Illinois: Toying with History - Items From Past Set for Display

By Denise Moran, The Courier-News

GENOA -- Longtime resident Roger Watson is adding local interest to the Genoa City Hall front lobby with a display of his wooden trucks and tractors.

"Mayor Todd Walker wanted to put something in the lobby," Watson said. "Some of the trucks and tractors are homemade, while others were made during World War II. Some of them are very rare."

Watson is a farm toy collector. He buys, sells, trades, customizes and repairs farm toys, and builds wooden models. He has a collection of around 300 1/16-scale farm tractors. He was one of the founders, with Merle Roberts and Warren Brown, of Genoa's annual Pioneer Day at the Kishwaukee Valley Heritage Society museum along Park Avenue.

"I like John Deere and Minneapolis-Moline tractors the best," Watson said. His display will be at city hall this week. "It's a good hobby."

Some of Roger's model farm equipment was displayed in shop windows during Genoa's Harvest Moon Festival.

Watson, who moved to Genoa in 1964, grew up on a farm as one of the oldest children in a family of five boys and two girls.

"My mom asked me to fix some of our toys," Watson said. "I've always repaired things, even as a kid."

The skills he learned while growing up on a farm have provided him with both hobbies and an interest in pioneer life.

"My grandfather was a wheelwright," Watson said. "He got me interested in wood carving. I've been making wooden spoons since I was 9 years old."

His uncle once constructed a homemade rope machine and taught Watson how to use it.

"All boys like to play with ropes and strings," Watson said. "I started making rope when I was 8 or 9 years old. I have taught children in schools and Scout groups how to make rope. There's a lot of interest in it."

Watson recently taught children how to make rope during Winterfest at Russell Woods Forest Preserve at Genoa.

He told them that the hemp to make rope was once grown in northern Illinois. Today, hemp is grown in China and Japan.

There were hemp mills in DeKalb, Kirkland and Shabbona many years ago. According to Watson, there is still one hemp mill in DeKalb but is no longer in use.

"They stopped making rope in northern Illinois after World War II," Watson said.

Watson's wife, JoAnn, is a Ward 3 alderman on the Genoa City Council. The two were married in 1958 and moved to Genoa in 1964. They have four daughters and many grandchildren.

"I love Genoa," Roger said. "We still call it a small country town. It's a good place to live."