Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Honoring rural life at Heritage Park of North Iowa May 20, 2015

“COME BACK ON SATURDAY,” Monte Topp advised. “There’ll be 25,000 people here.”

“No, thanks,” I said.

Heritage Park of North Iowa is hosting Tree Town Music Festival opening this Thursday.

Heritage Park of North Iowa is hosting Tree Town Music Festival opening this Thursday.

And that is how I learned about the May 21 – 24 Tree Town Music Festival in Forest City, Iowa, with Saturday headliner Blake Shelton. Yes, the Blake Shelton, whom even I, not a fan of country western music, know as a judge from The Voice.

But Monte wasn’t talking much music when I met him at Heritage Park of North Iowa last Saturday morning. He was focused instead on the weekend Steam School which drew folks from around the country to learn the ins and outs of operating steam engines.

Gathered to learn about steam engines.

Gathered to learn about steam engines.

Steam engine tractors.

Steam engine tractors. It takes a full day to move all of the steam engine tractors out of a massive building on-site.

Checking out a steam engine tractor during Steam School.

Checking out a steam engine tractor during Steam School.

A sampling of steam engine tractors were lined up across the road from the historic church.

A sampling of steam engine tractors lined up across the road from the historic Beaver Creek Church.

Yet, he found time to take my husband and me inside two expansive buildings to view massive steam engine and vintage tractors. This member of the Heritage Park board knows his stuff. Names and dates. A quarter of a million dollars to purchase that steam engine tractor and another $250,000 invested in its restoration. One-of-a-kind. Only one left. If you want to know anything about anything steam engine, ask Monte.

A Wallis tractor was among the many tractors stored in a massive building.

A Wallis tractor was among the many tractors stored in a massive building.

A tractor seat.

A tractor seat.

Monte Topp, who hails from Fertile to the east of Forest City, is a John Deere guy.

Monte Topp, who hails from Fertile to the east of Forest City, is a John Deere guy.

We threaded our way around hulks of machinery in spaces so dark I could only take a few photos. Heavy scent of oil overwhelmed as did thoughts of yesteryear at this 91-acre site dedicated to preserving America’s rural history.

Several log cabins are on site, including this trapper's cabin.

Several log cabins are on site, including this trapper’s cabin.

I peered inside a partially open door to see that this building is appropriately dubbed the doll house. It's filled with dolls.

I peered in a window to see that this building is appropriately dubbed the doll house. It’s filled with dolls.

There are even, to my automotive machinist husband's amazement, two buildings devoted to flywheels.

There are even, to my automotive machinist husband’s amazement, two buildings devoted to flywheels.

One of my favorite buildings, a corn crib.

One of my favorite buildings, a corn crib.

A rural heritage park would not be complete without a barn and windmill.

A rural heritage park would not be complete without a red barn and creaky windmill.

A sampling of smaller steam engine tractors were lined up across the road from the park's historic church.

An overview of the grounds. I was about to open the door on the grey house when I realized someone lives here.

Buildings—ranging from a church to log cabins to barn, barbershop, jail, school, farmstead house and much more—create this impressive park. As luck would have it, we were not there when the park was open to the public and had to settle for an exterior walk-around.

“Come back this afternoon,” Monte advised as his phone rang.

We couldn’t. But that doesn’t mean we won’t return another time.

FYI: Click here to read my first post from Heritage Park. And check back for one more photo story, this one from downtown Forest City.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling