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Hoover Museum Constructs 1880s Atmosphere for Visitors

Rachel Gallegos

Iowa City Press-Citizen

July 9, 2006

[Note: This material is copyright by the Press-Citizen, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of the Iowa City Press-Citizen.]

WEST BRANCH -- Matt and Jean Simon came to the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library & Museum Saturday for the exhibit about the 1960s. Little did they know that walking through the historic site would take them much further back in history.

Children rolled hoops down the road, a woman churned butter and two women spun wool and other fibers -- all part of a display of the 1880s period crafters.

The Simons stopped to watch Randy Wineland, who with his 150-year-old wooden workbench, demonstrated how to make rope and carved yokes.

With a three-strand rope maker and rope-making wrench, Wineland asked for a volunteer to help him create a ¼ inch rope. Matt Simon made his way behind the workbench.

Wineland held the wrench and connected the twine between the wrench and the rope maker for each of the rope maker's three hooks. Simon began turning the crank to spin the strands of twine together and Wineland held the wrench directly across to create the tension and twist.

Once the rope was complete, Wineland said it was time to test it.

"If we've made a good rope, it'll stand up all by itself." And it did.

Although there were other displays, the Simons said they saw only Wineland's display of tools and woodwork.

"We just got to this corner and stopped," Jean Simon said.

Her husband said he was impressed by the 150-year-old workbench.

"If you didn't know what it was, you wouldn't know how to use the darn thing," he said.

Wineland said he found the workbench at an auction south of Pella. He was the only bidder for the piece, which he then took home and cleaned up by scraping it down with a piece of glass, since sandpaper could have damaged it. He also carves yokes by using a piece of glass rather than sandpaper.

At one end of the historical display, people wove baskets. Down at the other end of the road, adults and children played with toys including a bilbo catcher, or cup and ball game.

"The (toys) are a lot simpler, but they can be just as fun as the electronics," said Karmell Bowen, who ran the toys exhibit. But her daughter Stacy, 12, disagreed.

"Kids used a lot more imagination back then to play," Karmell Bowen said. "It's fun to just educate people and have a little fun with them too."

Another skill on display was textile spinning. Although Shirley Graham spun wool, her daughter Terry worked with the hair of a white American Eskimo dog.

"Anything that's a fiber that's long enough" can be used, Terry Graham said, including brushed off dog or cat hair.

On display she had a headband lined with dog hair, since dog hair is nine times warmer than wool, she said.