Diane and Martin Brumbaugh’s collection of dairy antiques started with a simple purchase.
“Some people go to the beach for fun,” says Diane Brumbaugh about she and her husband, Martin Brumbaugh. “We go to auctions.”
The Brumbaughs are the third generation to live in the rambling farmhouse on a family property in Currysville, Blair County, Pennsylvania, which includes a back lot big enough to raise goats. At one time, they had prize-winning Brown Swiss cattle.
Diane said their dairy collecting started when Martin went to an auction and brought a milk can home. That was the seed for their present huge milk can collection. Then, other collecting interests took root, such as Surge and DeLaval milkers and anything to do with them or dairying in general.
Diane still remembers the first cream separator she purchased. Before buying it, she contacted Mike Fournier, a retired veterinarian in Vermont.
“We talked for two hours about dairy collectibles,” she said.
It was the beginning of a friendship that the two families have shared for 27 years.
A Family of Collectors
When Fournier had a stroke and decided to get rid of some of his huge antiques collection, Diane Brumbaugh got first dibs. Fournier was the head of the Vermont Collector’s Club and the founder of the North American Dairy Foundation, of which Diane was president for a time. The group had a newsletter, but it never did get around to starting a website. The motto of the organization is to preserve knowledge of cream separators, churns, milkers and literature.
One year, the Brumbaughs went to the annual American Dairy Foundation convention in Vermont. They drove an RV that was packed with dairy treasures on their return trip. And, now, with the advent of the internet, they have been able to increase their purchase power in addition to selling and swapping items that they don’t want.
Martin is “all in” on the dairy collectibles and has some other huge collections of his own.
“He can never own just one or two of something,” Diane laughed. “He has to see how many he can get. For instance, wooden ladders — he started with one and probably has 200 or more.”
Brumbaugh also collects fire trucks that he buys from fire companies wanting to get rid of them. He has friends who have joined him in this venture, and they enjoy rebuilding them. At this point, he and his friends have seven fire trucks. He said they are fun for kids and especially to take to parades.
“We realize that what we have probably isn’t worth any more than we paid for it,” Diane said. “The only part of our collections that are presently increasing in value are signs.”
Diane likes anything advertising the Surge brand, while Martin prefers DeLaval signs. Their 26-year-old son, Andrew Brumbaugh, has a degree in museum history, but lost his job in Philadelphia due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Until the U.S. recovers from the pandemic, he has been home helping his parents organize their huge collections. Andrew likes signs that were made to advertise some of the smaller milking machine companies, such as Eagle.
Joy in Collecting
That first cream separator that the Brumbaughs purchased has grown into a collection of more than 100 cream separators. The oldest is from 1908 and Andrew thinks it is the most valuable of the lot.
The Brumbaughs have hundreds of milk cans and milk buckets as well as a collection of milk bottles.
“If it has anything to do with the dairy industry, we collect it,” Diane laughed.
While most of the collection is housed in a separate building, Diane enjoys turning collectibles into useful items for the house, such as a nesting box she transformed for storage space in her kitchen. Signs decorate the walls throughout their home.
Another category that Diane enjoys collecting is Fisher-Price toys. She has dozens of the toys displayed in old printer trays.
She also collects Harvestore items and View-Masters, especially the discs.
The Brumbaughs have two older children who are not as interested as Andrew in their parents’ collecting.
“But some day, they can have it all,” Diane said. “They can sell it ... do whatever they want with it.”
“Meanwhile, we just enjoy hunting, finding and buying more items for our collections,” she said.