Van Buren County's annual Scenic Drive Festival, held at a pioneer settlement, has a flavor all its own.
Interior of the old schoolhouse at Morris Park.
For a certain kind of old iron enthusiast, it is hard to imagine a more perfect show than the one put on at Morris Park in Van Buren County, Iowa, each October. If you’re the kind of person who likes to put old farm equipment through its paces, if an interesting piece holds more appeal than a like-new restoration, if crowds and vendors and golf carts are not your idea of a good time, you might want to study up on this show.
Owned and operated by the Van Buren County Conservation Board, Morris Park is a 60-acre park located 4 miles northeast of Stockport. Heavily wooded, the park is quiet and peaceful. Fifteen camping spaces (modern and primitive) are tucked among the trees. A 1-acre pond is stocked with bass and bluegill; there are nature trails and picnic areas.
The park is a memorial to Henry and Jane Morris, who settled the area in 1838. Established by the couple’s sons in 1938, Morris Park is now home to several historic buildings (including a replica of the family’s original cabin, an old country schoolhouse, music hall and art hall, and a full-size replica of a turn-of-the-century barn), each containing displays of rural life in the 1800s.
During Van Buren County’s annual Scenic Drive Festival, Morris Park is like summer camp for people who love antique farm equipment. A week before the two-day show starts, they start hauling in multiple loads of antique equipment. Then they set up camp and the fun begins. “There are not many shows where guys can play with this old equipment anymore,” says Dorothy Gilbert, project coordinator. “That’s what brings people here: They come to play.”
At the 2015 show – the fourth one held at Morris Park – a corn sheller and husker-shredder are put to work near a wagonload of corn stalks and a century-old 1-row binder. Logs of wild cherry are run through a sawmill powered by a deep-throated Rumely. Hand-tied rectangular bales chug out of an old hay press. A stack of cane wait next to a sorghum mill. A team of horses pull a wagon around the grounds.
Jerry Daniels, Moulton, Iowa, powers his U.S. Standard husker-shredder with his 1928 John Deere Model D. “It’s the first time I’ve had this tractor on the shredder,” he says. “It has new bearings and I changed out all the gears.” An engine enthusiast since childhood, Jerry has built a collection that now includes tractors, implements and engines.
He enjoys small shows, he says, where you’re closer to the action. “The old guys will tell stories about what they remember,” he says, “and a lot of them will jump in and help run equipment.”
Tom Nichols, Eldon, Iowa, has spent most of his life around sawmills. “My grandparents had one,” he says. “That’s where it started for me.” At the Morris Park show, he was a hands-on sawyer, using his 1927 Rumely W 20-30 on his mill. “You have to listen to the tractor,” he says. “You have to make sure it’s not overworking. And you have to figure out how to get the most good wood out of every log.”
Nearby, Andy Withrow, Moulton, runs a late 1940s Oliver Ann Arbor baler on a Farmall F-20 owned by Richard Workman, Keosauqua. Spectators drift through the grounds, taking in demonstrations. There are no PA announcements and no formal schedule of events. “We might run everything twice a day,” Andy says. “Before noon, and after noon.” In between, work stops and everyone eats together at picnic tables under a warm October sun.
Folk life demonstrations are scattered around the park. In addition to the museum displays, a working cider press draws a steady crowd, and craftsmen (and women) demonstrate rope-making, flint knapping and blacksmithing. Collectors of everything from stationary engines to pump jacks to garden tractors fill the empty spots.
The Scenic Drive Festival includes the villages of Douds, Lebanon, Milton, Cantril, Keosauqua, Birmingham, Bentonsport, Vernon, Bonaparte, Farmington and Stockport.
In addition to Heritage Days at Morris Park, the villages host quilt shows, garage sales, bake sales, open house at Millard’s Turtle Farm (one of the largest turtle farms in the Midwest), live entertainment, book sale, parade, soup supper, pedal pull, a car, truck and motorcycle show, antique toy displays, historical museum, Indian artifact museum, interpretive tours of burial sites on the Mormon Pioneer Trail, antique show and juried art show.
And at Morris Park, old iron gets a chance to shine like a diamond in the rough. “We’ve tried to keep the flavor of the pioneer setting,” Dorothy says. “We’re keeping it simple. A lot of people have no idea this is here. It really is a hidden asset.” FC
For more information:
Dorothy Gilbert, (319) 759-1975. Scenic Drive Festival, Oct. 8-9, 2016; online at www.villagesofvanburen.com.Morris Park Pioneer Museum’s fifth annual Heritage Days, Oct. 8-9, 2016, 10938 Timber Rd., Stockport, Iowa; www.vbcountyconservation.com.
Leslie McManus is the senior editor of Farm Collector. Contact her at LMcManus@ogdenpubs.com.
Teri McManus is a photographer based in Iowa. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.