Iowa man turns hobby into a museum


June 6th, 2011 by Ric Hanson

MISSOURI VALLEY, Iowa (AP) — Charlie Wisecup began to collect antique farm equipment in 1981. Twenty years and more than 100 machines later, he opened up Wisecup’s Farm Museum in 2001.

“This started because of my love of farming,” said Wisecup, 75. “It was my hobby. Once I started collecting, you get two or three items, and then you want to have four. Then you start thinking you ought to preserve the past.

“I want to have it here for future generations.”

Wisecup’s Farm Museum, 1200 Canal St. off of U.S. Highway 30 in Missouri Valley, features more than 100 tractors and farm implements, ranging in model years from the early 1900s through the 1960s. Two barns house memorabilia from the late 1800s and early 1900s.

During a tour of the museum, president and former curator Russ Zack explained each and every item, leaving out no details.

“This here is an old steel wheel tractor from the 1920s. Double fuel, it ran on kerosene and gasoline. About 17 horsepower,” he said. “About the same as a lawnmower. And the tractor moves just as fast.”

Zack, 30, starts many sentences with “This here is” or “Oh, I should tell you about this.” His passion for the museum shines through, a product of his upbringing on a Woodbine farm.

“I never fit into the city crowd. I grew up with this. It’s familiar to me,” he said, adding about the importance of the museum: “I want to help preserve the past. People have to be reminded every once in a while where we come from.”

The north barn at the museum features “rooms” with antique household items, including a dining room, kitchen, parlor, bedroom and more. The museum holds a few country music events in the barn each year.

“This is a barn, so you’ll see frogs and spiders and bugs and birds,” Zack said as the tour began. “I kick them out at night.”

The south barn features old-time shops, including a doctor’s office, surveyor’s office and mercantile store. A replica one-room schoolhouse is nearby. New items include a refurbished U-diesel Minneapolis-Moline from the 1950s and a native prairie enclosure. A replica church is under construction.

A 1962 Minneapolis-Moline tractor outside runs on propane. Zack starts the machine up, turning the tank knob to get the propane flowing.

“Whew, stinky,” he said.

Zack estimated that about 80 percent of the tractors at the museum still run.

Wisecup grew up on the museum grounds. He farmed with his father, Art, and eventually took over. They used Minneapolis-Moline machinery, Wisecup said.

In 1981, his aunt gave him a 1947 Minneapolis-Moline “Z” tractor, which started his collection of antique farm equipment, though he began collecting in earnest in 1991.

Friend Bob Hansen, a Crescent farmer, helped teach him how to restore the old tractors, while another friend, Ray Wright of Missouri Valley, helped him paint.

“It turned into a neighborhood thing,” Wisecup said. “In the winter time, guys would show up at the shop and help me work on my tractors.”

The museum grew out of his collection.

“The location makes it nice,” Wisecup said of his Highway 30 digs. “The museum kind of turned into what it is by itself.”

The farmland is now tilled by Wisecup’s son, Lee, with the museum providing an eclectic fa�ade. Much of what’s displayed was donated to Wisecup over the years.

“A lot of the stuff I had out there, a lot of people gave it to me because they didn’t want their family to take it to the junkyard or the iron man,” he said. “They’d rather see it preserved.”

Wisecup told the story of a corn sheller that showed up at the museum one day. He said it took about three months to figure out who had donated the machine.

“Anytime you show up there’s a possibility something new will be there,” Wisecup said.