is teaching kids — and anybody else — how does our food come from fields … to kitchen tables,” he said.
He has a theory about people who amass collections.
“People collect things to remind them of their youth, when things were, in their minds, better and simpler and enjoyable.”
That’s true for him.
“It was a harder life, but it was simple,” Melton said. “Generations of families are (represented) in a collection.”
Want to see for yourself?
Steve Melton enjoys giving people personal tours of his collection, which are offered free, only by appointment. If you’re interested, email him at to set up a date and time.
(P.S. He’s a cowboy poet, too, so he may be willing to share one, or two of his poems, if you make a request.)
Published February 09, 2022
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