Sunday, July 17, 2016

Casy, Illinois and Guinness World Records

Big things in a small town

The largest chair in the world is Casey, Illinois

How did residents of a small town — previously overlooked by tourists — call attention to their community’s attractions and businesses?

In Casey, Ill., they built eight remarkable objects.

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The town of less than 3,000 people 135 miles east of St. Louis off of Interstate 70 constructed the landmarks, each to be the largest of its kind, according to the Guinness World Records book. They plan to build more massive attractions.

During a fateful stop at an Illinois tourist information center on I-70, a guide encouraged us to stop in Casey to view some of the unusually huge objects. To pique our interest, she told us the tale of the giant rocking chair.

Fanning, Mo., originally laid claim to the largest rocking chair in the world. Jim Bolin, vice president of the family-run Bolin Enterprise Inc. in Casey, spent three years working with a crew to win the title.

They used old telephone poles as the basis for the chair and eventually to build not only the world’s largest rocking chair, but it also is considered the largest chair in all of America at a towering 56½ feet. Fanning workers painted the chair red, making it the largest red chair in the world.

Despite their towering size, it was actually pretty difficult to find all eight of Casey’s wonders. We found the largest mailbox in the world off main street, its giant maw waiting for a big delivery from the post office, although a bit too high off the ground to actually receive a package. A giant birdcage was across the street, though the cage wasn’t large enough to set a world record.

World's largest mailbox

Being new to town, it took a bit of time to find the 55-foot wind chimes that weigh 8½ tons. They were hiding in a small park that in turn was in front of a workshop where the items are made.

The young man working there said his boss, the aforementioned Bolin, thought Casey could improve its economy by attracting visitors off the highway to see various world record-holders. He recognized that quite a few towns have one item that is the world’s largest, noting the attraction became an icon for those communities.  Bolin started to think that Casey didn’t have an icon. Instead, he thought an abundance of items listed in the Guinness World Records book might put the town “back on the map.”

With help from his family, co-workers and volunteers, they created eight big winners and a number of smaller objects. Visitors have been a draw to Casey, and Bolin continues to think up new creations.

Inside the shop, we could see a giant rocking horse. The horse doesn’t hold a world record, but it certainly was large enough that any children strolling through the store would stare in amazement and ask for a ride.

As we searched for the giant wooden Dutch clogs, several groups of teenagers were covering the same territory.

The town also has the world’s largest pencil, golf tee, knitting needles and crochet hook and pitchfork. As we left town, we drove past the world’s largest wooden token in front of a restaurant.

Has it worked? Our informant said the gargantuan creations have led many people to from the highway to view the free attractions. Town officials expect that draw to only increase as more of Bolin’s ideas become reality.

Giant rocking horse in Casey

Monday, July 11, 2016

Dutch Village, Pella, Iowa


In Pella, Iowa our tour guide, a man with a Dutch ancestry, introduced us to the Historic Dutch Village, often described as America's Dutch Treasure.  Last week we wrote about the Vermeer Mill at the center of the village--the tallest working grain mill in the U.S.  This week we will focus on the rest of the story--the other attractions.

First a short film told us about the original 800 emigrants who left Holland because of religious repression and moved as a group to Iowa in 1847. They had earlier purchased the land as a group and found only a few completed cabins and had to make do with sod huts for the first few years.

Inside a sod house of 1847

Mereah Scholte the wife of Dominee (Minister) Hendrik Scholte the group's leader, had been used to servants and fine quarters in Holland--when she saw the log cabin that was to be her home she broke into tears and cried for days.  Fortunately the other new-comers handled the situation with more aplomb and made the transition to even living in sod houses successfully.   

The historic village is in honor of the hardships these and follow up Dutch immigrants endured and the success they made of their new lives here in America.    

Scattered among the 22 buildings in the historical village were flower gardens with several ladies carefully tending  them. We looked at the sod house that was a model of what many of the newcomers lived in and mostly had to build as their first abode. To make one they dug up blocks of sod with thickly rooted prairie grass and piled the blocks on top of  each other.  The roofs were often made from intertwined tree branches that were then covered with more sod blocks, making a grass surface. 

All of the artifacts inside this sod house dated back to 1847 including the large wooden trunks from the Netherlands that were used as tables and benches. 

The log cabin that represented  the first permanent homes built here looked a bit more comfortable and probably didn’t have the same problems with mice and bugs the sod house did.   It took a while to move beyond cabins and soddies to build a community of wooden houses because the wood had to be brought in from Minnesota.  

A log cabin from the 1850's

Metal tulips were for sale in the blacksmith shop. The woodworker’s shop introduced us to some very artistic wooden shoes that were not for sale.  In another shop visitors could buy wooden shoes but they were unadorned. 

Heritage Hall has a variety of historical items on display, with costumes of the period on a variety of manikins.   We stopped at the puppet theater and practiced a bit with the puppets.

Aside from the Dutch history buildings one house is given over the Earp family who lived in Pella  for a number of years.   One of their sons Wyatt became a famous lawman in Dodge City, Kansas and Tombstone, Arizona.  Most of us have probably seen at least one movie revolving around the gunfight at the OK Correl.  Artifacts from the Earp family are on display in five rooms of the house.

A special treat was the top floor of the visitor's center where there was a miniature Dutch village with great detail given to the different kinds of houses and shops and the miniature people who inhabited the village.  Outside the door was a wood carved forty horse team that had actually existed as a show item because it took a great deal of skill to manipulate this many horses since each horse had to have reins connected to them.

A miniature Dutch Village showing where the settlers came from

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Pella, Iowa Dutch Windmill

Authentic Dutch Windmill Pella, Iowa

Vermeer Windmill Pella, Iowa

In our travels, we always are interested in learning about changes that have improved our world. A recent trip to Iowa allowed us a chance to marvel at the evolution of Dutch windmills.

We spent three years in Europe while Wayne was teaching for the U.S. Air Force, including six months in Holland. In our little Dutch village, we became aware of the importance of the windmill as a power source that had been the foundation for creating more land to live on and the basis of many industries.

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Before windmills were invented, villages in Holland often were destroyed by ravaging floods. In the 1400s, the development of windmills allowed them to pump numerous wetlands dry and then put the water behind dikes.

In the 16th century, adjustments to the structure of windmills made it possible to use them for several new purposes, including grinding grain, producing oil and paper and sawing timber.

That timber was used in building the ships that gave Holland a major role in trade during the 17th century. The Dutch at one point had 10,000 working windmills.

The Dutch are incredibly protective of their 1,000 remaining windmills. Once the basis for improving the country by creating more useful space, they became obsolete as other forms of power emerged.

They then became a symbol for the country. During World War II, German forces bombed many of the windmills because members of the Dutch resistance used the vanes as signaling devices. They also were prone to destruction from lightning strikes. The few mills that still turn are on the verge of losing power: As buildings around them have expanded upward, they can no longer catch the wind like they used to.

Residents of Pella, a Dutch community in Iowa that we recently visited, wanted to create a historic village that that had a windmill at its center. The problem? The Dutch government would not allow the ones remaining in Holland to be disassembled and moved elsewhere.

What to do? Harry Vermeer, who dreamed of building an authentic mill, helped raise money to hire a Dutch designer to create an 1850s-style grain mill that was built in Holland using the appropriate woods and moved to a base in Pella. Completed in 2002, the Vermeer mill now serves as the cornerstone for a historical village near the center of Pella.

Before touring the village, we were given a complete tour of the 124-foot-tall windmill, the largest working mill in North America. The sails were turning when we entered, which surprised us because there was only a light wind and the canvas had not been spread.

The miller lived on the second of the structure’s five floors. Millers needed to be available to make sure the sails were turned into the wind. The quarters have been recreated to be as close to the original as possible, but a Dutch visitor noted they were a bit larger than a Dutch miller might have been accustomed to.

A set of doors near a small area with a bed were designed to keep the heat in. The bed was quite short, and our guide explained that people in the 1850s believed it was not healthy to sleep lying flat. Instead, they used pillows to prop themselves up into a sitting position.

On the fifth floor, we were able to see how the 3,500-pound grindstones worked and how the millers controlled the direction of the sails. Our guide said 16 different types of wood had been used to build the mill. It only grinds Minnesota wheat now, and a local bakery uses the flour for its wheat bread.

After the visit, we could not resist stopping at the bakery to buy a loaf of wheat bread and a basket full of great Dutch pastries.