Deer Creek Museum to open, captures town's charm

Enthusiasm and a love of local history helped build a home for preserving the history of Deer Creek. Not knowing what they were getting into also helped Jim and Darlene Truax and Frank Tranby take on the ambitious project of transforming the old ...

Enthusiasm and a love of local history helped build a home for preserving the history of Deer Creek. Not knowing what they were getting into also helped Jim and Darlene Truax and Frank Tranby take on the ambitious project of transforming the old town fire hall into the Nibi Washkesh Deer Creek Museum.

"I look at it now and I think we were nuts," Tranby said with a glance at a photo of the building before the restoration--the fire hall had been vacant for 30 years.

The museum project began in the spring of 1999 when the city was going to demolish the fire hall, Jim said. Tranby and Jim approached the Deer Creek City Council requesting an opportunity to renovate the building into a museum.

"They said, 'yeah we'll give you a year to see what you can do,'" Jim recalled.

The Truaxes and Tranby didn't have a year to complete the project, however. Deer Creek's centennial celebration was in July and their work began in March. They worked five to six hours a day six days a week to get the museum ready.


The enthusiastic duo of Jim and Tranby couldn't sleep some nights due to their excitement over the project.

"We'd wake up dreaming about something we could do down here," Tranby said. "We were so animated about this."

Tranby would get up in the morning and tell Jim about his idea, he said. And he wasn't the only one who was thinking about the museum.

"Jim would call me and say, "I've come up with this idea,'" Tranby said. "We'd hike down here and see if we could put our dreams to work."

And there was certainly plenty of work to accomplish.

The windows were all busted out, Darlene said. And the window frames were rotted and the ceiling was hanging down.

"It was a mess," she said.

Her husband, Jim, isn't a carpenter but he made new window frames for the building, she said. They painted them fire engine red and hung curtains. Someone who wished to remain anonymous donated a tin ceiling. Another man donated money to install joists under the wood floor.


Watching their dreams for the museum slowly materialize was encouraging for Tranby.

"It's funny, when you get started on a project like this, you do one thing then you can see what you've accomplished and it encourages you to go right on and do the next thing," he said.

When it was all finally complete Deer Creek had a charming tribute to its more than 100 years of history. The museum is an opportunity for history buffs off all ages to learn about the area once known as Nibi Washkesh, Ojibwe for "stream of the deer."

The building and its contents are all a product of local industry and social life.

The fire hall, with its brick exterior the tan color of a deer, was built in 1906. The clay bricks that were used to construct the original building and renovate the museum came from a brick factory that once stood northwest of town, Jim said. Townspeople donated locally made bricks salvaged from demolished downtown buildings to be used in the restoration.

Inside the small confines of the fire hall are historical items donated by past and present residents of Deer Creek and the surrounding area.

A ballot box from Inman Township, butter boxes from the Deer Creek creamery and an albino pocket gopher are examples of the eclectic gathering of objects exhibited in the museum. The Deer Creek school donated many items including a set of annuals from 1953 until the school closed, excluding years 1987 and 1989. Ron Baumann and his wife donated a large case that once stood in a Deer Creek bank. And the window from the old Corner Bar owned by the Hendershots leans against a wall.

There are several displays of clothing. Blue and gold basketball uniforms recall a time when shorts were actually short. A father and son set of WWI and WWII uniforms used by William and Glen Wheeler honor patriotism in Deer Creek. And a heavy sheepskin coat harkens back to long, cold winters on the farm.


Significant events such as the 1909 flood and when Deer Creek won the Minnesota State Amateur Class B baseball title in 1970 are all recognized in the museum.

In addition to the historical items, monetary donations were also important in making the museum happen.

At the beginning of the project, letters were sent out to past Deer Creek graduates asking for donations. The response was very good from both local people and those who moved away, Jim said.

News of the renovation plans and childhood memories motivated three Rebehn sisters to donate generously in memory of their parents George and Esther Rebehn who owned a Chevrolet garage in Deer Creek. The ring of the fire hall bell still resonates in Sandra (Rebehn) McDonald's memory. Jim said that McDonald, who now lives in Virginia with her husband, remembered that when the bell rang at 9 p.m. it was time for the kids to get home.

The museum creators also sought help outside Deer Creek ties. Melissa Hermes from the Otter Tail County Historical Society helped them to obtain a $5,200 state grant.

The donations and grants totalled $27,000 in all.

It's amazing how much people who moved away from Deer Creek years ago are really interested in the town's history, Jim said. Deer Creek was a very up and promising town at one time. And has maintained a consistent population of around 300 since it was incorporated in 1899.

The museum brings back memories for people, Tranby said.


A woman who visited recently couldn't get over the place and kept saying "'oh, I remember this, I remember that,'" he said.

Visitors can even take home mementos of town history. Deer Creek hats, decorative spoons and a history book published for the town's centennial celebration are available for purchase. The history book features "A poem of Deer Creek," by Linda Missling that provides a clever retelling of the events and people who formed the town's history.

Missling even offers a tribute to the museum in a portion of her poem:

Now, the old fire hall has been fixed up

And soon will be a museum

Due to Frank Tranby and Jim Truax

So thank them when you see 'em.

It will always be a landmark


On the corner of the block,

And its siren will still echo

At noon, 6 and 9 o'clock.

It was built in a way

That was meant to last,

Now it will be a reminder

Of our heritage and past.

For those interested in being reminded of Deer Creek's heritage the museum is located downtown at the corner of 106th Street. It is open 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. Saturdays from Memorial Day through Labor Day or by appointment. Jim can be reached at (218) 462-2591 and Tranby can be reached at (218) 462-2412. They encourage people to come and visit any time of year.


"That's what it's here for is the people to see," Jim said.

The museum will be open for Deer Trail Days July 28.

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