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Schrader: Local preserves agricultural history

Denny Rehn comes from three generations of Kirkland farmers. His grandfather Art purchased a 130-acre farm on McNeal Road in 1933 and it has been in the family since.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to meet Denny and see some of his collection of agricultural memorabilia he has amassed in just the past decade. It is housed in a 60-feet-by-80-feet metal farm building and includes a second-floor mezzanine. Some eight years ago he moved the bulk of his collectibles to a second farm he also owns north of Kirkland, this one over the border in Boone County on Stone Quarry Road.

Entering his private museum, one finds he has organized and categorized the artifacts so they can be easily viewed.

“Some people just like to collect, but I like to display my collection so it can be shared with others,” Rehn said.

To that end, he holds an occasional open house and hosts groups at the farm, the next one being the fall meeting of the Kirkland Historical Society on Sept. 19. He also has invited the national Corn Items Collectors Association to hold its gathering there next spring.

Hanging on the walls are almost 300 metal signs that come from all areas of agribusiness. These are genuine articles, not the reproductions that are so prevalent today.

Then there is a section devoted to seed and feed sacks, representing some 600 different companies spanning the past century. Dozens of hand corn shellers also are evident. But Denny said his rarest sheller is on loan to the DeKalb Area Agricultural Heritage Association (DAAHA) for use in the Nehring Gallery exhibit in DeKalb. That one dates to the mid-1800s.

I was intrigued by a device called a hemp stripper, which Rehn told me came from the former hemp plant west of Kirkland on Route 72.

There are stories about its operation during World War II, when German prisoners of war were used as laborers. My own boyhood memories of hemp date back to those war years when my father raised hemp (for making rope) on a Babson farm near Hinckley.

Spotting an asparagus bundling tool also brought back memories of the times we walked the fence rows picking wild asparagus each spring.

Rehn’s collection includes cast-iron seats from horse-drawn farm machinery, tools for use on cattle and hogs, wrenches of all sizes and shapes, advertising specialties from the Kirkland area with the business name imprinted on them, and calendars and manuals. One that caught my eye was an 1871 county plat book that included my ancestors’ farms in Victor Township.

This accumulation, combined with DAAHA’s vast collection, could someday make the finest agricultural museum in the Midwest. Let’s hope that is being thought about today.

Note to readers: I have decided to retire from column writing, so a wrapup column will be my final one next week.

• Barry Schrader was editor of the Daily Chronicle from 1969-1972. He and his wife, Kay, are retired and live in DeKalb. He can be reached at or by mail at P.O. Box 851, DeKalb, IL 60115.

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