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Surrey returned to birthplace

Published: Monday, Jan. 20, 2014 10:47 a.m. CDT

The surrey was in their great grandfather’s barn, sitting stately and proud, albeit dust and bird-dropping covered. 

It was the perfect plaything for imaginative games of “wagon train,” “cowboys and Indians,” or “saving the milk cows from rustlers.”

It may have been the Great Depression years of the 1930s, but Bud and his brother, Maynard Gueldenhaar, were pretty much unaware of difficult times. There was plenty to eat on the farm near Prairie Grove, between Danville and Burlington, and everyone they knew were no better off than they were.

Years later, Bud’s uncle asked him to remove the surrey from the barn before it suffered more damage. The roof of the barn had sagged, breaking a bow on the surrey’s top.

Bud could have the surrey as long as he took good care of it.  Note: a surrey is a two-seated, horse-drawn carriage, while a buggy is a one-seater.

Bud, then in his early 30s, took the surrey to Farmington, Ill., and stored it at the Farmington Wilbert Vault Works, where he was employed. To save space the surrey was tied to the ceiling of the funeral vault plant — a constant reminder to Bud of the work the surrey needed.

In 1966, Bud was transferred to Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and the surrey was returned to the Gueldenhaar Farm near Prairie Grove. There it stayed until 1987 when it was taken to Puyallup, Wash., by Bud’s daughter and son-in-law.

Later that year, Bud retrieved the surrey from Washington, and took it to his home in Coquitlam, British Columbia, where he began restoration. All parts were removed and, with a lot of hard work and elbow grease, cleaned, sanded, painted, and preserved. 

When he reassembled the now much better-looking surrey, he stored it at Medallion Casket Ltd, in Burnaby, British Columbia, where he was working.  In 1989 Bud and his wife Joyce brought the surrey back to their home in Coquitlam, B.C.

They dismantled and stored it in the crawlspace under their home. In 1999, for a millennium project, they brought the surrey back to the Gueldenhaar Heritage Farm near Prairie Grove. 

The surrey had gone full circle. But it’s journey was not over.

In 2012, wanting to share the history, beauty, and craftsmanship of the hundred-year old horse-drawn surrey with the public, the Gueldenhaars donated it to the Midwest Old Threshers Heritage Museum in Mount. Pleasant. There it stayed for a year.

However, Old Threshers is more about steam engines, rather than horse-drawn equipment. In 2013, the surrey was donated to the Carriage House Museum in Moline, Ill., which is within one-to-two miles of where the surrey was originally built by the Velie Carriage Company.

The company was founded in 1902 by Willard Velie, a grandson of plow manufacturer John Deere. Bud believes this vintage surrey to have been manufactured between 1907 and 1913.

Bud Gueldenhaar can just visualize his Grandpa Gueldenhaar and Bud’s dad, Walter, sitting on the front seat of the handsome black surrey, along with Grandma in the back seat with her two daughters, Alma and Frieda, on either side. Walter had dusted the surrey, knowing full well that it would quickly get dusty again from the dirt roads. 

Grandpa’s flat brimmed hat sat square on his head, a cigar in his mouth. Down the road they would roll, wheels shining in the sun, on their way to the Prairie Grove Church on Sunday morning. The surrey was used only for church, and the “town horses” did the pulling.

The Velie surrey still shines.  It is on display at the Rock Island County Historical Society, 822 11th Ave., Moline, IL, close to the place where it was originally built. Who knows where the Velie surrey will go next?

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