In the Heartland
CLARION – The biggest attraction at the Heartland Museum, a tractor called Big Bud, lives up to its billing.
The behemoth machine, which can plow 1.3 acres a minute with an 80-foot chisel plow, dwarfs anyone standing next to its 8-foot tires.
There are eight of them on the 14-foot-tall, 20-foot-wide and 28-foot-long tractor. According to museum board member Maurice Riley, they’re the reason the monster was retired.
“The tires wore out and they couldn’t get new ones,” Riley said. “They quit making them.”
Volunteer Pam Townsend is also impressed by the machine, especially the noise level when its twin turbo 960 horsepower engine roars to life.
She said they plan to install a sound system to mimic the noise.
“We’ll have a button to make the engine roar for the kids,” she said.
The tractor, on loan from its owner in Montana, wouldn’t fit anywhere within the existing museum.
“We built this big red shed just for him,” Townsend said.
The big machine shed’s doors are just barely big enough to drive through; there is less than a foot of clearance between the top of the cab and the rafters.
His size keeps him home. Riley said that it takes two semitrailers to transport Big Bud – one for the body and another to haul the huge tires.
There will be no parades for him this summer.
“He’s too big,” Townsend said. “He doesn’t get around much anymore.”
Big Bud would be an expensive fill-up if he did. The fuel tank holds 1,000 gallons of diesel. At current pump prices, that’s more than 10 percent of the tractor’s original $300,000 cost.
There are several other new attractions to greet visitors to the museum this season, including a scale model of the USS Constitution, also known as “Old Ironsides.” It’s the U.S. Navy’s oldest commissioned ship and was launched in 1797.
“Our model is built by Dale Feller,” Townsend said. “The display case was constructed by George Boyington.”
It’s highly detailed. The more a visitor looks, the more they see, from miniature brass cannon to sails and oars in the lifeboats.
The museum’s volunteers have also redone the Train Room. It features artifacts and photos from the Rock Island and Chicago Great Western railroads, both of which served Clarion. In addition, a large display case holds a wide assortment of model trains in O, S and HO scales.
The main exhibition area is divided into three main streets, each one depicting stores from a different era. The first is Victorian, the second the 1930s and the third the not-so-long-ago 1950s.
There is also a new library. The design is an homage to Frank Lloyd Wright.
“All they had was a picture in a magazine to go by,” Townsend said, “It’s amazing.”
The 1930s street features an oddity that few today would recognize, a fluoroscopic shoe-fitting machine. The customer would put their feet, or quite often their children’s feet, into a hole in the front of the machine where the feet were bombarded with X-rays that hit a special screen to produce an image.
The potentially dangerous machines were not actually banned until the 1970s, and even then only by some states,
Townsend remembers them.
“I’m amazed we all have toes,” she said.
For visitors who look, there is an illuminated X-ray picture inside that demonstrates, without any radiation, what a customer would see.
In the 1950s lane, visitors will find a display honoring Woolstock native George Reeves who played Superman on television, across from the soda fountain, something his character would have known exactly what do with.
There’s also a 1950s-vintage phone booth made out of wood.
“It’s where Superman changed,” Townsend said.
When it was donated, it was covered with thick paint and had been outside, Maurice Riley is proud of the restoration work the volunteers did.
“That’s the beautiful wood we found under it,” he said of the now natural finish.
There are many other things to see in the Heartland Museum. The Ag Room contains an extensive collection of meticulously restored tractors and other farm equipment, horse-drawn wagons – including a hearse – and even a few vintage lawn mowers.
There is also an extensive collection of more than 2,000 farm toys.
There’s part of Clarion native Alvina Sellers’ 6,000-plus hat collection and plenty of teddy bears, including examples from bear artist Steve Schutt.
And there’s a wood replica of the Iowa State House by Arthur Berkenes, as well as a large table top map showing the whole of Wright County.
Riley said that it’s the only county in the U.S. with a courthouse located precisely in the center of the exactly square county, something that happened in 1856.
“The supervisors got tired of the bickering and said we’re going to put it in the exact center,” he said.
For visitors who wish to stay the night, or get caught spilling food on the exhibits, there is even a greybar hotel.
“These are the original jail cells from Clarion,” Riley said. “They have all the comforts of home.”
The museum opens for the season this weekend. It is open Saturday, Sunday and Monday from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Regular museum hours are Wednesday and Saturday from 1:30 to 4 p.m. and holidays. Admission is $6 for adults, $3 for children.
The museum is open through Labor Day.
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