Three miles west of Wadena and a half-mile south of Highway 10, Richard and Carol Taggart have turned a part of their land back in time 100 years. They have left no stone unturned resurrecting “Grandpa’s Place.” Even the scarred cast iron bars that graced a two-cell jail in the old Wadena display are authentic.
“I think we’d better build something for our old cars, maybe a 42 by 64-foot building,” Rich said.
Now they had room for more items, and Rich was attracted to that era. Some of his best memories were of his brothers and him on Grandpa Jim Taggart’s farm.
Rich tells his story best: “In 1998, I decided a jukebox from the ‘50s would be nice, if I could find one. After a lot of looking and checking, I found a jukebox magazine. On the cover there was an article of a man named Chuck Wolf who had bought a big truckload of jukeboxes from Canada.
Naturally, I called Mr. Wolf and found out that he was going to Chicago to a very large antique show. After a long discussion, we bought a 1953 Seeburg jukebox from him, and he was going within 50 miles of Wadena. We couldn’t wait to hear our old 45s.
“We soon found out that they were scratched and didn’t play well. We were fortunate to find a place where we could buy new 45s. It didn’t take long to buy 50 records the jukebox held. They sounded great, and we have played over 3,000 records, thanks to our son Randy, who keeps it working for us.
“Along with Craigslist, Norms Auction, private sellers and attending the big Chicago auction show that we learned about from Chuck, we have purchased a few things over the years. I have bought gas pumps, gas signs, juke wall boxes, movie posters and stoves.
“Around 10 years ago we started our first display, which was a ‘50s soda fountain in a corner display. It even has the black and white checked floor. Over the years, we kept adding to it until the spring of 2013. We completed it with a stainless steel soda fountain with soda dispensers like they had in the old drug stores.
“We have a few items from our early years, and one of my favorites is a four-pack of cigarettes that Norma Lee, a classmate, gave us. Cigarettes like these were passed out to each student as they exited the school bus on our senior high school trip to Coffman Hall at the University of Minnesota. I am pretty sure that doesn’t happen anymore.
“In 2010 I decided to build a gas station at the end of our driveway. As I always liked Texaco gas stations, I drew up plans how I wanted it to look. We hired Amish carpenter David Yoder and Carol’s nephew, Quentin Johns. Soon there was a 1950s gas station in our front yard, with two restored gas pumps from South Dakota, a 20-foot Texaco sign from Colorado, a light pole, Coke machine, stoplight and a phone booth to complete the look.
“In 2011, I got the idea to build a saloon inside our antique building. Now we were looking for a western front bar and back bar that were at least 100 years old. We found a 13-foot back bar in St. Paul. They wanted the money up front, so the check went in the mail. A week later we rented a trailer and went after our bar, which turned out to be 8 1/2 feet. Wow! However, this turned out to be a blessing as it left room for a three-whiskey barrel display and a player piano from the same era on the back wall.
I saw this piano on Craigslist for $135 with 60 rolls of music and a bench, plus it was electrified so you didn’t need to pump it. I didn’t call for a week or so, but it got the best of me, so I finally called. The owner said he could have sold it a couple of times, but didn’t like what they wanted it for. I told him about our historic saloon. He said, ‘It sounds great. Come and get it.’ My friend Paul and I were off to Minnetonka to pick up a player piano with our horse trailer and on the way back, picked up the three whiskey barrels for the saloon.
“Now we are back looking for the 100-year-old front bar. I finally found one on Craigslist in Kentucky. So in April, Carol and I headed to Kentucky to get our 18-foot bar. I had them measure it twice, but of course, by the time we got there, it had shrunk to 16 feet, wouldn’t you know it? Believe it or not, this turned out to be much better as 16 feet fit better in the saloon.
“On this trip we also picked up three life-sized characters for the saloon that were special ordered. There was a saloon gal, bartender and cowboy with his leg bent so it would rest on a bar rail. Next, we started looking for an old table and chairs like you see in the movies. We found a set that fit well. We needed a few other items to finish off the decor so we added a mounted buffalo head and a roulette wheel. This is also where the still ended up. I drew more plans, and the same Amish carpenter and my helper built it.
“In 2011, I was on Craigslist looking for a wall oak toilet advertisement when, to my surprise, an old two-cell jail pops up! Looking at the picture, it was an 1800s jail with a toilet in the corner. The “toilet” was a pail inside a small compartment. There was also a fold-down cot in each cell. After a few phone calls, Paul and I were off to Ohio to bring back this two-cell jail. It was a fast trip, one day down and one day back. No sightseeing this time. I wanted it to look exactly like an old western jail so it was back to the drawing board for me. This time we had two of our grandsons, Kyle and Dylan, build it. They turned out another great job. Before the front was built, the jail had to be installed. Once they were done, we needed bars for three windows and the door. I could hardly believe our luck when Larry Gulsvig had some bars from the Wadena County jail that had been replaced 40 years ago.
“The bars had to be reworked to fit. Oliver Haugo also had some of the same bars to help finish the project. Along with a roll top desk, strong box, signs, guns, handcuffs and wanted posters, etc. were added to the interior of the jail. It really looked just like the old west. I am really happy with it.
“Another thing we found in 2013 was a Davis Swing butter churn. After researching butter churns, I found they made a treadmill to operate the churn by a dog or goat. With more than a bit of luck, I found one. It is in dire need of loving care, but being over 100 years old, I guess we will all need a band aid or two by then.
“Outside of the building, our son, Randy, and grandson, Dylan, and I are putting up our ninth gas station sign in a row. We also have four railroad crossing signs up. Another favorite item is a wooden windmill made by Monitor on a 31-foot tower that our sons Rick, Randy and Kelly helped erect.
“Whenever I tell myself that I am pretty well done with buying antiques, my wife smiles and my sons look doubtful. Time will tell. We only know for sure that we have had a ball putting together Grandpa’s Place.”
Special thanks to the Wadena Pioneer-Journal for sharing this story with us.