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Horse-Drawn Hearse Built From Walnut
J.R. Pearson laughs that building a horse-drawn hearse 23 years ago was an impulsive pipe dream. But the beautiful walnut wood and curved glass hearse is a nice addition to his collection of old farm and horse-drawn equipment and wagons that he built for The Barns Museum. Since it was featured 4 years ago (Vol. 43, No. 3), the Iowa collector has added another building for a total of 13,000 sq. ft of space in five buildings.
The hearse was a collaborative project with his friend and wood supplier, Loren Schrier. Both were fascinated by hearses and finding an undercarriage from a hearse in Brookings, S.D., was all it took to get them started.
The steel parts were usable except for one broken spring, which an Amish friend made for less than $10.
“We made up our own pattern and made it wider and longer for new caskets,” Pearson says, noting they used cardboard pieces as they designed the hearse. The double-plated safety glass came out of a storefront and was cut to size for the windows.
“The biggest challenge was getting it out of the shed when it was done,” Pearson recalls. The hearse needed to go out a back door 8 ft. off the ground, so they had to build a ramp and used a windlass and rope to let it down slowly. A crowd gathered to watch to see if the hearse would land intact. It did, and it’s been used for four funerals, three of them with Pearson’s Belgian draft horses. A couple of the funerals were especially memorable. The first was for the grandson of the woman who did the hearse’s upholstery work. Another was for an Oliver tractor collector; one of his tractors was used to pull the hearse.
At 5 1/2 by 12 ft. and weighing 800 lbs., without a coffin, Pearson takes precautions with the hearse. He checks out cemeteries first for unsafe slopes and won’t use it when it rains.
At 82, Pearson no longer has horses, and the hearse is parked in one of his museum’s buildings. It joins a few other wagons he built, including a Victorian coach and mail buggy. Other antique equipment dates from 1822 to 1950 such as an original 1911 threshing machine and an 1895 clover huller.
The museum is open for tours by calling ahead for a reservation, $20/each for small groups of four or so; $10/each for bus groups.
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, The Barns Museum, J.R. Pearson, Marcus, Iowa (ph 712-229-4809; pearson41@evertek.net).

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2023 - Volume #47, Issue #4