If you're looking for a show with a twist, give the Homestead Harvest Days a second look. Held in Highland, Ill., the Homestead event is a working show, with mules, horses and an operational sawmill. Collectors from all over haul in steam engines, gas engines and tractors. And you can count on the familiar line-up of farm toys, pedal tractor races, crafts and a large flea market. The surprise comes in the added attraction of the Louis Latzer mansion.
The Homestead Harvest Days is held on the grounds of the Latzer mansion. Louis Latzer, the founder of Pet Milk, built a 13-room home just outside of Highland at the turn of the century. The home is now owned by the Highland Historical Society, and is operated as a historic attraction.
The Latzer home is noteworthy in its own right. It was the first in the area to have running water, and also boasted a manufactured gas light system and an elaborate system of speaking tubes (perhaps to make life easier in a household with seven children). But the real treat there is an intricately detailed, fully operational model of the Pet Milk plant.
The model, one of three built, was the company's response to a disheartening discovery in the 1930s. When two Pet employees attended an industry convention, they were horrified to learn that the company's name – Pet – was commonly misunderstood: Many consumers mistakenly believed the product to be intended for pet, not human, consumption. Enter the educational model. From 1941 to 1961, the model was displayed at conventions and trade shows coast to coast, border to border. Crafted from elaborate blueprints, the 6,000-lb. model is 26 feet long. It is powered by 10 electric motors, three water pumps, and seven gear boxes.
"The display was shipped in 17 wooden shipping crates and took up one-third of a railroad car," says Bill Alexander, a Pet Milk memorabilia collector and member of the Highland Historical Society.
Alexander, one of three men who worked to renovate the display, remains in awe of it.
"I just can't say enough about the craftsmanship," he says.
The Latzer mansion is home to a variety of treasures: Look for a John Deere centennial commemorative, Pet Milk memorabilia, Whitman Candy collectibles and more. FC
For more information: The Homestead Harvest Days, online at www.highlandilhistory.org. Contact: Highland Historical Society President Lynn Rehberger, (618) 541-9075; for tours of the Latzer Homestead at other times, contact them at 618-654-7957.