Illinois Man's Collection Captures the Essence of Farm Heritage

Ronn Dillavou's collection of "junk" is anything but. The items covering the walls and filling the shelves and cabinets of his corncrib tell stories of our farming heritage.

| March 2015

Ronn Dillavou has no illusions about his collection of antique farm relics. Covering the walls, floor and ceiling of a restored corncrib on his Aledo, Illinois, farm, the treasures speak more of a deep affection for the past than they do of great rarity or monetary value. But to a collector, in some ways, they’re priceless.

“If you take down all this stuff and put it in a pile,” he says, surveying the corncrib’s interior draped with antiques, “it’s a pile of junk. When you hang it up, people think it’s neat. There are a lot of common things in here but they add character.”

The collectibles – locks and keys, corn shellers and planters, signs, cans, barn tools and implements – give a glimpse into a way of life long since past. The collection spans some 70 years, roughly from the 1880s to the 1950s. “I love the stuff that people don’t see every day,” Ronn admits. “That’s what I watch for, but the supply is starting to dry up. And I like things that tell a story, like this old chopping block. We all grew up killing chickens; what happened to all that stuff?”

Unlocking a hobby

Ronn’s collection can be traced to a simple key – or more accurately, hundreds of keys. “I started collecting keys when I was in junior high,” he says. “I had a huge bucket of common keys. I was always fascinated by the fact that they locked up stuff.”

In 1967, he took a correspondence course from the Locksmith Institute of Little Falls, New Jersey. “I even learned how to pick locks,” he admits with a grin. “I used to say, ‘nothing stays locked if no one’s around.’”

Later he’d tackle a major challenge: building a complete master set of Ford Model T ignition keys, plus another 25 in a numbered sequence. The keys cost little more than pocket change, Ronn says. The trick is in gathering a series of them. “I had a lot of fun doing it,” he says. “What a feeling it was to complete that set!”