The Champaign County Historical Museum called my name

What is not to love about a building named the Cattle Bank? The Champaign County Historical Museum is housed in a building called the Cattle bank because it was once a bank and our guide shared that the building that was built in the late 1850s began as a branch of the Grand Prairie Bank, which was Urban, Champaign’s sister city. At the time Champaign was the southern terminus of a railroad line to Chicago and this was where cattle raisers from the surrounding area drove their cattle to ship to the Chicago market.

The brochure about the bank shares, “The Cattle bank building was built in the spring of 1857 by Messrs Color and Hubbard. Only one block from the new Illinois Central Railroad, it was formed to meet the anticipated needs of the local cattle producers as they prepared for shipment of cattle to Chicago. Cattle grazing was a major business in this are in the mid-1850’s, before the prairies were drained and plowed. the bank failed in 1861, and by 1865 had opened as a grocery store. It remained as such until the 1930’s when it was converted to a drug store.”

After a fire in 1971 the building was almost torn down, but thankfully deemed worth saving and was placed on the Natioal Register of Historic Places. In addition, they also added the adjacent building and together they both serve as the museum.

We were in Champaign to go to a toy show and I wrangled a visit to the museum with my husband Keith first when I learned the amazing history of the 1919 popcorn truck that they own. Sadly this amazing truck that they take out and pop corn in at local events is moth balled during the winter season, but the rest of the museum offered up some neat history so the visit was worthwhile.

The first room we saw during our tour was the replica of the 20th century grocery store that was recreated to represent the one located in the building after the bank closed. The store has a lot of lovely wood and is filled with neat items like an original typewriter and a turn-of-the-century stove. The store also includes a very neat old scales and a beautiful wooden ice box. Shelves are stacked with items that might have been found on early 20th century shelves.

Lovely clothing is on display in the room next door but my favorite piece of clothing to see was an outfit belonging to one of my favorite musical artists of all time, Alison Krauss, a famous blue grass singer that hails from Champaign. The outfit denotes an early award that Krauss won.

Like many historical museums, they have military history with some special items. For me as a mother of a son, the one that really hit home was the World War II Airforce uniform on display. This leather jacket and pants with the wool collar and cuffs were to keep the young men from freezing at high altitudes. The owner of the uniform never made it back from a mission and his family donated his extra.

There was also a cool machine, the Millionaire Calculator which was the first machine capable of making direct multiplication. They were built between 1899 and 1935. Only 4,655 handmade machines were built and the machine was donated by the University of Illinois.

The museum also had some interesting early toys and I had fun seeing the displays put on by local high school students and their idea of “really old” items. I am afraid they would think I am rather ancient, but if I recall back then anyone or anything 30 or more is quite elderly!







img_1158For more information about this charming museum, log onto

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A little education at the Specialty Crop conference

The Illinois Specialty Crops, Agritourism and Organic Conference was held January 7-9, 2015 at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Springfield, Illinois. Since I am married to a grain farmer I always enjoy this conference that touches on crops I know little about. We have a garden and grow some of the regular sweet corn, potatoes etc., but this conference for me is like receiving the seed catalogs in the mail, a hint of spring. There is usually some herbs on display in the exhibition area, popcorn is popping, seed growers are there and farmers from specialty growers are mulling about comparing notes.

This year I interviewed a man that sells bees to enhance pollination and listened to a workshop all about root crops harvest and storage. My favorite stop though may have been to Papa’s Midwest Kettle Corn that is located in nearby Chatham, Illinois. Perhaps this was my favorite because he offered treats at his stop and I walked away with some tasty kettle corn.

While winter has its hold and the weather is somewhat questionable check out a workshop or conference and travel somewhere to enhance your brain power. I learned several things at this event, one, bees are shipped all over the world for pollination, there is a market for fall broccoli and don’t wash vegetables until you are ready to use them or they may rot. The most interesting things I learned though came from R. Allen Straw’s presentation about farming by the moon. “Root crops need to be dug in a waning moon, a 3rd quarter moon,” he said.

The reason he added is that the waxing moon has a pull on the Earth. “There is moisture with the waxing moon. The ground will be wet pulling moisture to the surface overnight”

Who knew? I am going to a community event today as a volunteer, maybe I will learn a lot of new health issues while handing out heart health brochures! Get out, stay warm, and expand your knowledge, you will be glad you did!

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The Harkey House brings out my own family memories

My mom and I took a trip back in time to the two-story Solomon Harkey House, a lovely Federal style structure that stands on the corner of Broad & Water in Hillsboro, Illinois. The home is the oldest in Montgomery County and was built in 1834 by Solomon Harkey.

Harkey came from North Carolina with his family, established a tannery then farmed and flourished in what was then a pioneer village. He built a house of brace construction that used bricks to line the interior walls. During our visit, we saw many wonderful items within the house, furnishings, paintings, quilts and even a pair of scissors belonging to Abraham Lincoln’s mother, but what hit home for me was the story that my mother told when she saw the bread raiser in the kitchen.

I had never seen a bread raiser before so that in itself was revelation. The bread raiser brought out a family story about my grandmother I had never heard. She said her mom loved to make bread and her mother told her one day they had enough bread and not to make any. Later when she got home she said, “Ena, I told you not to make any bread.”

When my grandmother (Ena) asked her how she knew she had made bread, she said she could see the soil rising in the back yard where grandma had buried it! It is neat to hear your own family stories when touring a historic home.

My grandmother has been gone for many years now, but hearing this story I can picture my quiet grandmother who loved cooking and cooked for her six children and anyone else that happened to stop by kneading bread and enjoying the rhythmic movements this would have taken. Ena Pearcy was not one who needed a lot. She really didn’t need much at all but a good book (primarily Harlequins), a comfortable chair and a bit of quiet.

Thank you Harkey House for bringing a bit of my grandmother back to me through my mother’s eyes.

. bread raiser

The Harkey House is a lovely home with a lot of history and worth a visit. The Harkey House is open on special occasions and by appointment. For tours call Betty Darden at 217-532-3691 or Janet Carlyle at 217-532-5642

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Toy Season has arrived

So, this past weekend we went to the small farm toy show at Carlyle, Illinois. The show is sponsored by the International Harvester Southern Illinois Club and is held at Mariner’s Village near Lake Carlyle. We have been attending this event that we think of as the kick off of the farm toy season. We met our friends the Elliotts who hail from Godfrey, Illinois, it was their first time at the Carlyle show.

Jane Elliott had three things on her list to find, suspenders, a bright orange jacket for her grandson and a Half Century Calendar. She left with one, a calendar, and a new enjoyment of this before undiscovered show.

There were several toy vendors set up, but for me the highlight of the show was a very cool display with a lot of history. David Thompson from Pinckneyville, Illinois had his farm layout of the Pinckneyville Equipment dealership. Dave’s grandson, Grant Thompson, helped him set up one last time.

This show while the kick off of what Keith and I think of as the farm toy season was the last hurrah for this farm layout before it was installed at the Illinois Rural Heritage Museum, a very cool museum in Pinckneyville, Illinois. The dealership that has so many memories for Dave fits right into that mission. “I worked at the dealership in 1952. I started at 17,” Dave said.

The Pinckneyville dealership was a block building that was built in the mid 30’s and was open through the mid 1970’s. “It was owned by J.O. Schemacher,” Dave said.

The dealership is no longer there, it burned down so it remains only in this layout and perhaps in picture archives. Dave took his memories and built this display about 20 years ago adding touches as recently as this past Thanksgiving. An avid collector, Dave owns about 150 toys and has set up for years at the Thresherman’s show and at the Carlinville Toy Show.

These days Dave would rather be driving his Cub Cadet around and letting visitors at the museum view the display.

It was cold, but attendance was good and many of the toy folks were out and about sharing what they love the most a bit of chatter about their favorite hobby!


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Farm Layouts at the National Farm Toy Show – Dave Nieuwsma’s Farm Replica

This year’s farm toy show was a doozey with tons of layouts with competition like I have never seen before. Some of the best of the best were those that first showed their displays at the Gateway Farm Toy Show in St. Louis like the grain elevator or cotton gin. There was much to be admired by several experienced layout artists as well as those showing for the first time. One though that struck my heart chord was Dave Nieuwsma’s Farm layout based on the farm where he grew up as a kid until the age of 15.

This layout while not one of the top winners was tops in many hearts because of the detailed memories he has associated with each and every building. About his shed/garage he said, “This building brings back fond memories. Here, my younger sister and I had our own “repair” shop, where we oiled bicycle chains, pounded on anvils, turned wrenches and did anything else that looked like we were “fixin’ stuff.” And, when Dad retired from farming, this building served as a place for auction goers to step in from the cold and get a hamburger or a piece of pie.”

It was stories like this that he typed up and included in his book that made his display a heart winner along with the lovely buildings themselves. This is one of the best things about the antique tractor/toy hobby the memories and stories that people share along the way. For Dave and his wife Sandy, this is truly a constructed family memory album they can see.

Take the time to share your own stories in an artistic way whether in a story, a display, artwork, or just taking the grandkids on hour knee and saying I remember. My dad recently has been telling my sister and I stories of his time in the Navy or some memories from growing up visiting his great-grandmother in Salisbury. These memories can live on to the next generation when they are shared.

The farm layouts are perhaps my favorite part of the toy shows, watching the amazing talents that I do not possess come to life






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Getting ready for the 150th anniversary of the Lincoln funeral procession

The City of Springfield is truly the Land of Lincoln and they would be remiss without remembering their favorite son. The city will honor our 16th President, Abraham Lincoln with the accurate reenactment of the historic anniversary of his funeral procession. While several events that kick off in April are leading up to this somber occasion, it is May 1st and 2nd that the actual procession will take place.

The train will arrive at the Amtrak station. The train carrying the replicated coffin covered with an American flag that has been created by the original manufacturer of the flag that covered Lincoln’s body. The accurate to the time period train will arrive at the very same station that Lincoln’s body arrived 150 years ago. The coffin will be carried in a horse drawn specially built replica of the original Lincoln hearse following much of the historic route from the station to Washington and 6th Street where the opening ceremonies will commence. The coffin will be guarded over by Civil War re-enactor during a candle light vigil. On May 2nd the recreated Lincoln hearse will transport the coffin to Oak Ridge Cemetery our 16th President’s final resting place. The procession will go through the recently replicated First Street entrance and proceed to the old receiving vault.

The First Street entrance was just recently completed with the funeral procession a reason to make the $200,000 project a priority. On December 3rd Oak Ridge Cemetery held a dedication of the gate that is now an updated version of the one back in Lincoln’s time.

While the original gate was wooden, the brushed aluminum appears to be wooden. The dirt entrance is now a concrete walkway with a gate and bollards it can be opened and closed for foot traffic. There is an interpretive plaque (written by historian Ian Patrick Hunt) explaining the historical significance of the gate. “This presents the city with one more historical site,” Mike Lelys Executive Director said.

For more details about the event, log onto


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Prairie Gold Treasure, the unearthing of an MM mystery piece

This year at the National Farm Toy Show I had a chance to interview veteran Minneapolis Moline Collectors Jerry Erickson and Loren Book about a corn sheller the two located and bought that is a one of a kind. The two found the corn sheller at auction and this piece had once graced the cover of a January 1942 MM calendar with the Grussing children and a paid model. The children belonged to Bon Grussing Sr. the photographer that took the photographs for the calendar. Jerry identified Grussing Sr. as responsible for many of the advertising successes Minneapolis Moline accomplished.

Long story short, they bought the model which was one of 11 toys that was on the calendar at an auction and the two have been sharing the model and displaying it at their respective tractor museums. The model and what happened to the other toys is quite a mystery. The last they were known to be seen was back at an MM branch house in Twin Cities. Where they are now and where they were before the toy showed up on the auction website remains a mystery. Jerry said the only thing the auctioneer would tell him was that a guy got it from his neighbor and that it had sat on his shelf since the 1970’s.

Loren brought the beautiful model to the National Farm Toy Show where Jerry was set up as a vendor. They displayed it under one of Jerry’s original 1942 calendar so that collectors could view the toy and the calendar at the same time. The cool part comes next, the two loaned the corn sheller to the National Farm Toy Museum for a year so collectors can visit the museum and see this iconic piece of MM history on display.

More details about this story will appear in an upcoming issue of Toy Farmer and in the MM Collector Magazine PGR, but it is an amazing story that came about through my travels. It is wonderful to talk to people about the history of companies and artifacts that have changed America over the years. This corn sheller is a miniature of the B-2 corn sheller built by a company that over the years merged and AGCO of today has roots in MM’s past.

The MM history site, website supplies a bit of the history of how MM became part of AGCO. “Minneapolis Moline Power Implement Company was formed in 1929 by the merger of Moline Implement Company, Minneapolis Threshing Machine Company, and Minneapolis Steel & Machinery Company. White Motor Company purchased Minneapolis Moline in 1963. AGCO purchased White Tractors in 1991.”

Take the time to learn more about your agricultural history when heading out, you never know what mystery you may uncover!


For those that want to see this iconic piece of advertising history can visit National Farm Toy Museum. For details about the museum, log onto the National Toy Museum website at If you would like to make an appointment to visit Jerry’s museum, call 641-390-1045. To schedule a visit to Loren’s museum, call 515-231-6334.

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Auto Thrill Museum/Antique Shop



It is always fun when you walk into a store without knowing just what you will find. That was the case when in the town of La Porte City, Iowa and stopped by The Real Deal where Chad Van Dyke auctioneer, motor cycle rider, antiquer and funny car enthusiast has his shop. Inside the shop Chad has opened the Auto Thrill Show Museum which profiles years of collecting.

In his biography Chad said as a youngster he spent weekends with his grandfather traveling Iowa to attend horse races and fairs during the late 50’s and into the 60’s. “One might think I would fall for the four-legged beast, instead, I was drawn to the added attractions at these great events which drew hundreds and even thousands from all around,” he sadi.

Some of the entertainment that drew Van Dyke were the Auto Daredevils. At 14 he bought a bike and that is a love affair he is still having today. He admitted that when deciding whether to open the shop or not is dependent on the weather. If it is a good bike riding day well….

Over the year’s Cad Van Dyke has raced cars been an announcer and today visitors can enjoy the years he has collected this unique memorabilia in his shop and museum.

Retired from John Deere, Van Dyke worked as a special investigator in Quality Assurance at the Waterloo plant for 30 years. He has lots of tales to share so take a minute and stop by and see “The history of Thrills, chills & Spills!

Located at 301 Commercial Avenue, call 319-342-3300 if you have questions or log onto

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Festhalle barn in Amana, trees, beautiful trees

Most year’s we head to the Amana Colonies for Prelude to Christmas a chance to recuperate from the stress of field work and a kick off to the Christmas season. One of my favorite stops is the Festhalle barn that was once a dairy barn located in Amana. Amana is the largest of the seven villages that make up the colony. The barn is the place where the local vendors and organizations decorate their trees and bring Christmas alive with a huge pyramid that this year featured Santa’s workshop.

The century old barn is a fitting place with the soaring ceilings and surrounding Amana countryside for a festival of trees and of course a place where woodworking is supreme and just right for Santa’s workshop.

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Festival of Trees

train at festival of trees

This event was held in Springfield Illinois and I thought this picture depicted the magic of the event!

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