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‘Old Fashioned Fourth’ offers drama, history, crafts and more

Jerry (left) and Jimmy DeKam show of their model farm items Friday morning at Pioneer Village in Worthington. Ryan McGaughey/Daily Globe

WORTHINGTON — The scent of fresh-popped corn wafted through the air of Pioneer Village’s big barn Friday and Saturday as people young and old took their seats for the 27th annual melodrama, performed as part of the Old-Fashioned Fourth of July celebration at the historic site.

“Egad, What a Cad!” drew an appropriate response — catcalls, hisses, boos, oohs, aahs and lots of laughs — from participative audiences in four performances over the two-day, Nobles County Historical Society-sponsored event.

But the Shari Nelson-directed production was only a small part of the festivities, which included cookie baking in a wood-stoked oven, rope making, tractor viewing and, being an All-American activity on the ultimate All-American weekend, eating.

“I’m getting a root beer float,” chirped Melody Moiler, a cheerful fifth-grader from St. Paul (formerly of Worthington) who, as the guest of Worthington resident Dianne Dalrymple, was not only taking in all Pioneer Village had to offer; she was also marking her 10th birthday.

“I celebrated by making a rope,” she shared, holding up a new one as evidence.

Many who ventured to the Pioneer Village grounds enjoyed the extensive display of “made from scratch” toy machinery and farm items constructed by identical twins Jimmy and Jerry DeKam, 60, of Ruthton.

The bachelor brothers, lean and smiling from their 6’6” world view, delighted in showing off the product of their nearly 40 years of labor to an appreciative audience.

“We started with model car kits when we were 12 or 13,” said Jimmy, “and we started making things for this display in 1976.”

The pair share a Chevy Silverado and work for hire in light construction, home building, cabinet making and remodeling, but their passion is in adding to their miniature world of vehicles, farm implements, silos and everything in between.

“We’re early risers — around 5 a.m. — and we work on this for close to two hours before breakfast — and if we get a good blizzard, we do it then, too,” grinned Jerry, adding that their work area is in their home’s basement.

“I’m building a fifth-wheel camper with three slides,” said Jimmy of his current project.

The sons of Tracy DeKam, 86, and the late Peter J. DeKam of Ruthton, Jimmy and Jerry live on the family acreage with Tracy, who continues as the brothers’ chief cook and bottle washer.

“They eat everything,” she declared. “They don’t have any favorites — and I don’t like to cook,” she laughed, glancing upwards at her lanky sons.

Jerry and Jimmy estimate they’ve assembled 160 model car kits over the years, and at least 17 semi tractor kits. They have a weakness for Mustangs, Corvettes and Camaros, as well as a fondness for all things John Deere.

They employ generous portions of patience, time, skill and ingenuity in the pursuit of their craft, with Jerry describing how their soaring silos were constructed of beveled wood strips glued into a cylindrical shape before being turned on a lathe.

The DeKams also save all scraps and extra parts from any models they construct, turning them into unexpected items as part of their impressive toy world.

“Sally Zuehlke recruited us to come here,” said Jerry of their appearance at the Worthington festival. The Old-Fashioned 4th of July is their first exhibit here, though they have at least two relatives who are local residents — Bev Gravenhof and Darla DeKam.

It’s only been in recent years — since Ruthton’s 125th anniversary, when they first displayed their work — that they’ve gone public with their hobby. Things snowballed from there, with the DeKams now regularly attending the antique power threshing event in Hanley Falls and a toy show in New Ulm, among other sites.

“We do it to relax,” said Jimmy of the twins’ distinctive hobby. “Other people read or knit, but this is what we do to unwind.”

But at 5 a.m.? What about the evenings?

“At 7 p.m., I’m probably sleeping in my chair or watching a Twins game,” laughed Jerry. “I’m a Twins fan, sink or swim.”