Ridin' High


| October 2004



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An Aermotor windmill on a four-legged metal tower

Allis-Chalmers never designed its tractors to fly, but on a quiet gravel road near Manning, Iowa, a 1937 Model WC sits high above the crops. The tractor's owner, Merlyn Irlbeck, wanted something a little different to identify his farm. 'I had an old Allis WC and thought it would make a nice-looking weathervane,' Merlyn says. 'It would sure be unique and easy to see, anyway.'

Merlyn has been privately collecting for more than 40 years, but for at least the last 15 years he has worked diligently to publicly share his collection with interested folks. In the process, Merlyn has created a fascinating indoor/outdoor museum where he displays a large portion of his vast treasure trove of rural artifacts - much to the delight of thousands of visitors each year. Although collecting is a labor of love, Merlyn does credit his wife, Betty, sons Brian and Brett, and daughter, Brenda Sterk, for all kinds of support.

'We kind of do this as a family,' Merlyn says with a warm smile.

Telltale signs

Clues that point to the treasures at the Irlbeck farm are plentiful, yet largely subtle - with the exception of the flying Allis. A glance down the farm's lane reveals a large clock that stands comfortably in its current location next to Merlyn's shop - a transplant from the Carroll County, Iowa, courthouse. A brief scan of the yard shows some naturally placed pieces of equipment and several full-sized windmills on towers of varying heights. The windmills, with names like Dempster, Challenge and Aermoter, look right, except for the sheer number of them.

'I really like windmills, and I like to install them as they would have been [installed],' Merlyn explains about why his mills really don't look out of place. Both wooden and steel windmill towers have been naturally worked into the landscape where they effectively trellis vines, shelter shrubs and hold the long-forgotten mills to the wind.

A 1939 Allis-Chalmers WC peacefully rests in one corner of the yard with an apple tree growing through it, just another of Merlyn's creations borrowed from something he once found. 'When I travel around, I see things that I enjoy and I try to recreate them here,' Merlyn says with a smile, explaining the hovering Allis. It's a delightful and effective tribute to the many abandoned pieces of iron now residing in shelter belts and groves on farmsteads all over the country.