The tangible legacy of B.D. (Buck) Gladhill includes 19 fire engines dating to the last century, 75 tractors, about 200 single-cylinder engines once used to pump water or grind feed, 1,500 sleigh bells, school bells, church bells and fire bells and oldtime farm implements too numerous to count.

He is especially interested in homemade one-of-a-kind things: items made to solve a problem, a mousetrap or gate latch or wagon jack.

The reason Buck Gladhill has acquired all these artifacts is that he wants people to know what life was like, especially life in the country, before modern conveniences and advanced technology changed things.

It is his passion to possess and to preserve them all for posterity.

"I didn't start collecting; I just didn't throw anything away," said Gladhill, 78, outside the cavernous 1,500-square-foot barn he built to house what Ethel, his tolerant wife of 56 years, calls "his playthings."

Or, as Ethel put it, "It gets in your blood, just like playing bingo."

She recalled how it started, with Buck acquiring a few small items here and there, and then farmers leaving things for him in front of his barn door, then Buck going out to auctions and farm sales.

"It just grew, like tumbleweed," she said.

It's overwhelming, this collection, to look at, to care for.

It's getting to be a bit much, even for him. "The thing's about whipped me," said Gladhill, who has lived all his life near the upper Montgomery County town of Damascus.

Indeed, harnesses hang from the rafters, along with a firefighter's rescue net. There are shelves of almost anything one can think of. Outside the building, old farm machinery and a couple of old fire engines sit rusting, grass growing through and around them.

There's more in the outbuildings, including a rusted Model A Ford truck and an assortment of tractors inside what used to be a small airplane hangar.

And there is a two-story bell tower in front, with 22 bells on display, the heaviest weighing 2,200 pounds and carted from Lebanon, Pa. They are welded to the frame but ring "when the kids get after them," Ethel said.

In addition, Gladhill stores part of his collection away from his home place: About a dozen more tractors sit in a warehouse his family owns in Frederick.

Of his collection, he said: "My intent is to keep it for posterity. I hope when I'm gone, people will come through and enjoy it." And learn from it.

In what he calls his "kid years," there was no electricity in the rural upper county area.

It was progress when his father acquired a generator for their farm in 1920. He has one or two like it in his barn.

"Back in my kid days," he said, "oftentimes you made what you needed . . . . In my kid days, a lot of power was muscle power, whether man muscle or animal muscle . . . . Around the farm, we changed from horses to power-driven equipment."

In the 1930s, Buck and his late brother Upton opened Gladhill Brothers farm machinery store in Damascus, which Upton's son still runs.

Buck's son Maurice operates the Gladhill Tractor Mart over in Frederick. Maurice accompanied his father on many forays for farm artifacts, and Buck expects Maurice to look after the collection when he is gone.

The Gladhills have been part of the central Maryland scene longer than the Republic. Buck's ancestors settled around Browingsville, a tiny crossroads almost abutting the Frederick County line. His father, Franklin S. Gladhill, presided over a two-room school there and farmed 2,500 acres.

Through the years, the Gladhills have been pillars of their community. Buck started the Damascus water company and once owned the Frederick bus company. His younger brother, Franklin, today sits on the Frederick County planning board.

Buck himself dabbled in politics. He was on the Montgomery County board of zoning appeals from 1954 to 1967, and ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate, County Council and Orphans Court.

He was a founder of the Damascus volunteer fire company, and president of the Damascus Chamber of Commerce and the local Lions Club, where he has a 40-year perfect attendance record.

Except for his collections, Buck and Ethel live simply. They inhabit a brick house he built in the 1940s, on six acres with a priceless view of mountains, from nearby Sugarloaf to the distant Alleghenies.

"I'm just trying to keep {the collections} out of the house, but I don't always succeed," Ethel Gladhill said. In the house are more bells, fire company mugs, a couple of old apple butter kettles and a B&O Railroad oil can.

Gladhill declined to say what he has paid for most items. Their value to him is more intrinsic than monetary, anyway.

"He bought them all for a song, practically nothing," Maurice Gladhill said. "Dad just really enjoys telling people about it and showing them the stuff."

His "museum" is not open to the public, but Buck Gladhill often takes schoolchildren through. "I open up and turn 'em loose," he said.

Along with the big pieces such as fire engines and tractors, he shows them a table full of woodworking tools -- ads, scrools, chisels, planes -- and blacksmith tools. He has a whole shelf full of augur bits, and "hame" bells from C&O Canal mules.

"I used to think maybe I couldn't do without something when I found it," he said. "I've just been an old pack rat."

Buck Gladhill built the barn in 1958, after he misplaced an old crosscut saw, and he doubled the barn's size 10 years later. He figured that if he only had a place to put things, he wouldn't lose them.

Still, he said, "I have a terrible time finding old tools in here. I don't have any system."

A few years back, somebody started an inventory for him. He got as far as 5,000 items, perhaps a third of the collection, then quit.

As Gladhill has run out of space, time and energy, his collecting has slowed down, but he still attends an occasional farm auction.

There is sorting out yet to be done: An old cart, salvaged from a sewing factory in Frederick, is filled with unsorted treasures: wrenches, a saw, a lantern, a couple of tractor seats.

It's been there, unloaded, for two years.

"Fifty percent of it's junk; the other 50 percent are things that need to be saved," Gladhill said. "I'm getting full, like a little boy who's got too much on his plate and can't handle it."