Beyond the Barn Door at Barnacopia Agricultural Museum
When he began collecting and refurbishing antique tractors six years ago, second-generation farmer Gary Bocker knew that as he got older he wouldn’t be able to spend as much time in the fields alongside his son and grandsons. He wanted to leave a legacy that would outlive his time on the farm.
“Gary wanted to show [his grandsons] what farming was like when he was a kid,” says Judy Bocker, his wife. “Now, farm equipment is push-button and computer-driven. Farmers used to have to sit out in the inclement weather with no protection, but now, everything is caged in (enclosed or covered by a cab) and you have air conditioning.”
Labor of Love
When Gary’s collection began to outgrow its space at the Bocker home in Polo, Judy suggested they build a barn in the backyard that would not only serve as a permanent home for the tractors, but also an educational attraction for the entire community. From this idea grew the concept for Barnacopia, a 150-foot-by-75-foot museum and meeting space. The Bockers began construction on the barn in 2011 with help from Ridott-based T&S Construction and a wooden peg barn kit, the type of construction used in early barn-raising days.
“[The company] cut the barn pieces in Connecticut with wood from Maine, Connecticut and Canada. Then they put the pieces on six semi-trucks and shipped them to us as a sort of puzzle,” Judy explains. “When we were ready to put it together, the company sent a builder to work with us for two weeks to help unveil the puzzle and teach Gary and the builders how to begin putting it together. We thought, ‘Oh boy, this is going to take a long time,’ but a year and nine months later, we had the barn finished.”
A Growing Attraction
Barnacopia’s three-story museum houses more than a dozen refurbished tractors, including the 1948 8N Ford, the first tractor Gary Bocker learned to drive on his family farm. The tractor holds a special place both in Gary’s heart and Barnacopia, where he enclosed it in a glass pit that visitors walk over when they first enter the barn. Another tractor revolves on a platform in the third-floor cupola. Many of the artifacts in Barnacopia have a personal significance. For example, the second-floor collection of vintage cars includes the models Gary and Judy first owned.
“Gary gets artifacts from everywhere,” Judy says. “People find things for him on eBay. We had cars delivered from New York, Pennsylvania and Florida, just to name a few.”
The museum’s exhibits, which include a display showing how the design of grain elevator conveyor belts have changed over time, give visitors an agricultural history lesson. Another exhibit shows how Mason Street – a major thoroughfare in Polo – looked in the 1950s. Judy says the museum pays homage to all types of agriculture.
“What has been really fun for us is watching how the exhibits trigger stories from our visitors,” she says. “They’ll see something and say, ‘Oh, we had that,’ and then maybe share a story about their own experiences. It’s been really fun to listen to people reminisce.”
Thanks to the success of their grandson’s wedding reception, held on the first floor of the barn before its completion, Barnacopia has also become a sought-after wedding and events venue. An adjacent silo houses a two-bedroom bed-and-breakfast. Judy says in 2014, Barnacopia hosted a wedding almost every weekend from April through November.
“We’ve hosted every type of meeting from weddings and baby showers to feed meetings and the Lions Club,” she says. “Everybody has wanted to come and tour the barn.”
[infobox alignment=”full” title=”If You Go…”]You can find Barnacopia at 2570 N. Westbranch Rd. in Polo, about an hour northeast of the Quad Cities and southwest of Rockford. The museum is open Friday through Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. unless they’ve scheduled a private event. Check the calendar on barnacopia.com for details. Admission costs $10 for adults and teens; children 12 and under get in free. At the end of the tour, the Bockers treat visitors to free ice cream in the 1950s-style diner and ice cream parlor.[/infobox]