Country Relics Little Village in Stanhope, Iowa
The Country Relics Little Village features collectibles in scale model buildings
Father Christmas – played by Varlen Carlson – meets visitors to the Country Relics Little Village.
Varlen and Fern Carlson of rural Stanhope, Iowa, have a village in their backyard. The buildings in the tiny community, however, are built on a one-half to two-thirds scale, and are furnished with saleman's samples, toys and child-size collectibles. The Carlsons call it Country Relics Little Village, and welcome visitors.
"I've been a collector most of my life, ever since I got out of high school," said Varlen, a farmer.
He specializes in International Harvester tractors and memorabilia. The Carlsons have used IH equipment almost exclusively since Varlen's grandfather switched from horses to a 10-20 McCormick Deering tractor. Varlen is a regular on the show circuit: he has taken a mobile trailer filled with memorabilia from the companies that formed International Harvester to tractor shows throughout the country.
His collection also includes an almost-complete set of cast iron toy tractors and implements made by the Arcade Toy Company in Freeport, Ill., and given or sold to IH patrons in the 1930s and '40s. Trinkets include tape measures, games, match holders, ashtrays and yardsticks.
At home, Varlen has "a few (17) full-size tractors," the oldest of which is a 10-20 Titan made around 1916. He also has 26 pedal tractors (dating from the 1940s to the present) manufactured by the Eska and Ertl companies.
While Varlen attends gas engine and tractor shows and swap meets, Fern said she "survived" by scouring flea markets for toys and children's furnishings. Those items fascinated her, she said, because she grew up during the Depression with few toys.
Country Relics Little Village traces its start to a 1981 farm auction, where the Carlsons bought a two-room playhouse. They intended to use the building as a playhouse for their grandchildren, but the couple soon began filling it with children's furniture and accessories typical of the 1920s and '30s.
The Carlsons then built a barn near the little house, and eventually added a one-room school, a general store, country church, livery stable and other buildings. The village was opened to the public in 1990 and, a year later, was named the Iowa Tourism Attraction of the Year.
The 1882 Stanhope town hall and fire station, which the Carlsons moved to their farm for renovation in 1992, now houses a replica of the Hove & Mathre McCormick Machines Dealership that once operated in Stanhope. The display includes an animated mannequin who "talks" to visitors, a lecture chart with illustrations and diagrams printed on 15 muslin sheets, wrenches, paper items, gasoline engines and International Harvester hats.