A glimpse from the Frontier
Journey back to life on the Frontier with tools, artifacts, and the machines they used.
Stepping into the Penningroth Machine Shed is truly step back in time - to Midnight, May 31st, 1833 when the government opened the Iowa Territory for settlement. For weeks, settlers had been gathering on the Illinois shore of the Mississippi, preparing for midnight when the race would begin. They crossed in boats, barges, and even on logs – and once ashore they scattered to find the most promising locations. Drawn to Jackson County by the fertile soil, streams and springs, timber and limestone for building, and plentiful game for food - they quickly staked their claims and began to till the soil. Before you is what evolved over the next many decades.
You will see a large exhibit of walking plows as you enter..
The walking plow was all important -pioneers who brought theirs from the east quickly found them lacking. The heavy prairie soil stuck stubbornly to blade. John Deere developed one of the first self-cleaning plows.
As the American farm entered the 1870s, the main source of power came from three animals - the horse, the ox and the mule. The average farm worked by horses was 100 acres, and a farmer walked 8 miles an acre to plow his fields (with a walking plow) at an average speed of 1 ½ miles per hour. So - the farmer walked 800 miles to plow his fields. And then he had to plant his crop and cultivate! For wheat and other crops the grain had to be separated from the chaff, usually by a thresher. The thresher was powered by a power sweep which was turned by horses. Everything depended upon the strength and durability of humans and horses.
Though we don’t have the spreading Chestnut Tree we do have the Village Smithy - or at least his actual shop! Christian Weyhgandt’s blacksmith shop - as it sat along the riverfront in Bellevue from 1873. Christian was born in Germany in 1848, came to the US at the age of 16.
In March of 1981, volunteers from the Historical Society with the help of the Seabees moved the little building of hand hewn timbers and pegs to the implement building on the Fairgrounds. Then, in 2015 when that building was renovated - and dedicated as the Penningroth Machine Shed - the blacksmith shop was raised, a cement floor poured, lower timbers replaced, and some general sprucing up accomplished. Inside is a forge, hoist and wide array of blacksmithing tools. It is a working blacksmith shop - and during special events a smithy can be seen at work. The history of the shop is detailed inside.
Just look for the plumes of smoke, and listen for the whistle.
Our Case “50” Steam Engine is 9 foot 11 inches high, weighs 8 ton, goes 2.3 miles per hour. It had been at the Threshers in Miles. Now it goes back and forth between the Fairgrounds and the Threshers.
In 1914, the Koos family of LaMotte bought a brand new Case Model “50” engine. It was purchased in Des Moines for $2,000 and brought either to Dubuque or Maquoketa by train. The family operated a business in which they contracted with farmers in the area to do their plowing, threshing, etc. An acetylene light was special ordered so that they could work in the fields by day and then move during the night to the next field and be ready to work the next day. Also, it had a specially designed gould value for added efficiency.
When the Farmall gas tractor came along in 1924, it was like the nail in the coffin. Steam engine production stopped soon thereafter. Some engines were used through WWI but by WWII most all had been lost to the scrap drives for the war efforts. The ones that remained were quickly bought up by wealthy collectors in the east. So you can appreciate that this one - always in Jackson County - is a real treasure.
The State Historical Society of Iowa has stated that this collection of machinery powered by horses, mules, oxen, sheep, large dogs, etc, is one of the best in the entire Midwest.