Franny's Wonder Shed

| August 2003

All special places need a unique name, and Francis's tool shed is no exception as reflected in this sign he made for the building.

Francis Fox has never been one to throw anything away for as long as I can remember. Growing up as the youngest in a family of six during the Great Depression taught him a simple lesson: Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without. I've heard that saying many times, and believe me, he lives by that rule to this day. Maybe that explains his fondness for useful and unique wrenches, rasps and files.

How'd an antique tool collection like his get started? Well, the antique bug bit Dad in the 1960s and 1970s when he was middle aged. It was the first time in his life that he could comfortably support our family and also buy things for himself that weren't just bread and butter or a roof over our heads. Raised on a farm, Dad always used a variety of tools, so he naturally began to collect them. 'Tools were fairly inexpensive to buy when I started collecting,' the South Wayne, Wis., tool collector recalls. 'Now, all the baby boomers are collecting them, and they sell for a good price.'

Soon, all our farm buildings were crammed full of thousands of antiques and artifacts. Dad maintained a 260-acre dairy farm that paid the bills, but spent the rest of his time collecting tools. Dad had few bad habits - he didn't smoke, gamble or drink - so he had many hours to dedicate to the collection. Dad dreamed of opening a museum for all of his antique collectibles, so my parents opened Fox's Pioneer Museum to the public in the summer of 1974. By the late 1970s, the museum had grown to 11 buildings, including a one-room school house, pioneer log home, general store, automotive garage, farm implement shed and a 76-foot-long covered bridge that he built to honor America's bicentennial anniversary, which later housed Dad's tool collection. During its run, the museum saw visitors from 37 states and seven foreign countries.

'I'm quite eccentric, so I just kept adding to it until I had a large-enough display in 1974 to open a museum,' Francis remembers. Dad loved to guide people through his museum. He had an uncanny ability to remember where and how he acquired each item, and he often recalled an entertaining story to accompany each piece. Dad's life during the Great Depression taught him to utilize and save everything he owned because his family didn't own much, and his family's home had no electricity or plumbing. Those hard times taught him to 'recycle' in the most literal sense, and he applies that wisdom to collecting.

'I love to tell younger people what life was like in the old days,' Francis says. 'Everyone now wants to throw everything away, but I want to show people what old things were used for before they're all gone and encourage people not to throw this old stuff away.'