Some people just have the collectors’ bug. More than just hanging on to stuff, collecting can be a great creative outlet and lifelong learning experience, as these three Appanoose County collectors demonstrate.
Let it snow
After Jon Dorman’s parents moved from Newton to the Moulton-Udell School District before his senior year of high school, he put in his time and not a second more.
After a year, he said, “I got out of this area as fast as I could.”
He had met his wife, Judy, that senior year in high school. They spent 13 years in the Des Moines area, and then they started thinking southern Iowa might be a better place to raise their daughter, Adelyn.
When they moved back, Dorman brought something else with him: a love for snowmobiles.
After a friend persuaded Dorman to take a snowmobile ride and he liked it, he bought his first one in 1990 for $10 from “a guy up the road.” Since then, he has traveled much farther for snowmobiles, going as far as Maine, Vermont, Washington state and Oregon to pick them up.
“I’ve bought and sold, swapped and restored many sleds,” Dorman says. “I think the most sleds I had at one time was almost 40, but I still hover right around 30.”
At first he was interested in models from the mid-1970s, but then he got into older snowmobiles. Snowmobiles haven’t been around that long, he says, so some from the early 1960s are considered antiques. Polaris starting making them in 1954, though earlier models from other companies exist as far back as the late 1910s and 1920s.
When Dorman acquires the sleds, they are often rusty and not running. He restores them, including fabricating parts because they are so hard to find. He says he has enjoyed restoring old things since he was a kid. Sometimes he sells his restored sleds, but he hasn’t really gotten into flipping them. He usually only sells so he can buy something else.
Dorman says his most interesting snowmobile is a large red one that is actually the largest production model Polaris ever made. The company produced fewer than 30, of which 12 are known to still exist. Dorman’s was the very first one produced.
Dorman is the Iowa director of the Antique Snowmobile Club of America. The club’s local chapter sponsors events, including Exline’s annual Winterfest. It is the only active club south of Interstate 80. The only snowmobile trail system south of I-80 is the 40-mile snowmobile trail around Rathbun Lake.
“This is kind of an odd collection in this part of the world — if I was up north I’d fit right in,” he says.
Southern Iowa isn’t quite as snowy as northern Iowa, but this area can have great snowmobiling conditions, Dorman says.
“Last year was a bad year, but that was about everywhere we went,” he says.
Dorman shows his snowmobiles and does a lot of racing. He has trails on his property in rural Exline for riding around in the timber. His wife has a newer snowmobile to ride that steers easily and has hand warmers. But Dorman doesn’t care about that.
“I ride the big old stuff,” he says. “I don’t care if I’m the loudest, noisiest thing lumbering along.”
An enduring first love
Jeanie Russo was in ninth grade when she fell in love with Clark Gable after watching the movie “Gone with the Wind” with her mother.
Her collection of “Gone with the Wind” memorabilia includes dolls, plates and Christmas ornaments, but perhaps the most striking piece is the large photograph of Gable from the movie’s scene in a Yankee prison.
Russo used to keep the photograph on her wall when she worked at a high school in Florida, and she had many conversations with students over the years that were sparked by that photograph. As an educational media specialist and former English teacher, she wanted to get the students interested in reading.
“Students would come in and say, ‘Who is that?’ and that’s how I would get them started with an interest in “Gone with the Wind” and reading,” she says. “I would tell them about how I first saw the movie, and they would read the book sometimes and come back and discuss it with me.”
Her favorite piece is a collectible plate titled “Scarlett and Her Suitors” because it is from the first major scene in the film, when the audience is introduced to Scarlett O’Hara’s character and sees several young men wooing her. She says all the characters in the film have an important message, but the one she finds most inspiring is Scarlett’s persistence in never giving up.
Russo and her husband, Pasquale (Pat) Russo, moved to Centerville a few years ago after retiring from the school system in Florida.
For her, it was a homecoming. She was born in Centerville, but her family moved away when she was 3. Her father, a coal miner, decided to improve his life by becoming a welder, so the family started moving around for his construction jobs.
Most summers they would come to Centerville for up to three months to visit with relatives. Because they moved around so much, she says, going to Centerville always seemed like going home.
She says she hadn’t considered retiring to a family home in Centerville, but on the couple’s first visit here together in 1996, Pat was so charmed by the small town he brought up the idea.
Pat says the charm is still there.
“I’m still constantly amazed by the fact that I can go shopping, go to the post office, go get gas and be back to the house in less than half an hour,” he says.
Two years ago she got involved with the Friends of the Drake Public Library because some of her strongest memories from those childhood visits to Centerville were of the library’s striking physical space. She says she is impressed by the Friends’ diligent fundraising efforts to keep the library well-stocked and up to date.
“They’re striving constantly to do more and more, and now with this offering of corporate or individual sponsorships, this should enable them to do even more for the library,” she says.
Parts of Russo’s “Gone with the Wind” collection are currently on display at the library.
Pat is also a collector and has decorated the basement of their home with his collection of bar signs.
Dan Dwyer has loved trains since he was a child.
When he was growing up in Chicago, Ill., his mother would take him to the Marshall Field’s department store around Christmas to see Santa Claus. He was always excited to see the model train sets running.
“Then I got a train set for Christmas one year — and I’ve been following trains ever since,” he says.
Dwyer built a layout for model trains in the 1970s when he and his family lived in California. When they moved to a different city, he didn’t have room for it in his new house and sold it.
He had been longing for another layout, though, and he started another one shortly after his son died in 2006. He and his wife, Judy, decided to change their surroundings as part of their grieving process, which led them to Centerville in 2007. He kept working on the layout in their new house in Iowa.
Dwyer says his favorite model train is the Southern Pacific Daylight, which had served as a luxurious passenger train. In 1984, that very train came through their area in California on its way to the World’s Fair in New Orleans, La., and his family went to see it.
“I have some still photographs of Judy holding our son, Matt, and standing around the train as it was stationed there overnight,” he says. “It just became my favorite train.”
Dwyer says he prefers model steam engines to model diesel engines.
“They’re nostalgic, and the machinery that went into a steam engine is amazing,” he says. “The diesel engine is just an overgrown truck engine — most of the diesels today have one guy in the cabin, and they’re run by computers.”
The layout is of a 1950s-era town. A streetcar goes up and down in the town, which includes an industrial area, a downtown and residences. Dwyer pays attention to the tiniest of details: a little pond has fish in it, construction workers are working on a building, a man is exiting an outhouse, and people are enjoying ice cream. A man mows his lawn, a dog barks at a cat on a fence, and a guy sits outside a shop waiting for his wife to come out.
Dwyer says he was able to get most of the components for his layout online. His favorite part is a junkyard filled with old cars and clutter. His favorite building is the movie theater, which perpetually shows “The African Queen.” He says the layout is always a work in progress, and he is always getting new ideas, like including birds on fine wires.
“I am always getting ideas to do this and do that,” he says. “My wife will have a sewing party or whatever, and I will come up here, and I’ll run the trains while her company is here.”