Literature and memorabilia provide ‘sentimental journey’ for South Dakota man

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Left: Charles Zeeb’s collection of toys, memorabilia, signs and stoves took up most of the available space in the School House building at Pioneer Acres.
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Above: Charles Zeeb of Sioux Falls surrounded by a fraction of his collection of parlor stoves, advertising, toys and more.
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Barn built from a set of Popular Mechanics plans by Ruben Zeeb, Charles’ father. The cow cutouts were De Laval Co. promotional items.
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Right: Charles Zeeb enjoys collecting Arcade cast iron toys such as these, because they help keep him connected to his roots.

Charles Zeeb is unabashedly grateful for the 22 years he lived
with his parents on their Menno, S.D., farm, and it was there that
the collecting bug first bit him. “I started collecting Corvette
literature and advertising in the ’60s after high school,” says
Charles, who now resides in Sioux Falls. In fact, his Corvette
fascination led him to make a business of restoring the now-classic
cars. “Years later, I discovered old machinery literature, and it
made me nostalgic for my days on the farm.”

Charles’ collection of literature, signs, toys and other items
filled nearly every inch of wall and surface space in the School
House building at Pioneer Acres this past September. His many hours
of careful preparation, punctuated by the monophonic sound of
vintage recordings, created an authentic walk down memory lane. And
judging by the steady crowd of people in the School House, his
efforts were met with much appreciation.

“What people collect today, my mom and dad used,” Charles says.
“They were both born around the turn of the last century.” Adopting
that timeframe as a guide, Charles specifically seeks ads that are
both beautiful to look at, and a gateway to fond memories of his
past. “I particularly like items that have a visual-emotional
effect on me where I can relate to the subject,” Charles explains
as he points out specific details in a McCormick-Deering reaper ad.
“The color is beautiful, the imagery is idyllic, and the machinery
is incidental.” Charles points out that in his favorite advertising
pieces, the cattle are always fat, the people are always beautiful
and happy, the crops are always in perfect condition, and the
horses are always stepping high. “I am not partial to any line of
machinery, I just love the art, and its sentiment,” Charles adds.
Charles’ sentimental collecting journey has also led him to toys
and other aged artifacts.

“Toys reflect on an era of life with some innocence,” Charles
says, pointing out that many of his toys provide a direct link to
his own childhood. For example, one of his most cherished pieces is
a beautifully weathered barn that his father, Ruben Zeeb, built
from a set of plans published in Popular Mechanics
magazine. At one point, Charles’ nephew used the toy barn for
target practice and shot out its glass windows. Charles replaced
the broken windows with pieces he cut from panes obtained from
windows in his grandfather’s barn, which only increased the toy’s
sentimental value.

Not all of Charles’ toys have a direct family connection. He
purposefully seeks out those that take him to a time and place
where life seemed more idyllic. Another of his prized pieces is a
Studebaker Junior wagon. “The wagon was played with hard, but it
was obviously a prized possession because it was also well cared
for,” Charles explains, while pointing out how the paint has been
worn off the little Studebaker by perhaps thousands of hours of
play. “I really look for that kind of thing for my collection.”
Charles has a number of other toy wagons and sleds that fit the
bill. Ads and toys aren’t the only things that lead Charles down
the path of memorable memorabilia. Parlor stoves in particular warm
his heart.

“I like parlor stoves because they are works of art that bring
people together in a room,” Charles says, explaining that parlor
stoves were more than useful. “Parlor stoves had to be beautiful
because they were central to the room’s décor, and a beautiful
stove warmed it in every season.” Charles had three very beautiful
stoves on display at Pioneer Acres, where they radiated warmth
inside that old school room that had nothing to do with the
temperature.

Charles isn’t certain where his sentimental journey will lead
next. However, he has recently found that some household product
and food advertising evokes the same nostalgic emotions as the rest
of his collection. Charles enjoys talking about his collection and
his collecting philosophy, and he can be reached at (605)
338-9101.

Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment