Horse-Drawn Heritage at the Barns Museum

Iowa man builds The Barns museum around horse-drawn implements, buggies and wagons

| August 2011

J.R. Pearson couldn’t help it. A wagon and buggy maker by profession as well as a collector, for nearly 20 years he watched piece after piece of agricultural history fade away at rural auctions. Recognizing the historic value of the old relics, J.R. began purchasing unique implements to add to his collection. Then came the creation of a museum – The Barns – in his hometown of Marcus, Iowa, making the implements available to those who share his interest in farming and history. 

“I try to find items that are as old as possible, in workable condition and somewhat unique,” J.R. says. “If they need restoration I do the work myself.” The vast majority of the collection, which was first opened to the public in 2008, consists of horse-drawn items. Signs placed throughout allow convenient, self-guided tours. Visits are available by appointment.

Rare, one-of-a-kind antiques add to the museum’s appeal. “One of my favorite pieces is an International Harvester breaking plow with original paint that I found in Gilbert, Minn.,” J.R. says. “The man I bought it from used it on his own land there. It originally came from Canada. It has a 20-inch bottom. It takes four horses to move it. It’s made to be heavy so it wouldn’t flip when they were breaking sod. It probably weighs 600 or 700 pounds.”

A pair of stalk cutters is also prominently displayed. One is a Louisville model; the other is a Leidy. A collection of wagons and wagon seats is another highlight of the museum. John Deere, Montgomery Ward, Mitchell and Triumph are among the lines featured.

Wagons before cars

A Studebaker wagon in the museum is a fine relic of a legendary era in American industry. John Studebaker, son of German immigrants, was born in 1799 near Philadelphia. He married a local girl, built himself a Conestoga wagon and headed west to Ohio. His sons, Clement and Henry, formed the Studebaker Blacksmiths and Wagon Makers Co. in 1852. By 1872 the company was known as the largest vehicle builder in the world.

In the 1906 publication The ABC’s of Corn Culture by P.G. Holden, an ad proclaimed Studebaker Wagon Makers to the American Farmer. “The unparalleled success of the American Farmer is largely due to his insistence upon having the best of everything, in tools and machinery,” the ad proclaims. “He is shrewd enough to know that this, in the end, is cheapest. By meeting the demand for first-class farm vehicles and by utilizing every known means of improvement in materials and machinery, the Studebakers have achieved and maintained supremacy as makers of wagons to the American farmer.”