Serving Minnesota and Northern Iowa.

Hardware store was Calvin DeBuhr's life

By Renae B. Vander Schaaf

Date Modified: 03/28/2013 8:57 PM

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ELLSWORTH, Minn. — Calvin DeBuhr and his business partner Dick Groen partnered in the late 1930s to create a Case dealership.

A building built by the Burke Brothers in 1891 to be a farm implement business was perfect for their Case dealership.

The two men rented a building from Burke Brothers and an empty lot from Ed Nelson.

World War II interfered with their plans to serve farmers on the Iowa-Minnesota state line when they entered military service. The business was closed for the duration of the war.

Dick Groen was killed in action and DeBuhr seriously injured. Months of recuperation began in a hospital in Italy before he was transferred to a Kansas hospital.

The Case Farm Store reopened after he recovered. Machinery came to town by trains. The Burlington Railroad established Ellsworth as a division point in 1886, and the firm built a five-stall roundhouse, put in a turntable and expanded the depot.

Son Marlyn remembers the pull-type Case combines sitting on rail cars. DeBuhr remained a Case dealer until the mid-1950s. He also sold Minnesota machinery, which was manufactured by prisoners.

He continued to sell short line farm equipment and practically everything else farmers used. Bolts, chains, tires, paint, feeders and lots of "V" belts. Daughter Eleanor Zylstra often helped her dad and said he used a long bamboo pole to lift belts from the hooks on the north wall. The hooks are still there.

DeBuhr depended on his six children to help. Just two blocks from his home, he often pedaled a bike to work or walked unless the weather was horrible.

Most days he would close the shop for dinner by placing a sign that said he'd be back at 1 p.m. The hour off created a few problems said, Zylstra. "Minnesota adopted Daylight Saving Time, whereas Iowa did not immediately. Ellsworth is just a mile from the Iowa border; so the noon hour differed on the farms those years, you can imagine the confusion that caused."

He was often too busy to break away at noon, so someone from home would bring a meal. The store was open six days a week, closed only on Sunday.

"Saturday night was a big night," Zylstra said. "It is the night the farmers all came to town. Families would spend time visiting."

The tradition remained when she graduated from high school in 1960.

She imagined it was often the only time the farmers and their wives came to town. It is the way things were back then, she said.

As people traveled more, it became more difficult for small-town hardware stores to remain open. Ellsworth had two: DeBuhr, which focused more on farmer's needs, and Bofenkamp's, which included more items for the home.

DeBuhr was the fix-it man, working in the back room repairing machines and engines. Peanuts could be had for a nickel from the peanut jar which was a staple on the store's counter.

The store was Calvin DeBuhr's life. At one time, he had the oldest family owned business in Ellsworth at more than 50 years. He never really retired but was still in it six days before his death just shy of his 85th birthday in 1989.