Farming, racing and railroading

ALGONA – Farming, racing and trains are the three areas of interests that are unique to the new Kossuth Museum in Algona, all three tied uniquely to Kossuth County.

The Kossuth County Racing Hall of Fame “recognizes racers and those who were successful in racing or achieved success in race-related positions,” said Chad Meyer, a board member.

Before now, he said, “It didn’t have a home.”

The idea of an agricultural and motorsports museum had its beginning when a tractor group approached the Kossuth County Racing Hall of Fame to join forces in building a place for both, Meyer said.

“It was a good fit for us,” said Meyer, of the Kossuth County Museum. There were Kossuth County residents who “farmed by day and raced by night.”

The museum was proposed in 2007. But after four months of spinning its wheels, a consultant was hired to measure area support.

Raising capital

Meyer said the key to accomplishing the building project was selecting the right co-chairs for the campaign. He credits CPA Jim Vogt, Joe Annis and Arlen Benschoter, all of Algona, for spearheading the necessary work.

A capital campaign was started to raise $700,000 for the building and $200,000 for an endowment that would take care of the overhead.

Most of the money was raised in eight to nine months, said Meyer.

Vision Iowa awarded a grant of $100,000.

Algona Municipal Utilities provided a $360,000 no-interest loan to kick-start the project.

Model railroad

Arlen Benschoter is 76 and a lifelong Algona-area farmer.

“I’m still farming,” said Benschoter who raises corn and soybeans.

Benschoter said he was 4 when he received an electric train set that was the beginning of his interest in model railroading.

He said he still has the set and said it runs.

While he was already collected model trains, he said that around 1994 or 1995 he started his hobby in earnest.

He has more than 300 engines in his collection.

Benschoter attended the museum organizational meetings and, after a year, was named a member on the directors board.

His train collection will be displayed at the north end of the building in a separate 40-by-60-foot room.

A small display was in place for last year’s Kossuth County Fair and since then he been overseeing a working model train setup complete with towns, a lake, and mountains in time for the 2014 fair.

The museum’s webpage states, “We believe this will be one of the largest train displays in the Midwest.”

Union Pacific Railroad gave the museum $20,000 to help with the project.

Hall of fame

Construction of the building began in April 2013. Most of the work was completed in time for last year’s fair when 2,000 visitors toured the facility.

Original artwork by artist Russell Sonneburg hangs on the walls of the main floor. Last fall, 200 people attended an exhibit of Sonneburg’s art.

On March 2, 150 people attended a panel discussion on sprint car history.

The panel members were Algona native Jim Edgington, now of Kansas City; Dick Forbrook, of Morgan, Minn.; and Stacy Redmond of Mason City; all members of the Kossuth County Racing Hall of Fame.

Besides the museum displays, there is a meeting room with a capacity of 95 attendees available for rent when not used for educational purposes.

It is equipped with a kitchenette, a 60-inch flat screen television and a 70-inch projection screen.

The museum building is both heated and air conditioned.

The main floor of the museum is handicapped accessible. Plans are in place to add chair lifts to make the balcony handicapped accessible.

More information about the museum can be found at kossuthmuseum.com.