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He Builds Popcorn Wagons For Fun
Making popcorn at Bob Anderson's shop is as pleasurable as eating it. The Chetek, Wis., man has a variety of restored and hand-built popcorn wagons to choose from, including a couple of rare horse-drawn Cretors wagons. The Chicago-based company was owned by Charles Cretors, who patented the process for popping corn in seasoned lard and butter oil in 1893, and added a popping unit to his peanut roasting carts. It wasn't long before popcorn had gained top billing.
  The wagons were hand-pulled, self-contained concession stands powered by white gasoline (Naphtha) to generate steam that ran a steam engine. The engine operated the popper, peanut roaster and even blew a crowd-attracting whistle. After 1900, larger Model C and Model D horse-drawn models allowed vendors to tow the wagon to events. A few other companies also sold popcorn wagons, but Cretors were the best known.
  "They were the most popular because they were built to last out of steel and wood. Other popcorn wagons were all wood so they wore out faster," says Anderson.
  The retired dairy farmer used to restore and build horse-drawn equipment as a side business. After retiring, he focused on building horse-drawn carriages for commercial use. "But I always wanted a popcorn wagon," he says. "I bought my first one 25 years ago. I restored it. When I sold my carriage business, I started restoring popcorn wagons for others and myself."
  Like the early 1900's, some of his buyers use them for vending businesses, while some buy them for collections or as an investment. Others buy them to simply enjoy and pop popcorn for family and friends.
  Anderson has old parts and machines to restore full-size popcorn wagons and to build 1/3 and 1/2-scale models. He uses original restored wagons for patterns, but instead of the gas-fired poppers, he installs hanging electric poppers in the wagons. He uses oak wood and makes the doors and windows, but contracts with others to paint and do the upholstery work.
  Besides wagons, he has also restored a popcorn truck, which was more expensive and complicated since he had to overhaul the truck and rebuild the frame. Depending on the complexity and model, he sells his popcorn wagons and trucks from $1,800 to $35,000.
  "They're all challenging and fun. I wouldn't do it if I didn't enjoy it," says Anderson, who is 81.
  He has a personal collection of restored antiques and replicas including buggies, pedal cars and sleds. He has enough projects to last him about a year, including restoring a horse-drawn hearse, a miniature milk wagon - and more popcorn wagons.
  Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Bob Anderson, 1021 23rd St., Chetek, Wis. 54728 (ph 715 924-3820; bobent@chibardun.com).

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2008 - Volume #32, Issue #6