Happke’s Rolling Hills Museum open for business

Pierz’s newest attraction has bushels of farming memorabilia

By Tina Snell, Staff Writer

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Kevin Happke, Pierz, has been collecting farm-related items for about 30 years. His goal is to preserve the past.

Part of the Rolling Hills Museum in Pierz, owned by Kevin Happke, includes replicas of farms and towns created from the antiques he has been collecting for the past 30 years.

“It’s important to show today’s people how farming was done years ago,” he said. “Farmer families were totally self-sufficient then, creating their own machinery, blacksmithing and more.”

Happke said many of today’s children don’t know where food comes from; they are two generations removed from the farm. The preservation of how life was like on the farm is important.

Happke, who owns and operates Rolling Hills Greenhouse and Implement in Pierz, now has opened a connecting museum on the history of farming. His nursery and greenhouse are dotted with old catalogues, farm machinery, artifacts, toy replicas of the same and more.

While he admits he has a long way to go to perfect the museum, he has recently opened it to anyone who wants to schedule a tour.

“My storefront displays a 1930s International Harvester sign. I had Dennis Vaderpoel of Pierz make my attached sign to match it,” said Happke.

Kevin Happke, Pierz, has opened the Rolling Hills Museum as part of his greenhouse and nursery. The shop, along with a three-story barn, is full of antique equipment and toys from days gone by.

Rolling Hills Greenhouse’s front desk is a replication of a 1950s International Harvester McCormick Dealership desk. The long counter and the rows of shelving behind it contain many vintage catalogues and parts. The color scheme is the same as vintage International Harvester stores and the lettering above is original. For many, it brings back memories of days gone by.

“I have catalogues, price lists and sales brochures from the horse-drawn machinery era to the early tractors,” said Happke. “I even have parts for horse-drawn machinery for sale.”

Currently building more display cases in the nursery, Happke now shows more than 100 toy tractors.

“Most are brand new and still with the original box,” he said. His earliest model is from 1956. He said that the cases will also hold some items from the old Pierz Museum that closed several years ago.

Happke said the art of collecting toy replicas of tractors and other farm implements hit its heyday in the 1980s. During that time, companies began making replicas of their old toys. The designs were changed to distinguish the older models from the new. Those differences in the designs also kept the value high for the older, original versions.

“Toy companies made both a collector’s version and a shelf model of many tractors and other farm machinery,” said Happke. “Collectors like me would order the collector version before that model was manufactured, limiting the production of the first run and increasing the price.”

One of Happke’s prized pieces is a toy cream separator from the 129-year-old company DeLaval. There were only 2,000 made.

Happke has turned a corner of his nursery into a replica of a blacksmith’s shop.

Across the street from the nursery is the rest of the museum. A red barn with three floors is full of antique tractors, toys, machinery and more. The first floor is still in the process of organization, and will house the larger machinery he has collected along with a restoration area.

The second floor is near completion. Happke is building dioramas with his toy tractors, machinery and buildings, creating towns and farms. He even has a toy train that runs through a mountain.

“Many of the items I have were purchased from a dealership that closed in the early 1960s,” said Happke. “The owner couldn’t sell his store so he just closed it down, with all the inventory locked up. When the owner passed away, I was able to purchase the lot.”

The third floor contains more farm implements and artifacts. That collection includes plows, milk testers, school desks, egg baskets, wheelbarrow frames, plows, furniture and more.

Happke is hoping to create a replica of a home, a garden display and possibly a school house on the third floor.

For more information on the museum; to schedule a tour; to donate items, time or money; or to purchase a part, contact Happke at (320) 468-6474 or e-mail him at [email protected] A free-will offering will be asked for the tours.