Barn on Wheels

| December 2004

Hay carriers and sileage choppers. Pulleys and shelters. Cattle stanchions, seed corn graders and burr mills. The intricate mechanical devices that once filled barns to the rafters are nearly lost to time, forgotten or discarded. But Roger Elliott wages a unique crusade to keep the past alive. His 'barn on wheels,' a regular display at the Midwest Old Threshers Reunion, Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, helps people understand simple, essential functions of old-time farming.

'We do a lot of teaching here,' says Roger, a retired farmer from Libertyville, Iowa. 'Even people who know about this stuff are curious about it. It's important to do this; you've got to get involved in it, or it's going to fade away.'

The traveling barn traces the branches of the Elliott family tree. Members of three generations help with the display, which in its construction and contents echoes back two generations. Built in 1993, the 30-foot trailer is clad in barnboard and tin from Roger's grandfather's barn. The floor boards are made from lumber milled from Roger's dad's place. 'It has my granddad's hay track in front, and dad's in back,' Roger says. Large 'windows' invite a breeze. A bench in front of one window was Roger's mother's favorite perch at shows; vintage license plates nailed high overhead are from his father's collection. A center path is flanked by burr mills, a seed corn grader, a stationary engine and other pieces of old iron. A line shaft runs overhead; pulleys hang from the ceiling.

It is as close to an old barn as many folks are likely to get. 'A lot of people have never seen anything like it,' says Stephen Elliott, Roger's grandson.

But it's nearly all that Roger's known. 'My dad was a custom baler,' he says, 'and as a kid, eventually I graduated to driving the tractor on the baler. We'd go from farm to farm, putting up hay.' When he and his parents attended a show after he'd come home from the service, Roger suggested that they bring an exhibit. 'So the next year, in 1971, we brought an International LA 1 1/2 hp engine and some Maytags.'

In the decades since, both Roger's family and his collection have grown. Today his clan includes three children and 10 grandchildren; many lend a hand at the Mt. Pleasant show. They also play a role in deciding the display's make-up. 'One year we brought a hay hoist,' Roger recalls. 'It was a three-man operation to run that. It weighs about 500 pounds. It was a lot of work; it really took up all our time. But they weren't too excited about doing that again.'