Category: Farm

Butter Sculptures to Christmas Ornaments: Waterloo Boy Tractor Celebrates 100 Years

It’s hard to imagine a time when John Deere wasn’t a powerhouse in the tractor business. Yet, John Deere wouldn’t enter the farm tractor business until March 1918 through the acquisition of the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company, and it’s a milestone that has been commemorated in everything from butter to Christmas ornaments.

Deere has featured a picture and story depicting the 100th anniversary of the iconic Waterloo Boy on its 2018 Christmas ornament.  The 2018 Iowa State Fair also honored the tractor by featuring the world-famous Butter Cow beside a butter sculpture of the Waterloo Boy. Both butter masterpieces were displayed in the 114-year old John Deere Agriculture Building’s 40-degree cooler throughout the fair, which ran from August 9-19.

The Iowa State Fair has long been a prime venue to display Deere equipment in its various forms. A quote from the John Deere Sales Department in 1940 read, “I feel that the machinery and industrial exhibits for 1940 excelled any previous year’s display,” according to history shared by the Iowa State Fair. “We consider our Iowa State Fair exhibit to be a very beneficial part of our advertising program, and we will be with you again in 1941.’”

Waterloo Boy butter sculpture 2018 Iowa State Fair

Waterloo Boy butter sculpture 2018 Iowa State Fair

Meeting the challenge of a reliable, durable tractor
Frequently ranked as one of the top events in the country, the Iowa State Fair is the single largest event in the state of Iowa and one of the oldest and largest agricultural expositions in the country and annually attracts more than a million people from all over the world.

In 2018, the Iowa State Fair used more than 50 John Deere tractors and utility vehicles provided by Van Wall Equipment. In addition, a 1919 Waterloo Boy model N tractor was on display in the Machinery Grounds at the Iowa State Fair.

To understand the significance of the Waterloo Boy, take a trip back in time, said Neil Dahlstrom, manager of the John Deere Archives and History. In the critical five-year stretch (1912-1917) prior to John Deere entering the tractor business, there were two key issues the company needed answered.

“First, what did farmers really want from a machine that would soon make the horse obsolete?” said Dahlstrom, who noted that salesmen, territory and branch managers, and Deere’s top leadership scoured the country to understand what customers desired.

Also, how could the equipment to be manufactured to be durable enough to stand up to daily farm use?

Deere had considered every imaginable idea. The company had developed one-, two- and four-cylinder concept tractors. Some ran on gasoline. Others ran on kerosene. Some had all-wheel drive. Others had front-wheel drive. The company even explored concepts like line steering, which was meant to replicate horse reins as the steering mechanism to ease farmers into power farming, Dahlstrom said.

A motorized cultivator, what Deere called a “Tractivator,” was brought to market by several competitors, but Deere determined it did not provide any cost savings compared to horses.

The challenge of producing a durable tractor loomed large. In a letter to company president William Butterworth in 1915, Deere’s superintendent of factories George Mixter noted that tractors offered by competitors up to that point “have not been built with the proper spirit behind the design and manufacture to insure their durability in the hands of the farmers.” But if Deere could “build a small tractor that will really stand up for five or more years’ work on the farm, I believe they will be a permanent requirement of the American farmer,” Mixter wrote.

Deere ultimately found the solution with the Waterloo Boy tractor and acquired the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company in Waterloo, Iowa, on March 14, 1918. Although anxious to start selling the Waterloo Boy, Deere dealers had to wait while Deere honored existing contracts, which did not expire until Dec. 31, 1918, Dahlstrom said.

Visitors snapped photos of the iconic Waterloo Boy butter sculpture 2018 Iowa State Fair.

Visitors snapped photos of the iconic Waterloo Boy butter sculpture 2018 Iowa State Fair.

Waterloo Boy makes its debut
Deere put its money where its instincts were. Over the next year, the company spent more than one-third of its advertising budget touting the Waterloo Boy tractor, Dahlstrom said.

Specifically, Deere invested $50,000 on tractor advertising in the year following its debut of the Waterloo Boy—approximately $747,000 in today’s money. Another way to get the company’s new product out in front of customers was to take it on the road – literally.

The National Tractor Demonstrations started to become more mainstream after being introduced in the United States in 1913. An eight-city, eight-week tour schedule was the perfect opportunity to unveil Deere’s Waterloo Boy, Dahlstrom said. Salina, Kansas, served as the ideal backdrop in August 1918, since this was the nation’s largest demonstration.

Deere had participated in tractor demonstrations since the original Winnipeg Agricultural Motor Competitions in Manitoba, Canada, in 1908 – but not with a tractor. Instead, Deere had paired its plows with leading tractor manufacturers. That changed now that the Waterloo Boy was part of the Deere family.

At Salina, Deere spared no expense, showcasing 12 Waterloo Boy tractors as the centerpiece of a display that included John Deere signs, Waterloo Boy signs and a copper leaping deer statue, Dahlstrom said. “There were two stars during this week of 100-degree days – ‘ice water on tap’ and the Waterloo Boy Model ‘N’ tractor,” he added.

The Model “N” demonstrated its merits by pulling tractor plows, disc harrows and grain drills. Visitors were shuttled in three John Deere farm wagons pulled by Waterloo Boy tractors. By all accounts, the debut was a success.

“The award for the most elaborate, largest and most artistic exhibit tent at the Salina tractor show will undoubtedly go to the John Deere Plow company of Kansas City,” wrote the editors of a Kansas City newspaper.

As Deere’s advertising campaign swung into full gear, the Waterloo Boy tractor was promoted as the “best and most efficient tractor” on the market for farmers inclined to buy a tractor. By October 1918, readers of Deere’s magazine, The Furrow, saw an advertisement for the line of Waterloo Boy tractors and stationary engines. The ad guaranteed the Waterloo Boy’s “ample power for field and belt work.”

Waterloo Boy butter sculpture 2018 Iowa State Fair

Waterloo Boy butter sculpture 2018 Iowa State Fair

In January 1919, with tractors now available through John Deere dealers, Deere’s first print ad for the trade press appeared in The Farm Implement News. It featured two areas of emphasis: “A Good Tractor Backed by a Permanent Organization.”

After years of development, John Deere customers and John Deere dealers finally had their John Deere tractor.

“It took longer than the company expected, but a determination to do it right instead of doing it fast now brought the John Deere tractor to market,” Dahlstrom said.

As a result, customers got “the assurance of more tractor work per dollar of fuel cost; longer tractor life with less repair cost; accessibility of parts that makes caring for the tractor simple and easy; and dependable power for all farm work.”

The tractor era had officially arrived.

Want more?
Thanks for stopping by. I invite you to read more of my blog posts if you value intriguing Iowa stories and history, along with Iowa food, agriculture updates, recipes and tips to make you a better communicator.

If you like what you see and want to be notified when I post new stories, be sure to click on the “subscribe to blog updates/newsletter” button at the top of this page, or click here. Feel free to share this with friends and colleagues who might be interested, too.

Also, if you or someone you know could use my writing services (I’m not only Iowa’s storyteller, but a professionally-trained journalist with 20 years of experience), let’s talk. I work with businesses and organizations within Iowa and across the country to unleash the power of great storytelling to define their brand and connect with their audience through clear, compelling blog posts, articles, news releases, feature stories, newsletter articles, social media, video scripts, and photography. Learn more at www.darcymaulsby.com, or e-mail me at yettergirl@yahoo.com. 

If you’re hungry for more stories of Iowa history, check out my top-selling “Culinary History of Iowa: Sweet Corn, Pork Tenderloins, Maid-Rites and More” book from The History Press. Also take a look at my latest book, “Dallas County,” and my Calhoun County” book from Arcadia Publishing. Both are filled with vintage photos and compelling stories that showcase he history of small-town and rural Iowa. Order your signed copies today! Iowa postcards are available in my online store, too.

Let’s stay in touch. I’m at darcy@darcymaulsby.com, and yettergirl@yahoo.com.

Talk to you soon!

Darcy

@Copyright 2018 Darcy Maulsby & Co.  Blog posts may only be reprinted with permission from Darcy Maulsby. 

Pieced Together: Barn Quilt Documentary Features Iowa Stories

Barn quilts have become a folk-art phenomenon in Iowa in the past 15 years, turning up not only on barns, but mailboxes, gardens, buildings in town and more. But there was a time not that long ago when no one had ever heard of a barn quilt—not until Donna Sue Groves wanted to add a little color to her corner of the world.

Her story—and those of barn quilt enthusiasts in places like Sac County—inspired the 53-minute documentary “Pieced Together,” which filmmaker Julianne Donofrio showed in Sac City to a full house at the First Christian Church on the evening of Sept. 24, 2018.

“A lot of people don’t know where barn quilts came from,” said Donofrio, who is from the New York City/Washington, D.C. area. “I want people to know Donna Sue’s story.”

The story, which includes many barn quilts across Iowa, began in 1989 when Groves’ family bought a farm in Adams County, Ohio, near the Ohio River Valley at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Groves made a casual remark to her mother, Nina Maxine Groves, about an uninspiring, time-worn tobacco barn on the farm.

“It was the ugliest barn I’d ever seen,” Groves said in “Pieced Together.” “I joked to my mother, ‘I’ll paint you a quilt square on it someday.’”

Game inspires a lifelong love of barns
Groves’ interest in barns dates back to her childhood. When her family would visit Groves’ grandmother in Roane County, West Virginia, Groves’ mother invented a car game to keep Groves and her brother quiet.

“You couldn’t play the typical license plate game when you’re traveling the back roads of West Virginia, because all you saw were West Virginia license plates,” Groves said. “Mother created a car game where we counted barns.”

Some barns were worth two points, while others were worth three points. If a barn had outdoor advertising, like “Chew Mail Pouch” or “RC Cola,” players got a 10-point bonus if they could read the lettering. Red barns also earned higher points. The chance to earn even more points awaited when the family’s wider travels took them past Pennsylvania Dutch barns with colorful, geometric hex signs.

The game led to discussions and questions about the barns, such as who built the barns, and for what purpose. Groves enjoyed these conversational teaching moments. “I looked forward to seeing barns,” she said.

Sac County Iowa barn quilt

Sac County Iowa barn quilt

Creating a clothesline of quilts across America
This history eventually inspired Groves’ involvement with the first barn quilt square, an Ohio Star pattern, which was created in October 2001 and displayed in Adams County, Ohio. This small gesture triggered a ripple effect across North America.

“If we didn’t pick up on this idea, someone else would,” said Groves’ mother, Maxine, who was featured in “Pieced Together.”

As more people wanted to create barn quilts, Groves and her fellow volunteers quickly learned that painting barn quilts directly onto barns didn’t work too well, but painted plywood squares offered a much better option.

Why stop with just a few barn quilts, though? “A trail of barn quilts could bring tourists here to see all the wonderful things Adams County offers,” noted Groves, who has served as a field representative for the Ohio Arts Council. “Then they’d stay in our bed-and-breakfasts and motels and eat at our restaurants.”

These opportunities for economic development, combined with the visual appeal of barn quilts, soon inspired a “clothesline of quilts” across America. Residents of an adjoining county, Brown County, Ohio, loved Groves’ idea and asked how to get involved. Folks in Tennessee read an article about the Ohio barn quilt project, called Groves and wanted to know how to do a similar project in their area. Grundy County, Iowa, also got involved in 2003, followed by Sac County.

When Sue Peyton and her family from rural Sac City heard about barn quilts, it seemed like a good fit for her son, Kevin, who was in high school and looking for a project he could use as a 4-H leadership project and a Herbert Hoover Uncommon Student Award project.

“I immediately fell in love with the project when I heard about it,” Sue Peyton said. “Barns and barn quilts are such a natural fit.”

The Peytons coordinated the construction and painting of Sac County’s first barn quilts in the summer of 2005. While some people weren’t quite sure what to make of the new barn quilts that started appearing on barns and corncribs around the county, the concept caught on quickly. “We hoped to get 20 barn quilts,” said Sue Peyton, who added that Sac County boasted 55 barn quilts within two years of the start of the project.

“I’ve seen a lot of quilt trails, and you embraced this early on and have done a tremendous job,” said Donofrio as she chatted with audience members in Sac City following her documentary.

Sac County barn quilt proponents Kevin Peyton and his mother, Sue, (center) welcomed filmmaker Julianne Donofrio, who showed her 53-minute documentary “Pieced Together” in Sac City to a full house at the First Christian Church in September 2018.

“We’re here to stay”
Anywhere there’s a barn quilt trail, every square tells a story. Also, there’s no right or wrong way to create a barn quilt. “Barn quilts have a storied history as complex and diverse as the quilt patterns themselves,” Kevin Peyton said.

Consider the Double Aster barn quilt pattern on the Hogue family’s 1943 barn north of Odebolt. The pastel-colored design complements the family’s Prairie Pedlar Gardens business. Owner Jane Hogue, who served on the original Sac County Barn Quilt Committee, enjoyed watching the “Pieced Together” documentary.

“It was fun to see the snippets of Sac County’s barn quilts in the film,” she said. “We’re proud to be part of Sac County’s barn quilt project. With our gardens and tourism, it’s a win-win.”

Sac County proves that barn quilts offer an effective way to help save barns, promote rural tourism and boost economic development, Sue Peyton added. She cited the vintage barn at the Rustic River Winery and Vineyard north of Lake View, for example. It has been remodeled not only into a winery, but a venue where people can host parties and other gatherings.

As the history of the barn quilt phenomenon is preserved through projects like “Pieced Together,” barn quilts are being praised as one of the greatest community art projects ever created. While there are barn quilt trails in 42 states, there is no national barn quilt organization, by design. Creating barn quilts at the local allows local people to make their mark, share their history and establish a legacy. “It’s so adaptable—that’s the beauty of it,” Groves said.

Above all, barn quilts inspire people to view rural communities in a new way. “Barn quilts prompt a question that starts a discussion,” noted a speaker in the “Pieced Together” documentary. “It’s a statement that, ‘We’re here, and we’re here to stay.’”

Barn quilts also prove the power of one person from an isolated rural county to inspire a vision that has touched an entire nation. “As times get harder, we forget how to dream,” said Groves, a cancer survivor. “I like to think the barn quilt trails allow people to dream.”

Sac County barn quilt near Early, Iowa

Sac County barn quilt near Early, Iowa

Want more?
Thanks for stopping by. I invite you to read more of my blog posts if you value intriguing Iowa stories and history, along with Iowa food, agriculture updates, recipes and tips to make you a better communicator.

If you like what you see and want to be notified when I post new stories, be sure to click on the “subscribe to blog updates/newsletter” button at the top of this page, or click here. Feel free to share this with friends and colleagues who might be interested, too.

Also, if you or someone you know could use my writing services (I’m not only Iowa’s storyteller, but a professionally-trained journalist with 20 years of experience), let’s talk. I work with businesses and organizations within Iowa and across the country to unleash the power of great storytelling to define their brand and connect with their audience through clear, compelling blog posts, articles, news releases, feature stories, newsletter articles, social media, video scripts, and photography. Learn more at www.darcymaulsby.com, or e-mail me at yettergirl@yahoo.com. 

If you’re hungry for more stories of Iowa history, check out my top-selling “Culinary History of Iowa: Sweet Corn, Pork Tenderloins, Maid-Rites and More” book from The History Press. Also take a look at my latest book, “Dallas County,” and my Calhoun County” book from Arcadia Publishing. Both are filled with vintage photos and compelling stories that showcase he history of small-town and rural Iowa. Order your signed copies today! Iowa postcards are available in my online store, too.

Let’s stay in touch. I’m at darcy@darcymaulsby.com, and yettergirl@yahoo.com.

Talk to you soon!

Darcy

@Copyright 2018 Darcy Maulsby & Co.  Blog posts may only be reprinted with permission from Darcy Maulsby. 

Sac County Barn Quilt Attracts National Attention

When Alvin (Al) Liske and his wife, Jean, signed up for the Barn Quilts of Sac County project, they had no idea how much attention this would attract to their stately World War II-era barn west of Early, Iowa.

“Our barn has been featured in Eleanor Burns’ book, ‘Quilt Blocks on American Barns,’ and it was also included on the cover of the Department of Transportation’s 2009 map of Iowa,” said Jean.

Burns, a popular television personality who gained famed for her “Quilt in a Day” system, visited the Liske barn last year when she traveled to Iowa to participate in the Sac County Quilt-a-Fair. She was especially intrigued by the Country Lanes barn quilt pattern that graces the barn’s haymow door. She noted that Country Lanes is a very old pattern that was originally published by Mountain Mist, a company that began selling quilt batting in Cincinnati in 1846.

“We chose the Country Lanes block, because we live on a gravel road,” said Jean, who works in the registrar’s office at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake. “Even though we’re off the beaten path, it’s not uncommon to see people drive out here and take photos of the barn.”

Jean’s father, Herman Puetz, built the barn for approximately $4,000 around 1943 or 1944 on the Boyer Valley Township farm that his family had purchased in 1930. The new barn replaced an existing barn that was made from cottonwood lumber. After the concrete foundation for the new barn was poured, lumber was not readily available for the building, due to the war. In the meantime, the family roller skated on the concrete slab. “When construction started again, I can also remember going with my parents to Albert Lea, Minn., to get the rafters for the barn, and I thought that was a really long trip,” said Jean, who noted that the barn includes glazed tile on the bottom and originally had wood shingles on the rounded, gothic roof.

Herman kept horses in the barn, said Jean, who added that farming with horses could be dangerous. “One time when my Uncle George was hauling manure on our farm, something spooked the horses, and they ran toward a barbed wire fence. My uncle jumped off, and he broke his ankle, which got infected.”

Jean’s father, who was one of 12 children, also milked cows on the east side of the barn and kept plenty of hay in the haymow. “I’d play in the barn with my brothers and sister, and we’d make tunnels and caves and houses with the bales. When enough hay had been fed, there would be bare spots in the haymow, and we’d play basketball up there,” said Jean, who noted that the haymow still includes basketball hoops.

After Jean married Al and the couple moved to the farm where Jean grew up, the Liskes raised cattle and hogs in the barn and farmed from the early 1960s until the 1980s. In 2005, the couple decided to remodel the barn, which still had a good foundation. “It was getting to the point where we needed to fix up the barn or think about tearing it down, and we didn’t want to watch the barn fall down,” said Jean, who noted that the family power washed the interior, rebuilt windows and doors, had the barn rewired, covered the roof with red steel and added a staircase to the haymow.

The barn, which is now used for storage, became

a favorite play area for the Liske’s grandchildren. “The barn is an important part of our family’s heritage, and it’s one of the few old buildings left on this farm,” Jean said. “My dad was always proud of the barn, and we’re glad we’ve maintained it.”

Note from Darcy: I first wrote this piece in 2010 for Farm News. 

Want more?
Thanks for stopping by. I invite you to read more of my blog posts if you value intriguing Iowa stories and history, along with Iowa food, agriculture updates, recipes and tips to make you a better communicator.

If you like what you see and want to be notified when I post new stories, be sure to click on the “subscribe to blog updates/newsletter” button at the top of this page, or click here. Feel free to share this with friends and colleagues who might be interested, too.

Also, if you or someone you know could use my writing services (I’m not only Iowa’s storyteller, but a professionally-trained journalist with 20 years of experience), let’s talk. I work with businesses and organizations within Iowa and across the country to unleash the power of great storytelling to define their brand and connect with their audience through clear, compelling blog posts, articles, news releases, feature stories, newsletter articles, social media, video scripts, and photography. Learn more at www.darcymaulsby.com, or e-mail me at yettergirl@yahoo.com. 

If you’re hungry for more stories of Iowa history, check out my top-selling “Culinary History of Iowa: Sweet Corn, Pork Tenderloins, Maid-Rites and More” book from The History Press. Also take a look at my latest book, “Dallas County,” and my Calhoun County” book from Arcadia Publishing. Both are filled with vintage photos and compelling stories that showcase he history of small-town and rural Iowa. Order your signed copies today! Iowa postcards are available in my online store, too.

Let’s stay in touch. I’m at darcy@darcymaulsby.com, and yettergirl@yahoo.com.

Talk to you soon!

Darcy

@Copyright 2018 Darcy Maulsby & Co.  Blog posts may only be reprinted with permission from Darcy Maulsby. 

Events Spark Stories That Help Backcountry Winery Grow in Iowa

Ask Amber Gable about the back story behind Backcountry Winery at her family’s home east of Stratford, and her answer is straightforward. “It’s a hobby out of control.”

That hobby has taken Gable and her husband, Preston, on dynamic journey that has led to the creation of a small business that’s helping spur economic development in rural Iowa. At the heart of it all is a century-old barn that’s central to the story, offering an attractive venue for gatherings, celebrations, music concerts and more.

“This barn is such a unique building,” said Amber Gable, 27, who grew up on a farm near Sibley. “There’s so much history here, including original interior boards that have Stratford Grain and Supply stamped on them.”

Backcountry Winery haymow Iowa

Beyond the tasting room on the main floor, the barn loft holds 150 people.

Guests who come to Backcountry Winery for bridal showers, wedding receptions, class reunions and other celebrations enjoy exploring this rural heritage. So do the visitors who stop by for Backcountry Winery’s live music events.

“When we’re open on Saturday afternoons without a special event like live music, we tend to have smaller crowds,” Gable said. “Events help create experiences that people seek out.”

Events of all types have become an increasingly important part of running a successful winery, noted Mike White, a viticulture specialist for Iowa State University Extension. “More wineries are realizing that there’s big potential in event centers, and many are going this way.”

Putting down roots in Hamilton County
For many guests, part of the experience involves learning the story of the winery. In the case of Backcountry Winery, that story began with Preston Gable’s long-time interest in home winemaking.

“We’d talk about how we might open a winery someday,” said Amber Gable, whose husband is a fellow northwest Iowa native from Hartley.

“Someday” seemed far off, however, when the high school sweethearts started their careers in Ames following their graduation from Iowa State University (ISU). Amber Gable became a landscape designer for an engineering firm, while her husband worked in biofuels research at ISU.

When the couple began looking for an affordable acreage in central Iowa where they could establish a home, start a family and maybe operate a winery eventually, the process became frustrating at times. “We actively looked for about a year and often came up with nothing,” Amber Gable said. “There were some tears along the way.”

Things turned around in 2014, though, when the young couple found an acreage with a house and barn northeast of Stratford. “We really needed a fixer-upper, and this place needed a family to put down roots,” Amber Gable said.

After the couple purchased the property in August 2014, they began remodeling the barn within a few months and exploring its history. The abstract for the property goes back to 1920, when the current home on the acreage was built by Alfred Erickson. “We know the barn pre-dates 1920, although we don’t know exactly when it was built,” Amber Gable said.

While the barn is structurally sound, time had taken a toll on some parts of the building. “We poured a new concrete floor and replaced the entire hayloft floor,” said Amber Gable, who noted that the barn once housed cattle.

After months of work, the Gables opened Backcountry Winery in May 2016. “The barn is still a work in progress, but it has allowed us to open our winery sooner than we anticipated,” said Amber Gable, who appreciates the opportunity to run a home-based business, especially now that she and her husband are raising their 1-year-old son, Ivan.

Word-of-mouth marketing, Backcountry Winery’s website and a Facebook page have helped the couple’s business grow. While Backcountry Winery hosted one wedding in 2016, this grew to five weddings in 2017 and has increased to seven weddings slated for 2018.

At Backcountry Winery, the Gables grow six varieties of wine grapes. They make 12 different wines, including strawberry, raspberry, cherry and apple wines, and plan to expand to 14 wines soon.

The Gables have invested in an expansion near the barn to accommodate these events. A connecting space on the west side of the barn will include a room when brides can get ready for their wedding. This connecting space is attached to a 60-foot by 90-foot addition that will provide additional production space, storage space and office space for the winery.

This infrastructure is just one part of Backcountry Winery’s recent expansions. While the Gables maintain a vineyard on the east side of the barn, the couple also began leasing an established, 4-acre vineyard near Webster City in the spring of 2017.

“It’s exciting to raise more of our own grapes so we can produce estate wines, which are made from our own crop,” said Amber Gable, who is a member of the Iowa Wine Growers Association. “There’s a great deal of pride in that.”

Wine wins big at Iowa State Fair
This pride is reflected in the large, silver trophy that graces the barn at Backcountry Winery. When the Gables competed in the commercial wine competition at the 2017 Iowa State Fair, the judges selected Vignoles from Backcountry Winery for the top honor, the Governor’s Cup. Vignoles is a semi-dry white wine that boasts crisp flavors of tropical and citrus fruits and a clean finish.

Vignoles is just one of the wines available from Backcountry Winery, where the Gables grow six varieties of wine grapes. They make 12 different wines, including strawberry, raspberry, cherry and apple wines, and plan to expand to 14 wines soon.

 

Backcountry Winery’s products can be purchased at the winery or through the approximately 25 retailers in Hamilton County and central, northern and northwest Iowa that partner with Backcountry Winery.

Raising specialty crops like wine grapes and offering Iowa wines offer unique opportunities to boost economic development in rural Iowa, Amber Gable said. “When visitors come to our winery, they not only buy wine, but they buy fuel at the convenience store in Stratford, which is owned by the local co-op, and they can go to Stanhope to get a burger. It’s rewarding to promote the whole Hamilton County experience.”

The Gables hope to attract more guests to the area by offering more live music this summer at the winery. This builds on the success of the three performances offered in 2016 and the 10 shows offered in 2017. The 2018 concerts, which range from country to classic rock, cost $5 for admission and will be held on certain Saturdays from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the barn.

“Visiting a winery is all about the experience,” Amber Gable said. “We enjoy creating these memorable experiences, meeting people from across Iowa and beyond and promoting rural Iowa.”

Iowa State Fair wine winners Backcountry Winery

When the Gables competed in the commercial wine competition at the 2017 Iowa State Fair, the judges selected Vignoles from Backcountry Winery for the top honor, the Governor’s Cup. Vignoles is a semi-dry white wine that boasts crisp flavors of tropical and citrus fruits and a clean finish.

Iowa’s Wine Industry, By the Numbers
Data from the Iowa Wine Growers Association (IWGA) shows that Iowa has:

• 103 wineries
• 267 vineyards
• 1,300 acres of grapes
• 8 wine trails
• 40+ cold-climate grapes grown
• $420 million of economic impact in 2012
• 2,600 full-time jobs
• 358,000 wine related tourists per year

On average, the typical Iowa winery produces approximately 3,000 gallons of wine annually. The Iowa native wine industry helps promote and establish additional activity in the state, including lodging, food, travel, gifts, agri-tourism, event centers, festivals, music, art and a host of service industries.

“By our estimation, based on direct feedback from the wineries we surveyed, there was over $2.1 million in revenue generated from these wine-related events and facilities,” according to the 2012 “Economic Impact of Iowa Wine and Wine Grapes” report produced by Frank, Rimerman + Co, LLP.

In order for the industry to keep growing and attracting new visitors, wineries not only need to continue focusing on improving wine quality, but consider expanding into more wine-related events like private parties, weddings and festivals held on winery properties, according to the report.

  • I originally wrote this story for the Progress section of Farm News, Ft. Dodge, Iowa in February 2018. 

Backcountry Winery’s fermenting equipment is housed in a Hamilton County, Iowa, barn that’s approximately 100 years old.

Want more?
Thanks for stopping by. I invite you to read more of my blog posts if you value intriguing Iowa stories and history, along with Iowa food, agriculture updates, recipes and tips to make you a better communicator.

If you like what you see and want to be notified when I post new stories, be sure to click on the “subscribe to blog updates/newsletter” button at the top of this page, or click here. Feel free to share this with friends and colleagues who might be interested, too.

Also, if you or someone you know could use my writing services (I’m not only Iowa’s storyteller, but a professionally-trained journalist with 20 years of experience), let’s talk. I work with businesses and organizations within Iowa and across the country to unleash the power of great storytelling to define their brand and connect with their audience through clear, compelling blog posts, articles, news releases, feature stories, newsletter articles, social media, video scripts, and photography. Learn more at www.darcymaulsby.com, or e-mail me at yettergirl@yahoo.com. 

If you’re hungry for more stories of Iowa history, check out my top-selling “Culinary History of Iowa: Sweet Corn, Pork Tenderloins, Maid-Rites and More” book from The History Press. Also take a look at my latest book, “Dallas County,” and my Calhoun County” book from Arcadia Publishing. Both are filled with vintage photos and compelling stories that showcase he history of small-town and rural Iowa. Order your signed copies today! Iowa postcards are available in my online store, too.

Let’s stay in touch. I’m at darcy@darcymaulsby.com, and yettergirl@yahoo.com.

Talk to you soon!

Darcy

@Copyright 2018 Darcy Maulsby & Co.  Blog posts may only be reprinted with permission from Darcy Maulsby. 

Recalling a Most Unconventional—and Life-Changing–FFA Journey

My FFA story is so unlikely that even I can’t quite believe it myself. It all began in the fall of 1989, when I was starting my sophomore year at Southern Cal High School in Lake City.

As a child of a Farm Crisis, I never thought about joining FFA. I was busy with classes, band, choir, theater and other activities, and the unspoken message was clear—ag has no future, so don’t spend your time there. Then along came Ed Ricks.

Ed was Southern Cal’s ag teacher and FFA advisor. Turns out he was also a talent recruiter. He asked me whether I’d be interested in coming over to the ag building and studying ag rather than taking the standard 10th grade biology class. I was intrigued. Ed worked out an arrangement with the biology teacher so I could skip biology class every day and instead focus on ag, as long as I could pass the biology tests.

No problem.

What a golden opportunity this turned out to be. I discovered a whole new world of learning, plus I didn’t have to be bored in a biology class. (And yes, I always passed the tests.)

I’m forever grateful that Ed welcomed me into the dynamic world of FFA. Not only did I love the ag classes, but it was fun to compete on the horticulture/floriculture team at nationals in Kansas City. My ag adventures truly set me a path that has defined my career for more than 20 years. They also explain why I’m sure a big believer in FFA.

As I look back, it’s amazing to think how much FFA has changed, and what hasn’t changed, since those days.

1. More diversity. When I was in FFA, there were usually only three to five girls at most in our chapter. That era wasn’t that far removed from the days when girls were not allowed to join FFA (a change that didn’t come until 1969.) Now girls often outnumber boys in many FFA chapters. I was excited that our local South Central Calhoun FFA chapter offered a Diversity in Ag class for the first time this fall, thanks to advisor Matt Carlson, to help girls learn more about the diverse career options available in ag today.

2. Ability to inspire. As I worked with the Diversity in Ag students, I remembered just how influential adults can be at this point in an FFA student’s life, and how much we can inspire the next generation of ag leaders, if we only take the time.

3. Learning made fun. While “fun” doesn’t come to mind when I think of most of my high school classes, it’s a word I’ve always associated with ag education. That all stems from my positive experiences in FFA, from working in our greenhouse to competing with teams that traveled from Ames to Des Moines to Kansas City.

4. Competition. Speaking of competition, I grew up in the era before everyone got a participation ribbon, and it made all the difference in my outlook on life. I loved competing on our floriculture/horticulture team. Even when I didn’t do well in certain categories likes salesmanship, I learned how to keep trying, keep learning and keep progressing. I also come from a legacy of FFA competitors. My Uncle Jack Dougherty competed in public speaking at the state FFA convention in Des Moines in 1956, where he focused on soil conservation. My family still quotes his words that “when the soil is gone, so are we.”

5. Real-world connections. These FFA lessons, from soil conservation to sales and communication skills, aren’t just academic theory. They have real-world applications that continue to influence my approach to business, farming and life.

6. Broadening your horizons. Being recruiting into FFA opened up a whole new world of career options I might never have considered. While there isn’t an abundance of children of the 1980s Farm Crisis working in agriculture, I consider myself to be one of the fortunate ones, all because Ed Ricks helped me broaden my horizons.

7. Useful knowledge you don’t learn anywhere else. When I’m at a meeting, I can tell who’s an FFA alum and who’s not, simply by whether a person knows how to conduct a meeting properly with parliamentary procedure. This is such a useful skill, and it’s curious to me that FFA is one of the few organizations that seems to understand its value.

8. Giving back. I remember helping plant and water the flowers in the planters around Lake City’s town square as part of our FFA training. While I just thought this was a fun way to get away from school for awhile, lessons like this helped plant the seed of community service in my life.

9. Leadership. As I volunteer with local FFA chapters today, I’m always inspired by the leadership opportunities that kids embrace at the chapter, district, state and even national levels. A dedicated FFA member always stands out among his or her peers. Some of FFA’s most notable alums have ascended to the highest levels of their chosen professions, from President Jimmy Carter to professional athletes like Bo Jackson to country music superstars Tim McGraw and Taylor Swift.

10. Focus on the future. As I look back, I knew I had a good thing going in high school with FFA, but I wish would have understood even better the amazing opportunities I had. It says a lot about an organization when you realize more of its value the longer you’ve been away from it.

It’s always interesting to me that FFA took root in the mid-1920s to counter the trend of boys losing interest in agriculture and leaving the farm. I think of my own FFA story and am still inspired by the wisdom reflected in the the FFA creed:

“I believe in the future of agriculture, with a faith born not of words but of deeds – achievements won by the present and past generations of agriculturists; in the promise of better days through better ways, even as the better things we now enjoy have come to us from the struggles of former years.”

Long live FFA!

P.S. Thanks for joining me. I’m glad you’re here.

Want more?
Thanks for stopping by. I invite you to read more of my blog posts if you value intriguing Iowa stories and history, along with Iowa food, agriculture updates, recipes and tips to make you a better communicator.

If you like what you see and want to be notified when I post new stories, be sure to click on the “subscribe to blog updates/newsletter” button at the top of this page, or click here. Feel free to share this with friends and colleagues who might be interested, too.

Also, if you or someone you know could use my writing services (I’m not only Iowa’s storyteller, but a professionally-trained journalist with 20 years of experience), let’s talk. I work with businesses and organizations within Iowa and across the country to unleash the power of great storytelling to define their brand and connect with their audience through clear, compelling blog posts, articles, news releases, feature stories, newsletter articles, social media, video scripts, and photography. Learn more at www.darcymaulsby.com, or e-mail me at yettergirl@yahoo.com. 

If you’re hungry for more stories of Iowa history, check out my top-selling “Culinary History of Iowa: Sweet Corn, Pork Tenderloins, Maid-Rites and More” book from The History Press. Also take a look at my latest book, “Dallas County,” and my Calhoun County” book from Arcadia Publishing. Both are filled with vintage photos and compelling stories that showcase he history of small-town and rural Iowa. Order your signed copies today! Iowa postcards are available in my online store, too.

Let’s stay in touch. I’m at darcy@darcymaulsby.com, and yettergirl@yahoo.com.

Talk to you soon!

Darcy

@Copyright 2018 Darcy Maulsby & Co.  Blog posts may only be reprinted with permission from Darcy Maulsby. 

In Praise of Ham and Bean Soup

I’ve never understood why a smoky, delicious ham and bean soup is so hard to find. Heck, just a lackluster, ho-hum ham and bean soup is often hard to find.

I always figured no one knows more about ham and bean soup than Iowa farm cooks, especially when those who grew up on a hog farm like I did. Pork galore in all its forms was a staple on our family’s dinner table for generations. Plus, soup night was always Sunday night at our farm—and it still is. What a treat when ham and bean soup is on the menu!

With its rich broth and smoky undertones, there’s nothing like a hearty ham and bean soup to chase away the winter chill (or bitter cold, depending on what Mother Nature throws at us.) As I’ve refined my own recipe through the years, I’ve come to three conclusions:

1. You MUST have a thick, smoked ham hock (also known as a ham shank) to make the magic. No cubes of cured ham are going to cut it, if you want maximum flavor. This is a heavy-duty, low-and-slow kind of job for a tough, smoky ham shank.

2. We’re blessed to have many great meat lockers in Iowa, a reflection of our thriving livestock industry, where I can get fabulous smoked ham hocks. One of my favorite suppliers? Lewright Meats in Eagle Grove, which has been serving northern Iowa since 1936.

3. Adding diced potatoes is a good thing for ham and bean soup. I like to add oomph to my cooking, and how can you go wrong with extra veggies? Adding potatoes might be a bit non-traditional for ham and bean soup, but that’s how I roll.

Smoked ham hock from Iowa

This smoked ham hock from Lewright Meats in Eagle Grove is the key to a great ham and bean soup.

The thing about ham and bean soup is that it can be a palette you fine-tune to your own tastes. Don’t like garlic? Leave it out. Want more onions in the mix? Add another one. (As my dear neighbor and farm cook extraordinaire Alice Ann Dial taught me, onions are a cheap way to add lots of flavor.)

The story behind Congress and Bean Soup

“Thunderation,” roared Speaker of the House Joe Cannon of Illinois. “I had my mouth set for bean soup! From now on, hot or cold, rain, snow, or shine, I want it on the menu every day.”

Obviously, ham and bean soup isn’t just a farm favorite. Turns out it has a rich history in the kitchens of Washington, D.C., too.

While ham and bean soup was a common item on the U.S. House of Representatives’ menu before the turn of the 20th century, it became a permanent fixture in the institution when Speaker Joe Cannon of Illinois discovered that his favorite meal had not been prepared by the kitchen staff on a hot, summer day in 1904.

Cannon, who was the namesake of the Cannon House Office Building, served in the U.S. House for 46 years. Dismayed by that egregious menu omission in 1904, the Speaker directed that bean soup be served in the House every day, regardless of the weather.

More than a century after Speaker Cannon’s decree, bean soup remains on the menu in the House Restaurant, making it one of the more longstanding and famous traditions in the House.

Members of the U.S. House aren’t the only fans of ham and bean soup. It’s also on the menu in the Senate’s restaurant every day. There are several stories about the origin of that mandate, but none has been corroborated.

According to one story, the Senate’s bean soup tradition began early in the 20th-century at the request of Senator Fred Dubois of Idaho. Another story attributes the request to Senator Knute Nelson of Minnesota, who expressed his fondness for the soup in 1903.

The recipe attributed to Dubois includes mashed potatoes and makes a 5-gallon batch. The recipe served in the Senate today does not include mashed potatoes, but does include a braised onion. Click here to check out both Senate recipes.

No matter how you like your ham and bean soup, here’s my take on this American classic. Enjoy, and let me know what you think.

Darcy’s Hearty Ham and Bean Soup

1 smoked ham hock (also called a smoked ham shank)—the meatier, the better
1 48-ounce jar great northern beans (I don’t drain and rinse the beans—I add it all)
3 stalks celery, diced
3 carrots, peeled and sliced
3 to 4 medium potatoes, diced (I prefer Yukon Golds)
1 large onion, chopped
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fresh-ground pepper
Water or chicken stock
Salt, to taste

Place ham hock in slow cooker. Add beans, celery, carrots, potatoes, onion, garlic and pepper. Cover with water or chicken stock until slow cooker is full. (If using water rather than chicken stock, I often add 2 or 3 teaspoons of Better Than Bouillon chicken soup base to add more flavor.)
Cook on low for 8 to 10 hours. (I often prepare the soup in the evening and let it cook overnight.) Remove ham hock, allow it to cool, and remove ham from the bone. Add ham back to the soup. Taste the soup to see if it needs salt. Add salt, if desired. (Some ham hocks add enough flavor to the broth that no salt is needed.)

• Note: homemade soup often develops more flavor if you let it sit in the refrigerator overnight and serve the soup the next day. This Hearty Ham and Bean Soup is so good, though, that I understand if you dig in right away!

P.S. Thanks for joining me. I’m glad you’re here. 

Want more?
Thanks for stopping by. I invite you to read more of my blog posts if you value intriguing Iowa stories and history, along with Iowa food, agriculture updates, recipes and tips to make you a better communicator.

If you like what you see and want to be notified when I post new stories, be sure to click on the “subscribe to blog updates/newsletter” button at the top of this page, or click here. Feel free to share this with friends and colleagues who might be interested, too.

Also, if you or someone you know could use my writing services (I’m not only Iowa’s storyteller, but a professionally-trained journalist with 20 years of experience), let’s talk. I work with businesses and organizations within Iowa and across the country to unleash the power of great storytelling to define their brand and connect with their audience through clear, compelling blog posts, articles, news releases, feature stories, newsletter articles, social media, video scripts, and photography. Learn more at www.darcymaulsby.com, or e-mail me at yettergirl@yahoo.com. 

If you’re hungry for more stories of Iowa history, check out my top-selling “Culinary History of Iowa: Sweet Corn, Pork Tenderloins, Maid-Rites and More” book from The History Press. Also take a look at my latest book, “Dallas County,” and my Calhoun County” book from Arcadia Publishing. Both are filled with vintage photos and compelling stories that showcase he history of small-town and rural Iowa. Order your signed copies today! Iowa postcards are available in my online store, too.

Let’s stay in touch. I’m at darcy@darcymaulsby.com, and yettergirl@yahoo.com.

Talk to you soon!

Darcy

@Copyright 2018 Darcy Maulsby & Co. 

Iconic State Fair Architecture- Historic Buildings Reflect Decades of Memories

The Iowa State Fair is a homecoming for Iowans, and the historic buildings that grace the fairgrounds in Des Moines provide iconic venues for this statewide family reunion. There’s also a lot of surprising history behind many of these structures, from the Agriculture Building to the Livestock Pavilion.

“The Iowa State Fair connects generations of Iowans,” said Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, who spoke during the opening ceremony of the 2017 Iowa State Fair on August 10. “There are so many wonderful memories and traditions here at the fair, which showcases the best of Iowa’s agricultural and cultural heritage.”

While the first Iowa State Fair was held October 25-27, 1854, in Fairfield, supported by a total operating budget of $323, the fair moved to its present location in 1886.

“The state fair moved to this site in Des Moines after the State Legislature and the City of Des Moines appropriated funds to purchase Calvin and Arminta Thornton’s farm,” said Leo Landis, state curator for the State Historical Society of Iowa, who helped lead an Iowa State Fair walking tour on Aug. 10. “One building original to the Thornton farm remains–Grandfather’s Barn, which is on the far eastern edge of the fairgrounds.”

Livestock Pavilion opened in 1902
Between the time the Fair Board purchased the land in June 1886 and when the fair opened in September 1886, crews constructed 67 buildings. “Of those, Pioneer Hall is the only one that remains today,” said Landis, museum curator at the State Historical Museum.

By the 1900 Iowa State Fair, most of the buildings built for the 1886 fair were still in use. They were beginning to show signs of decay, however, and roofs were particularly bad. It was time for the Iowa State Fair to clean up the fairgrounds.

One of the first new buildings added more than a century ago was the Livestock Pavilion. Back in 1901, more than 650 cattle were shown at the Iowa State Fair – only about 50 less than were shown that year at the International Stock Show at Chicago, Landis said. With future Iowa State Fairs expected to have even more cattle, the Iowa Legislature appropriated $37,000 for a fireproof steel-and-brick stock pavilion, similar to one that had just been constructed at the Illinois State Fairgrounds.

The Livestock Pavilion was the first major brick-and-steel structure built at the Iowa State Fairgrounds. “By constructing buildings out of these materials, the Fair Board gave the fair a sense of permanence and safety at this location,” said Landis, who noted that the new Livestock Pavilion officially opened for the 1902 fair and has been used for stock judging, lectures, entertainment and more for decades.

Iowa State Fair Agriculture Building

A new Agriculture Building was constructed in time for the 1904 Iowa State Fair. This famous building is home to the beloved Butter Cow. The Agriculture Building is one of the finest examples of Double Jeffersonian architecture remaining in the world.

1904 State Fair showcased new Agriculture Building
A new Agriculture Building came along two years later, in time for the 1904 Iowa State Fair. Located at the intersection of Grand Avenue and Rock Island Avenue, the Agriculture Building was built along the route to and from the State Fair from the Rock Island Railroad depot.

From the beginning, the Agriculture Building has been used as the agricultural, horticultural and dairy building. It’s home to the famous Butter Cow and other butter sculptures, which have been part of the Iowa State Fair since 1911.

“The Homestead,” a well-known farm newspaper of the late 1800s and early 1900s published in Des Moines, touted the new Agriculture Building as “one of the finest structures for exhibiting products of the farm that can be found in the Central West.”

The building’s design was inspired by the Exposition Halls at the Columbian Exposition, the world’s fair held in Chicago in 1893. The Agriculture Building is one of the finest examples of Double Jeffersonian architecture remaining in the world.

“Building a structure of such grand scale – with 33,800 square feet of floor space – suggested to visitors that the Iowa State Fair was an event of both civic and social importance,” said Jessica Rundlett, special projects and outreach coordinator at State Historical Museum of Iowa, who assisted with the Iowa State Fair walking tour.

Iowa State Fair Swine Barn

Kyle Andrews with the Wayne FFA chapter exhibited hogs during the 2017 Iowa State Fair. The Swine Barn was built in 1907.


Swine Barn design enhanced ventilation

When a new Swine Barn was constructed for the 1907 Iowa State Fair, the roof covered 185,000 square feet of stalls, exhibition areas and two central show rings that could seat more than 800 people. “The Homestead newspaper said you had to see it to believe its grand size,” Landis said.

The state appropriated $75,000 to build the Swine Barn. The building’s roof profile is designed to provide superior lighting and ventilation. The long open windows at roof level and open exterior walls draw in fresh air. Today you can see the Big Boar at the Swine Barn, as well as the Avenue of Breeds, which is coordinated by the North Polk FFA.

Horse Barn cost $25,000
The Horse Barn was completed in 1912 for $25,000 and renovated in 1929. Measuring 156 feet by 224 feet, the new barn could accommodate 132 draft horses and a like number of ponies, according to the Homestead newspaper. Th article also noted the new barn was equipped with water troughs, wash stands, sanitary feed mangers and automatic hayracks, Landis said.

Iowa State Fair Horse Barn

The Horse Barn was completed in 1912 for $25,000 and renovated in 1929.

Cattle Barn named for Iowa farmer
The Iowa State Fair’s building boom of the early twentieth century included the new Cattle Barn, which opened for the 1914 fair. While the original barn could accommodate 108 head of cattle, the barn now has ties for 1,600 cows, thanks to multiple expansions through the years.

Among the early proponents of Iowa’s cattle industry was Iowa Governor William Larrabee of Clermont, Landis noted. Larrabee helped introduced Brown Swiss dairy cattle to Iowa after studying the breed and concluding Brown Swiss were best suited for Iowa’s climate.

Today, the Cattle Barn is named for John Putney, a farmer from Gladbrook who was also a long-time cattle exhibitor, president of the Sale of Champions and beef superintendent. Putney was appointed the first executive director of the Blue Ribbon Foundation, which has raised more than $135 million in the last 25 years to renovate and preserve the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

Iowa State Fair Sheep Barn

In 1915, the state legislature appropriated $14,000 to build a sheep pavilion. The Sheep Barn opened for the 1917 Iowa State Fair. The building is notable for the detailed terra cotta designs on the east façade, including a row of rams’ heads near the roof.

Sheep Pavilion opened for 1917 fair
During the Golden Age of Agriculture, state funding was available to construct a wide range of livestock barns at the Iowa State Fair. In 1915, the state legislature appropriated $14,000 to build a sheep pavilion. The Sheep Barn opened for the 1917 Iowa State Fair. The building is notable for the detailed terra cotta designs on the east façade, including a row of rams’ heads near the roof.

The legacy lives on
The Iowa State Fairgrounds was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. It’s a fitting honor for a unique venue filled with many architectural marvels. “The late Bill Wagner, a preservation architect from Iowa, noted that ‘the complex contains a representative collection of almost all architectural styles for most of the past 200 years,’” Landis said.

Historic buildings are just one of the many reasons the Iowa State Fair is the best state fair in the nation, Reynolds said. “I’m extraordinarily proud of this tradition. Remember—nothing compares to our great Iowa State Fair!”

Take a virtual tour 
The Iowa State Fair Walking Tour can be found on the Iowa Culture App. Either download the app, or log onto dcaapp.com. Click on the featured tour “Star” button on the right and look for the “Iowa State Fair tour.”

Want more?
Thanks for stopping by.  I invite you to read more of my blog posts if you want more more intriguing Iowa stories and history, along with Iowa food, recipes and tips to make you a better communicator. If you like what you see and want to be notified when I post new stories, be sure to click on the “subscribe to blog updates/newsletter” button at the top of this page. Feel free to share this information with friends and colleagues who might be interested, too.

If you’re hungry for more stories of Iowa history, check out my top-selling “Culinary History of Iowa: Sweet Corn, Pork Tenderloins, Maid-Rites and More” book from The History Press, as well as my Calhoun County” book from Arcadia Publishing, which showcases the history of small-town and rural Iowa. Order your signed copies today! Iowa postcards are available in my online store, too.

Let’s stay in touch. I’m at darcy@darcymaulsby.com, and yettergirl@yahoo.com.

P.S. Thanks for joining me. I’m glad you’re here. 

@Copyright 2017 Darcy Maulsby & Co. 

About me:
Some people know me as Darcy Dougherty Maulsby, while others call me Yettergirl. I grew up on a Century Farm between Lake City and Yetter and am proud to call Calhoun County, Iowa, home. I’m an author, writer, marketer, business owner and entrepreneur who specializes in agriculture.  Learn more at www.darcymaulsby.com. 

Iconic State Fair Architecture: Historic Buildings Reflect Decades of Memories

The Iowa State Fair is a homecoming for Iowans, and the historic buildings that grace the fairgrounds in Des Moines provide iconic venues for this statewide family reunion. There’s also a lot of surprising history behind many of these structures, from the Agriculture Building to the Livestock Pavilion.

“The Iowa State Fair connects generations of Iowans,” said Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, who spoke during the opening ceremony of the 2017 Iowa State Fair on August 10. “There are so many wonderful memories and traditions here at the fair, which showcases the best of Iowa’s agricultural and cultural heritage.”

While the first Iowa State Fair was held October 25-27, 1854, in Fairfield, supported by a total operating budget of $323, the fair moved to its present location in 1886.

“The state fair moved to this site in Des Moines after the State Legislature and the City of Des Moines appropriated funds to purchase Calvin and Arminta Thornton’s farm,” said Leo Landis, state curator for the State Historical Society of Iowa, who helped lead an Iowa State Fair walking tour on Aug. 10. “One building original to the Thornton farm remains–Grandfather’s Barn, which is on the far eastern edge of the fairgrounds.”

Livestock Pavilion opened in 1902
Between the time the Fair Board purchased the land in June 1886 and when the fair opened in September 1886, crews constructed 67 buildings. “Of those, Pioneer Hall is the only one that remains today,” said Landis, museum curator at the State Historical Museum.

By the 1900 Iowa State Fair, most of the buildings built for the 1886 fair were still in use. They were beginning to show signs of decay, however, and roofs were particularly bad. It was time for the Iowa State Fair to clean up the fairgrounds.

One of the first new buildings added more than a century ago was the Livestock Pavilion. Back in 1901, more than 650 cattle were shown at the Iowa State Fair – only about 50 less than were shown that year at the International Stock Show at Chicago, Landis said. With future Iowa State Fairs expected to have even more cattle, the Iowa Legislature appropriated $37,000 for a fireproof steel-and-brick stock pavilion, similar to one that had just been constructed at the Illinois State Fairgrounds.

The Livestock Pavilion was the first major brick-and-steel structure built at the Iowa State Fairgrounds. “By constructing buildings out of these materials, the Fair Board gave the fair a sense of permanence and safety at this location,” said Landis, who noted that the new Livestock Pavilion officially opened for the 1902 fair and has been used for stock judging, lectures, entertainment and more for decades.

Iowa State Fair Agriculture Building

A new Agriculture Building was constructed in time for the 1904 Iowa State Fair. This famous building is home to the beloved Butter Cow. The Agriculture Building is one of the finest examples of Double Jeffersonian architecture remaining in the world.

1904 State Fair showcased new Agriculture Building
A new Agriculture Building came along two years later, in time for the 1904 Iowa State Fair. Located at the intersection of Grand Avenue and Rock Island Avenue, the Agriculture Building was built along the route to and from the State Fair from the Rock Island Railroad depot.

From the beginning, the Agriculture Building has been used as the agricultural, horticultural and dairy building. It’s home to the famous Butter Cow and other butter sculptures, which have been part of the Iowa State Fair since 1911.

“The Homestead,” a well-known farm newspaper of the late 1800s and early 1900s published in Des Moines, touted the new Agriculture Building as “one of the finest structures for exhibiting products of the farm that can be found in the Central West.”

The building’s design was inspired by the Exposition Halls at the Columbian Exposition, the world’s fair held in Chicago in 1893. The Agriculture Building is one of the finest examples of Double Jeffersonian architecture remaining in the world.

“Building a structure of such grand scale – with 33,800 square feet of floor space – suggested to visitors that the Iowa State Fair was an event of both civic and social importance,” said Jessica Rundlett, special projects and outreach coordinator at State Historical Museum of Iowa, who assisted with the Iowa State Fair walking tour.

Iowa State Fair Swine Barn

Kyle Andrews with the Wayne FFA chapter exhibited hogs during the 2017 Iowa State Fair. The Swine Barn was built in 1907.


Swine Barn design enhanced ventilation

When a new Swine Barn was constructed for the 1907 Iowa State Fair, the roof covered 185,000 square feet of stalls, exhibition areas and two central show rings that could seat more than 800 people. “The Homestead newspaper said you had to see it to believe its grand size,” Landis said.

The state appropriated $75,000 to build the Swine Barn. The building’s roof profile is designed to provide superior lighting and ventilation. The long open windows at roof level and open exterior walls draw in fresh air. Today you can see the Big Boar at the Swine Barn, as well as the Avenue of Breeds, which is coordinated by the North Polk FFA.

Horse Barn cost $25,000
The Horse Barn was completed in 1912 for $25,000 and renovated in 1929. Measuring 156 feet by 224 feet, the new barn could accommodate 132 draft horses and a like number of ponies, according to the Homestead newspaper. Th article also noted the new barn was equipped with water troughs, wash stands, sanitary feed mangers and automatic hayracks, Landis said.

 

Iowa State Fair Horse Barn

The Horse Barn was completed in 1912 for $25,000 and renovated in 1929.

Cattle Barn named for Iowa farmer
The Iowa State Fair’s building boom of the early twentieth century included the new Cattle Barn, which opened for the 1914 fair. While the original barn could accommodate 108 head of cattle, the barn now has ties for 1,600 cows, thanks to multiple expansions through the years.

Among the early proponents of Iowa’s cattle industry was Iowa Governor William Larrabee of Clermont, Landis noted. Larrabee helped introduced Brown Swiss dairy cattle to Iowa after studying the breed and concluding Brown Swiss were best suited for Iowa’s climate.

Today, the Cattle Barn is named for John Putney, a farmer from Gladbrook who was also a long-time cattle exhibitor, president of the Sale of Champions and beef superintendent. Putney was appointed the first executive director of the Blue Ribbon Foundation, which has raised more than $135 million in the last 25 years to renovate and preserve the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

 

Iowa State Fair Sheep Barn

In 1915, the state legislature appropriated $14,000 to build a sheep pavilion. The Sheep Barn opened for the 1917 Iowa State Fair. The building is notable for the detailed terra cotta designs on the east façade, including a row of rams’ heads near the roof.

Sheep Pavilion opened for 1917 fair
During the Golden Age of Agriculture, state funding was available to construct a wide range of livestock barns at the Iowa State Fair. In 1915, the state legislature appropriated $14,000 to build a sheep pavilion. The Sheep Barn opened for the 1917 Iowa State Fair. The building is notable for the detailed terra cotta designs on the east façade, including a row of rams’ heads near the roof.

The legacy lives on
The Iowa State Fairgrounds was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. It’s a fitting honor for a unique venue filled with many architectural marvels. “The late Bill Wagner, a preservation architect from Iowa, noted that ‘the complex contains a representative collection of almost all architectural styles for most of the past 200 years,’” Landis said.

Historic buildings are just one of the many reasons the Iowa State Fair is the best state fair in the nation, Reynolds said. “I’m extraordinarily proud of this tradition. Remember—nothing compares to our great Iowa State Fair!”

Take a virtual tour 
The Iowa State Fair Walking Tour can be found on the Iowa Culture App. Either download the app, or log onto dcaapp.com. Click on the featured tour “Star” button on the right and look for the “Iowa State Fair tour.”

Want more?
Thanks for stopping by.  I invite you to read more of my blog posts if you want more more intriguing Iowa stories and history, along with Iowa food, recipes and tips to make you a better communicator. If you like what you see and want to be notified when I post new stories, be sure to click on the “subscribe to blog updates/newsletter” button at the top of this page. Feel free to share this information with friends and colleagues who might be interested, too.

If you’re hungry for more stories of Iowa history, check out my top-selling “Culinary History of Iowa: Sweet Corn, Pork Tenderloins, Maid-Rites and More” book from The History Press, as well as my Calhoun County” book from Arcadia Publishing, which showcases the history of small-town and rural Iowa. Order your signed copies today! Iowa postcards are available in my online store, too.

Let’s stay in touch. I’m at darcy@darcymaulsby.com, and yettergirl@yahoo.com.

P.S. Thanks for joining me. I’m glad you’re here. 

@Copyright 2017 Darcy Maulsby & Co. 

About me:
Some people know me as Darcy Dougherty Maulsby, while others call me Yettergirl. I grew up on a Century Farm between Lake City and Yetter and am proud to call Calhoun County, Iowa, home. I’m an author, writer, marketer, business owner and entrepreneur who specializes in agriculture.  Learn more at www.darcymaulsby.com. 

Remembering Ambassador Branstad’s Legacy from the 1980s Farm Crisis in Iowa

A morning talk-show host on WHO Radio in Des Moines posed an interesting question when former Iowa Governor Terry Branstad was confirmed as the U.S. ambassador to China on May 22, 2017. The broadcaster asked what might define Branstad’s enduring legacy, and he suggested it may be Branstad’s service during the 1980s Farm Crisis.

The more I thought about it, the more I agreed. I was just a kid in the 1980s Farm Crisis and didn’t really understand what was happening, but I knew it was bad. I remembering writing a poem about the Farm Crisis in 7th grade in 1987 for my contribution for a time capsule that was buried in Lake City.

Sheltered as I was from my family’s financial realities, I had no idea my dad only made $800 one year during the peak of the Farm Crisis. Still, that was far better than what some other farmers were experiencing. As one farmer told me during a recent interview about his family’s Century Farm, the thing he dreaded the most during the Farm Crisis was the phone ringing. “You never knew who it might be or what bad news it might be,” he said.

The Farm Crisis was just starting its brutal transformation of Iowa agriculture when Terry Branstad was first elected governor of Iowa in 1982. This new era was a far cry from the heady go-go days of the 1970s, when agriculture was booming, and making good money in farming was not only possible, but almost easy.

Farmers were hurting 
By the early 1980s, however, a combination of national and international factors, including a Federal Reserve Board policy of high interest rates to fight inflation and a grain embargo against the Soviet Union, devastated the farm economy. Crop prices to dropped below the cost of production. Land values plummeted. Countless rural Iowa banks closed.

“All of us who lived in Iowa at the time saw friends and neighbors lose their family farms and struggle with what to do next to earn a living,” said Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, who recalled the Farm Crisis in a 2015 press release he issued about Branstad becoming the longest-serving governor in the nation’s history.

By the time Branstad took office as governor, individual farmers across the state were hurting. No one really wanted to believe it was as bad as it was, but agriculture was in serious trouble.

In early December 1985, an eastern farmer who was apparently distraught over his finances killed the president of his bank, his neighbor and his own wife before he killed himself. Dale Burr, 63, who farmed near Lone Tree, made national headlines after he walked into the Hills Bank and Trust Company and shot its president, John Hughes, with a 12-gauge shotgun.

With farmers in desperate need of help, the Iowa governor’s office created the Rural Concern Hotline to provide assistance where possible. The state tried to help producers with debt restructuring as much as it could.

As the Farm Crisis deepened by the mid-1980s, however, one of the biggest frustrations was the seeming indifference from officials in Washington, D.C. “President Reagan was very supportive and sympathetic,” Branstad recalled in an Iowa Public Television documentary about the Farm Crisis. “Unfortunately, David Stockman, who worked for him and who was the director of the Office of Management and Budget, was pretty cavalier in his attitude. Considering all the stress and challenges we were going through in Iowa, we didn’t just take no for an answer.”

Hollywood goes to Congress, Branstad creates a new environment for business 
Even Hollywood took note. Two popular films, Country and The River, drew the eyes of America to the plight of the nation’s farm families. Soon, Hollywood stars like Jessica Lange were testifying before Congress about the Farm Crisis.

Far from Congress and Hollywood, however, Branstad relied on his small-town and farm background to lead Iowa through the Farm Crisis.

“The state needed men and women with vision and ambition to pull the economy out of the doldrums,” Grassley noted. “It needed people who could see the potential for farmers to add value to their operations and for Iowa to diversify its economy. Terry Branstad was one of those people.”

Branstad was at the forefront of creating a new environment to do business. He welcomed and actively encouraged innovation that would capitalize on Iowa’s bedrock work ethic and strong schools. As a result, agriculture continues to be a mainstay of the Iowa economy while providing the economic engine that benefits many other employment sectors, including renewable energy, manufacturing, crop research and much more.

Ironically, some of Branstad’s actions in the Farm Crisis didn’t seem that significant at the time but would benefit agriculture decades in the future. In 1985, while still in his first term as governor, Branstad welcomed Xi Jinping, who was then a Communist party official and feed cooperative director from Hebei Province. Xi Jinping, who is now the president of China, spent several days in Muscatine in 1985 leading a delegation of Chinese government officials who saw Iowa agriculture first-hand and became acquainted with Iowa farm families.

That visit 32 years ago forged an unlikely bond between China and rural Iowa that endures today. I believe this bodes well for rural Iowa and our role in the global economy as Branstad serves as America’s ambassador to China.

It’s also a large feather in the cap of an Iowa farm kid from Leland, population 284, whose legacy as Iowa’s governor and ambassador to China can’t be told accurately without looking back to those painful, pivotal days of the 1980s Farm Crisis.

Want more?
Thanks for stopping by. I invite you to read more of my blog posts if you want more more intriguing Iowa stories and history, along with Iowa food, recipes and tips to make you a better communicator. If you like what you see and want to be notified when I post new stories, be sure to click on the “subscribe to blog updates/newsletter” button at the top of this page. Feel free to share this information with friends and colleagues who might be interested, too.

Let’s stay in touch. I’m at darcy@darcymaulsby.com.

P.S. Thanks for joining me. I’m glad you’re here. 

@Copyright 2017 Darcy Maulsby & Co. 

About me:
Some people know me as Darcy Dougherty Maulsby, while others call me Yettergirl. I grew up on a Century Farm between Lake City and Yetter and am proud to call Calhoun County, Iowa, home. I’m an author, writer, marketer, business owner and entrepreneur who specializes in agriculture.  Learn more at www.darcymaulsby.com. 

This column first appeared in Farm News in June 2017. 

 

“Thank God It’s Over:” Iowa Veteran Recalls the Final Days of World War 2

While V-E Day (Victory in Europe) was proclaimed “the celebration heard ‘round the world,” it was only a temporary reprieve for Harold Geisinger. This 19-year-old Iowa farm boy from Storm Lake was on his way to Le Havre, France, with the U.S. Army when Germany surrendered unconditionally to the Allies on May 7, 1945.

After a low-key celebration, Geisinger and his fellow soldiers boarded a box car in France bound for Hanover, Germany. Geisinger then joined a convoy in Bavaria, the section of Germany where American troops were guarding railroads, train depots, irrigation sites and more.

While the war was over in Europe, fighting continued on the other side of the globe. In the summer of 1945, there was talk that Geisinger and his fellow soldiers would likely be on board the next U.S. military ship bound for the Pacific Theater. Everything changed, however, when Japan surrendered on Sept. 2, 1945, following President Harry S. Truman’s orders to drop two atomic bombs on Japan in August 1945.

“When we got the word that Japan quit, we didn’t celebrate,” said Geisinger, 91, who still gets tears in his eyes when he thinks back to those days nearly 72 years ago. “We simply sat down and said, ‘Thank God it’s over.’”

After graduating from Storm Lake High School in 1944, Harold Geisinger was drafted into the U.S. Army on Aug. 2, 1944. “Back then, we all wanted to serve,” he said.

Battle of the Bulge put Geisinger on the fast track
As a World War 2 veteran, Geisinger is becoming a rare breed. Only 620,000 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II were alive in 2016, according to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs statistics.

Like many members of the Greatest Generation, Geisinger’s life would never be the same after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. “I was walking up the steps of our house and the radio was on,” said Geisinger, who stills lives in this house on the north edge of Storm Lake. “That’s when I heard the news about Pearl Harbor.”

After graduating from Storm Lake High School in 1944, Geisinger was drafted into the U.S. Army on Aug. 2, 1944. “Back then, we all wanted to serve,” he said.

Following 17 weeks of basic training in Arkansas, things moved quickly for Geisinger. “As my basic training was ending, the Battle of the Bulge was beginning, so the Army fast tracked us,” said Geisinger, who left on Christmas Day 1944 for Camp Myles Standish in Massachusetts. This U.S. Army camp functioned as a departure area for thousands of U.S. soldiers during World War 2.

In mid-December 1944, Germany had launched its last major offensive and intended to split the Allied armies. This surprise blitzkrieg in northwest Europe, which became known as the Battle of the Bulge, did not turn the tide of the war in Adolph Hitler’s favor but did result in American and civilian casualties.

The Battle of the Bulge was still raging when Geisinger shipped out for Europe on January 2, 1945. “I was on my two-week ‘ocean cruise,’” said Geisinger, who had turned 19 just a few days earlier on Christmas Eve.

When Geisinger and his fellow soldiers with the Army’s 83rd Infantry Division, Company I, arrived at Le Havre, France, they were transferred to railroad box cars bound for Givet, a small community in the north of France, near the Belgian border. “These box cars were called ’40 by 8s,’ meaning they could hold 40 men or 8 horses,” said Geisinger, who recalled that it was close to a month after he left America before he had the chance to take a real shower—not just a saltwater shower on the ship.

The Battle of the Bulge was still raging when Harold Geisinger shipped out for Europe on January 2, 1945. Geisinger and his division spent most of their time training in the Hürtgen Forest, located along the border between Belgium and Germany. “Our division was preparing to push across Germany,” Geisinger said.

Much worse than the shower situation, however, were the frigid January temperatures and lack of adequate overshoes during the box car ride. “I froze my feet,” Geisinger recalled.

After reaching their destination, Geisinger and his division spent most of their time training in the Hürtgen Forest, located along the border between Belgium and Germany. “Our division was preparing to push across Germany,” Geisinger said.

In the meantime, however, Geisinger was waging his own battle with a cough that wouldn’t go away. The coughing became severe that he couldn’t eat. On Feb. 14, 1945, he had to go on sick call and was diagnosed with viral pneumonia. Geisinger returned to France and was transferred to a hospital in southern England at Newton Abbot. “I was there two months with no medicine,” said Geisinger, who eventually recovered and returned to active duty.

In early May 1945, Geisinger was crossing the English Channel in a ship bound for Le Havre, France, when he heard the news that Germany had surrendered. Although Hitler and the Nazis had been defeated, Geisinger knew he wouldn’t be returning home to northwest Iowa anytime soon. After boarding another box car, Geisinger headed to Bavaria to rejoin Company I and the men he had served with before.

Everyone wondered if they’d be called to fight the war in Japan. “Had we shipped out, some said we would have left from Marseille in southern France and sailed around Cape Horn and onto Japan,” Geisinger said. “When I heard that Japan surrendered, I kept thinking, ‘Someday we’ll get to go home.’”

Transitioning from solider to farmer
That day wouldn’t come for months, however. Geisinger remained in Europe and remembers pulling guard duty along the Danube River. He crossed the river with a buddy one night to meet Russian soldiers on the other side.

“We drank a little beer with a Russian sergeant and tried to communicate using hand signals and the little bit of German we and the Russian had picked up,” Geisinger said. “The one thing the Russian sergeant wanted was American uniforms. He wanted all the American uniforms he could get.”

Geisinger couldn’t access any uniforms other than the one he was wearing. He had no idea why the sergeant wanted American uniforms, although he later suspected an ulterior motive. “I assumed it was for infiltration,” said Geisinger, whose distrust of the Russian sergeant proved accurate as the Cold War heated up.

As he sits in his home office, Harold Geisinger looks through pieces of the past, including World War 2 history books.

By the time Geisinger was honorably discharged from the Army, he had achieved the rank of corporal. He looked forward to returning to Storm Lake to farm and finally reached home in July 1946. By then, agriculture had entered a new era as the transition to mechanical horsepower from traditional horsepower became complete. New equipment like combines also became more common in row-crop production.

Geisinger started farming with his father, L.J. Geisinger, on the Washington Township farm north of Storm Lake that had been in their family since 1915. Geisinger also used the G.I. Bill to earn his pilot’s license and enjoyed flying for many years.

Geisinger and his wife, Laura May, a Storm Lake High School classmate, raised their three children on the farm, along with corn, soybeans, hay, cattle and hogs. Farming still interests Geisinger, who helps run the field cultivator in the spring and helps combine in the fall. “I even planted some beans this spring,” said Geisinger, who is proud of the rich heritage of his family’s Century Farm in Buena Vista County.

For decades, Geisinger served as a rifleman in the color guard unit in Alta (VFW Post 6172). While he has retired from these duties, his memories of World War 2 remain vivid, and he’s proud he was able to serve his country.

“My military experiences gave me more of global view of the world,” Geisinger said. “Even though a lot has changed since World War 2 and America has its deficiencies, I don’t know of a better place to call home.”

Harold Geisinger’s memories of World War 2 remain vivid, and he’s proud he was able to serve his country.

It was truly an honor to meet Harold Geisinger in May 2017 and interview him at his home and at his family’s farm north of Storm Lake, Iowa. He is a living legacy of America’s Greatest Generation. I’m forever grateful that Harold and hundreds of thousands of others like him were willing to serve.  I’m also thankful he was willing to share his stories with me so I can share them with you. (I originally wrote this article for the Memorial Day 2017 of Farm News.)

Want more Iowa culture and history?
I invite you to read more of my blog posts if you want more Iowa stories, history and recipes, as well as tips to make you a better communicator. If you like what you see and want to be notified when I post new stories, be sure to click on the “subscribe to blog updates/newsletter” button at the top of this page. Let’s stay in touch.

Also, if you enjoyed Harold’s military story, be sure to check out my Memorial Day 2017 post on “How to Thank Veterans for Their Service.” I interviewed two recently-retired U.S. Marines from the Wounded Warrior Battalion, and their insights are invaluable.

If you’re hungry for more stories of Iowa history, check out my top-selling “Culinary History of Iowa: Sweet Corn, Pork Tenderloins, Maid-Rites and More” book from The History Press, as well as my Calhoun County” book from Arcadia Publishing, which showcases the history of small-town and rural Iowa. Order your signed copies today! Iowa postcards are available in my online store, too.

P.S. Thanks for joining me. I’m glad you’re here. 

@Copyright 2017 Darcy Maulsby & Co. 

Harold Geisinger served with the U.S. Army’s 83rd Infantry Division, Company I,


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