Iowans and anybody involved in any type of agriculture love their tractors.Nothing beats the memories evoked when standing next to an old model or replica and conjuring up stories of farming days passed to anybody who will listen.For some reason all the hard labor and long hours spent aboard one of these working machines seems to pleasantly fade away when you are immersed in nostalgia!”Remember that wintry day back in ’54 after 2 foot of snow and 30 degrees below and the old “B” started up on the first crank” You get the picture!!
Now the idea is not new by any means in Iowa, but the John Deere Corporation finally opened the doors last December to a historical tractor museum in Waterloo . This is the city where most of the John Deere tractors have been assembled for years so what better place to display and document the past successes of this agricultural giant.The museum is located in one of John Deere’s unused assembly buildings erected in the early 40’s so it has an old factory feel but certainly has been spruced up to state of the art display techniques.
When visiting you can expect to see the complete John Deere story starting from the famous”moldboard plow” right up to today’s ingenious computerized behemoths.Starting with an intro movie the visitor will see plenty of history and the part John Deere played in developing the “gas traction engine”. You will see models from every era(my favorite the 3010 gas) and experience all that was involved in getting the finished product into the hands of the consumer …the American farmer and eventually global agronomy.Usually when I travel to a new attraction I try not to have too many preconceived notions of what I might see so that I might leave room for the thrill of discovery.However, I must say that I had high expectations for this long anticipated visit and I was not disappointed!!Please consider the John Deere Tractor and Engine Museum in Waterloo.I’ll be pulling for you!!
When you travel SE Iowa you might have deduced that many of the attractions found in this part of the state are quite historical in nature.As you scratch your head trying to recall your 8th grade Iowa history and geography classes,let’s just quickly summarize. Iowa was settled from east to west and the probability of finding more sites of antiquity increases the closer you get to eastern Iowa rivers ,principally the Mississippi, Iowa and Des Moines rivers.Another facet of early Iowa history was the proximity of “free state” Iowa to “slave state”Missouri. With that pretext out of the way, I shall tell you of my visit to the southeast Iowa town of Salem.
Salem was founded by Quakers and was the first Quaker settlement west of the Mississippi.On the south side of town Henderson Lewelling built a house out of native limestone and intended it to be a refuge for runaway slaves.(see photo)The Lewelling House was once known as the main ticket office of the Underground Railroad for SE Iowa due to its proximity to Missouri just 20 miles south. The building currently houses a museum containing artifacts of early Iowa Quaker life as well as an interesting display that illuminated the educational background of the settlement.
Most interesting to me however were the artifacts connected to the institution of slavery and to the logistics of aiding and abetting runaway slaves. It is well to remember that Iowa played an important role in helping to weaken slavery though it took a civil war to officially put it to an end.
I was caught in a perplexing position..Do I write about an” ice house museum” in the heat of summer or the dead of winter? When you read this ,you will know what I decided.
It is minus 13 degrees in West Branch this morning as I strive to keep the blood moving to all of my extremities beside the tips of my typing fingers.What better way than to warmly reminisce about my trip to Cedar Falls last summer and my exploration of the Ice House Museum!
The museum is located in downtown Cedar Falls near the Cedar River Bridge and is a noticeable round clay tile structure. This replaced an old wood structure that burned down in 1921 . Now how an ice house gets so hot that it burns down I don’t know.. maybe they were using “dry ice” that was too dry!! Nevertheless the new building was state of the art and had the capacity to store 6 to 8 thousand tons of ice blocks stacked like cold bales of hay.
I realize that both concepts of storage might puzzle my readers and I myself had very little knowledge of the process of “ice harvesting”. It is hard to remember a time when there wasn’t electric refrigerators and freezers.What a luxury not to have to haul 80-100 pound blocks to the home “ice box” all for the purpose of preserving food etc. I would strongly suggest a trip Cedar Falls to learn the history of the ice industry and to see how the ice got from to the river to the home. It’s really COOL!!
Sometimes on the Iowa Travel trail, the expectations don’t match up with reality.Such was the case at Opa’s Tractor Barn in West Amana. On paper,it seemed like a natural stop.After all an old barn,old tractors and machinery and the Amana Colonies are excellent ingredients for a stop,but this time around things didn’t click.If you like Minneapolis Moline Tractors you might give this place a pass,but when the highlight of the trip for me was an unadvertised bowling ball marble-like run and some sewing machine model tractors,you are not dealing with a magical experience.
After having toured the barn, kicked the old tractor tires and observed rusting old combines,tillage equipment and manure spreaders, I asked myself where is the good stuff because there was nothing unique here.Oh well, at least I can say that I was at Opa’s Tractor Barn Museum in West Amana.
The Rock Island Arsenal and Museum….Yes I know it has an Illinois street address and this is a travelogue about Iowa attractions, but it doesn’t take mass quantities of rationalization to claim an island in the Mississippi as part of my tour. After all I toured the island town of Sabula and not a peep from any of you, so permit me this slight aberration as I describe my interesting trip to the Rock.
Visiting the arsenal does not start as if you are going for a garden stroll.No… You must state the purpose of your visit and present identification if you wish to explore this attraction.Apparently they have things there that affect national security..I’m just guessing!!So I told the guard I wished to visit the museum and he directed me in the right direction. Little did I realize that the whole island is a museum with bits and pieces of historical significance sprinkled throughout.The one exception is the presence of a fine 18 hole golf course(I want to go back!!) that occupies most of the space not utilized by the military.
The museum itself is a showcase of the Arsenal’s production capabilities dating all the way back to the Civil War.As you enter the display are the enormity and diversity of weaponry on display is overwhelming! In addition to the production of artillery etc,the factories here turned out many essential pieces of field gear that could not be produced by private enterprise and many unique items are on display.
Another lesser known fact is that Rock Island served as a Union Army’s prison camp for Confederate soldiers almost 12,000 troops by the war’s end.Though the camp was destroyed , a poignant reminder of this is the presence of a Confederate cemetery with almost 600 graves a lesser mortality rate than the South’s Andersonville, but still!! T he Arsenal is also the home to a large National Cemetery which presents a very solemn and impressive sight.
I am glad that I allowed myself a slight deviation in my single-minded purpose as I crossed over the Mississippi bridge to visit this unique Quad City attraction. Hopefully I have armed you with enough information to want to visit.