Thursday, March 10, 2011


Jim Kevlin/
Bob Scramlin, who has sold the development rights on his Bicentennial Farm to the Otsego Land Trust, has been living near Johstown in recent years – but he never misses Roseboom Tractor Days in mid-August.

Bob Scramlin’s Interest In Things Agricultural Doesn’t End With Preserving Bicentennial Site


When Bob Scramlin was considering selling the development rights to his historical 120-acre farm to the Otsego Land Trust, it was suggested he might want to split it into two parcels.
Perhaps that would make it more marketable to adjoining farms at some point in the future.
“It’s always been one piece,” Scramlin replied.  And that was that.
But his interest in keeping things intact doesn’t end with the former dairy farm on Wikoff Road along Cherry Valley Creek, which has been in his family since 1738, when James Willson – two Ls – surveyed the property, part of the original Lindesay Patent.
The deed, executed three years later, shows Willson – Bob Scramlin is the seventh generation; son Ron and daughter Cynthia are the eighth – buying the land from the King of England, and paying in pounds.
That’s the land, but there are also the toys:  Since 1988, he’s been a member of an agricultural toy club, founded in Canajoharie.  He has found and repaired 1,300 examples, trading with collectors as far afield as Iowa.
And the tractors:  In 1992, having giving up dairying, he bought his first antique tractor – from the late Harold Hayes; he worked for him at the end of Hayes Road. 
Since, Scramlin has accumulated and restored 30 vintage tractors, including the original Farmall H his father, Louis, bought in 1945 at D.H. Shipway & Son, the village’s International Harvester dealer, at Genesee Street and Railroad Avenue, now an empty lot.
Bob, then only 5, tagged along with his dad.  “Being a kid,” he said, “I thought it was the biggest tractor in the world.”
By age 9, the boy was driving the tractor regularly:  “I used to have to slide on the seat to get to the clutch.”  He was active in 4-H and FFA through high school, went on to college at Cobleskill, but never considered a different career.
There’s a picture of Scramlin in the late ‘70s – he was 40ish – looking hale and hearty, as if he hasn’t got a trouble in the world.  Then came the ‘80s, when milk price supports, steady for decades, began to fluctuate and Upstate dairy operations began to falter.
“In dairy farming,” he said, “you have your ups and downs.  It’s not very smooth.”
Still, he loved his job, in particular, being his own boss.  He enjoyed the camaraderie between farmers, how they would spell each other for vacations, how they would helped each other out if someone got ill.
In 1987, he happened to pick up a copy of Country Folks, that paper that comes out of Nelliston, saw a toy club was forming and drove up to Canajoharie to see what it was all about.
One Christmas when he was a boy, he’d gotten a pedal tractor.  “We rode it around the house for a few days, and they threw it out the door,” he remembered.
Through the club, he met Ron Van Buren of Worcester, who told him how he’d picked up a Caterpillar pedal tractor for $250.  Bob was intrigued.  Soon, he got an offer on his tractor for $900.  He was hooked.
In the years since, he’s continued to buy and trade toys, accumulating quite a collection.  A fellow club member and collector, Hugh Healy, became a friend.  He died at a young 52.
As time went on, Bob became friendly with Hugh’s widow, Roberta, and, after breathing problems developed and he went on oxygen a few years ago, he’s been staying with her outside Johnstown.
Birds of a feather, she has another 1,300 farm toys of her own.
As if this wasn’t enough to keep him occupied after he retired, Bob kept adding to his tractor collection.  His large barn on Wikoff Road is full of Farmalls, and the Farmall H his dad bought in 1945 is part of his collection.
Always, Bob Scramlin’s property was a point of pride.  In 1990, it received the USDA’s national Bicentennial Farm Award as one of only three farms in Otsego County in continuous operation by the same family for more than 200 years, (the others two being John Walrath’s Dutch Corners in East Springfield and Lawrence Roseboom’s in Westford.)
After retiring, Scramlin worked at Wal-Mart for a while, earning enough to cover the taxes.  In 2006, he was approached by a gas company and signed a lease, $5 an acre. 
The check arrived from the company in 2006 and 2007.  Then nothing in 2008.  Nothing in 2009.  By that time, troubled by information that had surfaced about the chemical-laced hydrofracking to extract natural gas, he was able to get his lease voided.
He looked into growing switchgrass, which can be converted into ethanol, but discovered the field where he planned to plant it had been declared a wetland by the Army Corps of Engineers.
So obtaining a conservation easement through the Otsego Land Trust, which reducing the taxable valuation, made a lot of sense.
The property was a particular choice one, since it is within five miles of four other properties under easement; 600 acres in all are being protected in the neighborhood, according to Peter Hujik, Land Trust executive director.
“Bob translated his connection with the past into a vision for the future,” said Hujik.  “Working with Bob is an honor.”

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