About Carroll Abbey

Carroll was born December 26, 1911 to Clyde and Lila (Dingman) Abbey in Kalamazoo. He grew up on a farm north of Kilgore Road, now the switching yard for trains supplying GM’s Sprinkle Road plant. At that time it was open country. Carroll told of braving a blizzard with a team of horses and sled, cutting through the drifts blowing off the crop land now serving as the airport, to deliver milk into town when the city was running low. Carroll’s life, in a way, was defined by the growth of Kalamazoo and the change in rural life. He graduated from Comstock High School in 1929. He farmed with horses as well as tractors until 1946. He was old enough to stay on the farm while his younger brother, George, served in World War II. His memory was sharp enough to remember George’s APO number 50 years after the war. Carroll climbed a pine tree to install the first television antenna in the neighborhood, with a pipe running the height of the tree so he could turn the antenna to Chicago and Detroit, as there were no stations nearer. The house hosted many neighbors who wanted to see the new invention.

His retirement mission of saving the old tools, which defined changes in agriculture, from Midwestern fence rows was driven by his own observation of change. He thought rural ingenuity should be saved for future reference and appreciation. Although he never lived more than a mile from the farm of his boyhood, he experienced many changes, from farming with horses to working large tractors and marveling at the power of computers. His farm experience and his quiet intellect suited him for the role of curator of agricultural history. He knew which artifacts fit together to tell a story, and he had the determination to pursue them. He developed a network of farmers from Pennsylvania to Nebraska to help him find the pieces that he wanted. And he wanted a lot–he found about 4,000 pieces to illustrate the past.

Carroll Abbey died on February 16, 1998, of sudden heart failure while visiting Bobby Miller in Arizona. Many of Tillers’ friends know that Carroll was the force behind the great Abbey Farm Tool Collection, but he was also a fine farmer, a good friend, and a gentleman.

Tillers is preserving Carroll’s collection with the help of the Kalamazoo Foundation. Construction is nearing completion of the first wing of the Tillers Museum which will house Carroll’s artifacts, as well as Tillers’ other collections.

Memorials can be given to the Kalamazoo Foundation’s Abbey Farms Endowment Fund, which helps to support the maintenance of the Collection. The Kalamazoo Foundation’s address is 151 South Rose, Kalamazoo, MI 49007. The Michigan 50% Tax Credit is available for these gifts.

Reflections on Carroll Abbey

By Dick Roosenberg

While I grieve at the sudden loss of a friend, in truth I am unusually blessed to have worked and lived alongside Carroll. At the end of the day, I miss the option (that I too rarely took) of sitting down with Carroll and chatting about our world. Not only did I know he would listen, but I knew he would remember every word of the conversation, and that he would add his quiet and reassuring insight into how to work things out.

Carroll was unusually attentive. He remembered every possible name, though he claimed to have a poor memory. He was observant and sensitive to the whole world.

Tools and ‘the hand of man’ were only one aspect of his sensitivity. While talking to him, I would notice him rub his hand over a piece of woodwork or iron. His eyes would be following the conversation, but if you looked at his fingers you could mistake them for those of a blind person absorbing information through touch. Sometimes he would reminisce about how his father-in-law would finish a piece of furniture with many coats of shellac and varnishes, then add a hard clear shoe polish, and finally give it a spit shine.

Carroll reveled in workmanship and ingenuity. ‘It’s good to see men work,’ would be Carroll’s comment, whether he saw us making hay with teams of oxen, framing a new timber barn, or Morton Buildings’ crew assembling his newest collection barn. His eyes would catch any system or tool for improving the process. I knew that his keen eye saw the shortcomings as well as the innovative efforts, but after the task when he would talk about the beauty of it at the moment of reflection, he would marvel at the inventiveness of men at work. (While he used male terms, he treated women at work with the same interest and respect.)

Carroll has left our community with his ‘Farm Tools Introspective.’ His Collection was, to him, very much a museum of art–the art of the human spirit at work. When I first met him in 1981, three years after his retirement, he described his mission very humbly and pragmatically, as pulling tools out of old sheds and fence rows before they were forever lost, while he still had the ability to drive and scour the country. Fortunately, he had 20 years for that mission, and I had 17 years in which to watch him and enjoy his gentlemanly enthusiasm.

I wish I had been in Arizona to lend Bobby Miller a hand. I regret that I was in Africa as Beverly Reddy gathered his friends to remember his life, but I joined in the spirit of admiration of work well done. I admire the good work he accomplished with his ingenuity and will work to help the Kalamazoo Foundation and others preserve his Collection as a memorial to the spirit of Carroll, as well as all the farmers who have worked this soil.

Thanks to Carroll for letting us share his life. As Sherman would say, “He was a gentleman.”

Dick Roosenberg, Tillers’ Executive Director