Fairfield Ledger

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Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 21, 2018

Maasdam Barns hosts tourism event

By Andy Hallman, Ledger news editor | May 11, 2018
Photo by: ANDY HALLMAN/Ledger photo Mason Boudreaux, left, 4, and brother Calvin, 10, pose with the cutout of Marie Maasdam and Louis D’Or, the world’s largest Belgian horse, circa 1935. Maasdam Barns hosted a tourism event Thursday where members of the public were treated to free food, live music and self-guided tours of the barns.

A crowd descended on Maasdam Barns Thursday night for an event in conjunction with Travel and Tourism Week.

Singer-songwriter Jeffrey Hedquist entertained folks as they ate a barbecued meal courtesy of Sweet ’n Saucy. The barns were open for tours, giving people the chance to learn about the century-old buildings where J. G. Maasdam raised and sold award-winning draft horses.

Fairfield Convention & Visitors Bureau executive director Rustin Lippincott said the turnout exceeded his expectations.

“We ran out of food,” he said. “This is the first time we’ve done something like this. We want to thank the community for coming out to experience the barns, and to thank the Maasdam Barns Preservation Committee for supporting tourism in Fairfield.”

The visitors bureau promoted Maasdam Barns as part of its “Be a Visitor in Your Own Backyard” campaign, which encourages residents to see Fairfield through the eyes of a visitor and experience the history, arts and culture and that is uniquely found among the cornfields in Fairfield and Jefferson County.


Preservation committee

Tony Webb is chairman of the Maasdam Barns Preservation Committee. He got involved through his job at the Jefferson County Health Center, just next door. His colleague Dr. William Baumann invited him to a board meeting four years ago, and “a few meetings later I was asked to be the chair.”

Webb was at Thursday’s event showing people artifacts in the barns. One of them was a Louden Machinery Company monorail traveling crane from the 1920s used for automotive repairs. The device consists of a few metal chains hanging from a pulley that glides on a long rail in the ceiling. The chains allowed the user to easily lift an engine from a car, and the rail above allowed the engine to be moved to a different car several feet away. A pair of perpendicular rails allowed a user to move heavy objects not only north and south but east and west within the shop.

“You could run the track the length of the building, moving big parts with it,” said Webb, who added that the technology was cutting edge at the time. “The idea was adapted from a hay-handling trolley in barns.”

Board member Gene Luedtke said the device came from a downtown business 20 years ago, an auto repair shop on the north side of East Broadway Avenue a block east of the square.

Webb said one of the purposes of the Maasdam Barns Preservation Committee is to let the younger generation know how Fairfield became what it is today.

“These inventions like the [automotive monorail] came out of Fairfield and went all over the world,” he said.

Fairfield, founded in 1839, was a young town when the railroad built a track through it in the 1850s. The railroad was a boon to local business, such as the Louden Machinery Company and J. G. Maasdam’s draft horse breeding business. Maasdam partnered with childhood friend Edward G. Wheeler, a veterinarian, who bought horses in Europe and brought them to Fairfield on the railroad.


Proud of town’s history

Linn Vehslage has been a board member for two years. He became interested in the barns because he believes they’re a neat piece of Fairfield’s history, and because his father Donald worked for Louden Machinery Company in the 1950s. William Louden patented in 1867 a device to help farmers stack hay efficiently, and the preservation committee keeps his memory alive by demonstrating the device at its open houses.

“I’ve lived in five different states, and I’m really proud of Fairfield’s history,” Vehslage said. “I knew this is the place I’d come back to.”

As a board member, Vehslage has helped inventory artifacts at the barns and promote its events. For the past few years, the barns have hosted “Babies at the Barns,” an opportunity to see and pet livestock and other animals. The next one is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.

Vehslage has taken a special interest in an event called “Boys and their Toys,” a Father’s Day tradition where the barns host old trucks and tractors. Thirty vehicles came last year, including one dating back to 1918.

The board has 14 members and relies on about 50-60 volunteers. It’s always looking for more. Those interested in volunteering can call Webb at 919-8061, or email him at tmdlwebb@lisco.com.

The barns are open three days a week: 1-4 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

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