Meet the General Store Keeper

Storekeeper Pam is the lead guide at the Greteman General Store and a familiar face to many museum visitors. Let’s get to know her better!

Pam at General Store

Where are you from? I am originally from a town just outside of Boston, Massachusetts. Kids in Iowa grow up learning about the Ioway tribe, pioneers, raising pigs, and harvesting corn. Kids in Massachusetts grow up learning about the Wampanoag tribe, the Pilgrims, and harvesting cranberries and lobster. I have had fun living in and learning about both states, but Iowa has the better State Fair.

When we come to the museum, where can we find you? Most of the time you will find me behind the counter at Greteman’s General Store selling lemon drops, gum drops and sarsaparilla. I think everyone in Iowa likes lemon drops and gum drops because we sure do have lots of people asking for them every summer!

I have also worked at 1700 Ioway Farm and the 1900 Horse-powered Farm. It was fun to help play a small part in putting up one of the new buildings at the new 1700 Ioway site and I was able to learn how to use the cook stove at the 1900 Farm this summer. When I am in our 1875 Town of Walnut Hill, I can sometimes be found at the Flynn Mansion, the Schoolhouse, or making brooms in the Broom Shop.

broom shop

How did you learn how to cook and make brooms and what all of those things in the store are used for? I worked with other guides who could teach me new skills they already knew. In the summer, I also read about, research, and practice those skills every day. Sometimes you have to practice a long time to master a new skill. It took me a few tries to start a fire in the cook stove without making the room all smoky. My first few brooms came out uneven on the sides. I keep trying and eventually the new skill becomes an old skill and it’s on to something new!

The hardest, but most fun part of my job is learning how to do things the way they did in the past. Cooking at 1900 Farm without a microwave or electric appliances took a while to get used to. Every chore takes longer than what you think, so I have learned to start each task early in the day and have guests help as much as possible. Our kid visitors like to help refill the wood, wash dishes, mix biscuits, sweep floors, dust shelves, and put things away. Working as a team with our staff and volunteers also makes any job easier. If I don’t know how to do something, someone else I work with probably does and can talk me through the hard parts. At the end of the day, it is very satisfying to look at a clean, stocked, dusted General Store or a well-fed 1900 Farm.


Do you like wearing your historic period clothing? I love wearing my period clothing! The dresses for the Flynn Mansion are very fancy, but all the layers make it harder to move around. The dresses for the 1900 Farm are not very fancy, but are comfortable for doing all sorts of cooking and chores. My dresses for the General Store are a good mix of pretty and practical. Each site also has a collection of bonnets and hats for the ladies to wear and it is fun to pick one out that has a ribbon or flower that matches your dress.

General Store

What kinds of things can kids do at the General Store? When kids come visit the General Store the very first thing they can do is pull up a barrel and play a game of checkers! We sometimes have special activities like weighing dry goods, using historical tools or playing typical children’s games set up at the front of the store. Kids are always welcome to ask for a broom and help me sweep the floor. We get a lot of dust and dirt in because of the dirt road outside. Some of the items in the store are sharp or fragile, so if there is something you are interested in, ask me and I will be happy to help you see the item so both it and you are safe.


Who is your favorite person in history? Favorite person in history……That is a hard question….. I have many people from history that I admire. Esther Forbes is one of them. Even though she had dyslexia, she was able to write an award-winning biography on Paul Revere. She later took all the research she had done to write the biography and turned it into one of my favorite books of all time, Johnny Tremain.



Farmer Hilary

Hilary at the 1850 FarmThis week, let’s meet another historic guide at Living History Farms. Have you met Farmer Hilary? Hilary works at many of our historic buildings. Sometimes, she dresses up to be a Victorian lady at the Flynn House. Or you might see her in a work dress and apron while setting type in the Print Shop. She could be feeding chickens at the 1900 Farm. Most of the time, you will meet her at the 1850 Pioneer Farm. She wears a lot of different hats around the museum!

Hilary with a cake

Question: Where do you work at the museum?
Answer: During the summer, I work at the 1850 Pioneer Farm. I take care of things in the house like cooking, cleaning, and gardening, and I help take care of some of the animals too. In the winter, I work at the Tangen and Flynn houses. There, I cook and host for the Historic Dinners and Teas programs where people can come and have a meal!

Question: What do you do every day?
Answer: My job is to do what a farm woman would do every day in 1850. I gather water in the morning, light the fire to get ready to cook the noon day meal, garden, and take care of animals. But I also talk to people while I’m doing these things to show what life would be like for people moving to Iowa in the 1850’s. And no, I don’t live here! This is just my job, and I go home at the end of the day. Just like kids don’t live at school, I don’t live at work! But I take it as a compliment that I’m so convincing that people think I really do live here.

Hilary baking

Question: Is it hard to cook over a hearth?
Answer: I wouldn’t say it’s hard; it’s just different. I had to learn and practice how to cook over a fire, just like the pioneers did. When people left the East and decided to come live in Iowa, they had to leave their stoves behind because they were too big and heavy to fit in a covered wagon. They had to learn how to cook over a fire. It was hard at first since there aren’t any knobs or numbers to tell you how hot the fire is, but after a lot of practice, I know what the fire needs to look like to make sure it’s hot enough to cook with. My favorite thing is baking!


Question: Are the oxen/cows scary to be around?
Answer: Beau and Luke aren’t scary to me, even though they are big!!!! They weigh about 2,000 pounds each! WOW! Because they are animals, I had to learn how to act around them. The oxen and cows use their horns to scratch themselves if they have an itch, or to protect themselves from other animals or flies. Because they are so big, sometimes they can’t see what is around them, so at the 1850 Farm we have to watch where their heads are and what they are doing so we don’t get scratched by their horns. Ox

Cows’ eyes also work differently than a human’s, and our hands look really big to them if we try to pet them. That’s why cows don’t like to be petted, and they will try to protect themselves with those horns! Now that I know that, I know how to stay out of the way of the oxen’s horns.

Question: What should we know about visiting at the 1850 Pioneer Farm?
Answer: There are many really interesting things to do and see at the farm. Many of the animals are big and the fire is hot. Kids and parents should always ask a guide before they touch a tool or get near the fire in the cabin. We can help visitors get close to animals and pick up objects in ways that are safe for everyone.
1850 Farmers
Fall is one of Hilary’s favorite times at the 1850 Farm. Pumpkins are coming out of the field and the 1850 farmers are pickling and drying food, and getting ready for colder weather ahead. Come out and visit with Hilary and the 1850 farmers to learn more about fall on the farm!

Meet A Blacksmith! A visit with Blacksmith Dave

Have you met our blacksmiths? A blacksmith shapes and repairs things made of metal. In Walnut Hill, we have a blacksmith shop which uses tools the way smiths would have in the year 1875. This year there are eight smiths working in the shop throughout the week. BBlacksmith Davelacksmith Dave is our shop supervisor and has been working with the museum for over two summers now. You might also find him at the1900 Farm, print shop or even broom shop on occasion, but he spends most of his time around the forge. Let’s find out a little more about him and what he loves about working with metal.

Question. Where are you from originally?

Dave: I grew up on a farm near Lake Mills Iowa. It is in north central Iowa.

Question: Have you always been a blacksmith? How did you learn to use the tools in the shop?

Dave: Before working at the museum, I was a teacher. I taught students industrial arts–metal and wood working. I learned many of my skills in metalworking when I was in college and in my work as a teacher. You can also learn many things by talking to other smiths and by lots of practice. You learn by doing things.

Q. What kinds of things do you do at the museum every day? Blacksmith Dave

Dave: First, I make sure that I have enough coal on hand for the fire, then I light the fire in the morning, and then begin working on a project for the day. I get to talk with many visitors throughout the day and tell them about being a blacksmith in 1875.

Question: The fire is really hot and there are sparks and steam—do you ever burn yourself?

Dave: I have not burned myself in the blacksmith shop, but I try to be really careful and work smart. You have to remember to not just grab a piece of metal without checking to see if it’s hot. You have to assume that everything is hot and treat it that way.

Blacksmith Dave

Question: What should I know about how to act around the blacksmith shop when I visit with my family?

Dave: When you come in, there is a chain across the work area of the shop. Kids and their families should walk up to the chain to see what we are doing. The reason we ask people to stay on their side of the chain is that the metal on the forge or anvil can be over 800 degrees and still not look hot. People should not come over to the forge unless they are invited by the blacksmith. When it is safe, the smiths may ask you to come into the work area and help. But please ask first. Most important is to ask us lots of questions! We love to talk about what we are doing and show how things work!

Question: Why is it so dark in the blacksmith shop?

Dave: The dark room helps us to see the color of the metal when it comes out of the fire. The metal turns different colors as it gets hotter and hotter. We know when the metal can be shaped when it turns the right color.

Question: Is the hammer really heavy? Do you have to be really strong to be a blacksmith?Blacksmith Dave

Dave: The smallest hammer weighs 1 pound and the largest is an 8 pound sledge hammer. The hammer I use the most weighs 4 pounds. That gives me enough force to shape most of the things I make. We use the larger hammers on large pieces of steel such as the plowshares. You do not have to be overly strong to be a blacksmith because when the metal is very hot, it is relatively easy to shape. A blacksmith does have to have good endurance though. You are standing for long periods of time, working the bellows and using a hammer all day long.

Question: Do you make horseshoes? Do you make nails?

Dave: Blacksmiths in 1875 had the skill to make horseshoes and nails but by that time horseshoes and nails were made in factories by machines. Blacksmiths would shape the factory-made shoes to fit the horses’ hooves and nail them on to the hooves.

Blacksmith Dave

Question: What is the hardest job you have to do in the blacksmith shop?

Dave: Forge welding is probably the hardest skill to master. Welding is what happens when a blacksmith heats up two pieces of metal and joins them together. I learned to weld by reading instruction books, talking with other blacksmiths, and getting a lot of practice. You can read and talk about something, but to get good at a skill you just have to do it over and over. This is true about any skill that you want to master as you can always get better at something.

Question: When people visit with you at the museum, what is your favorite thing to talk with them about?

Dave: I think my favorite thing in the blacksmith shop is to demonstrate how and why the fire allows the metal to be shaped and not destroyed.

Question: What is your favorite thing that you make in the blacksmith shop?

Dave: Heart puzzles. Everyone seems to enjoy figuring out how they work.

Blacksmith DaveQuestion: Does the black stuff EVER come off your fingers?

Dave: Yes it does. I wash my hands vigorously with soap and water and they come clean.

Question: You know a lot about history! How do you learn it all?

Dave: I have been learning history my whole life. I have learned from my teachers in school and college. But I have also learned a lot of history by talking with people like my grandparents and parents. I also enjoy visiting museums. I try to read as much as I can. I use both the public library and our museum guide’s library here at Living History Farms.

Question: Who is your favorite person in history? Why?

Col__Theodore_RooseveltDave: Theodore Roosevelt. He was an excellent President who worked very hard to make life better for all people. He also led a very full life and had many interests outside of politics. He was a very early and important advocate for conservation.

Meet our Day Camp Chief Counselor!

Camp Creek WalkSummer is here! And that means it’s time for summer camp! Living History Farms has a day camp program for kids of many ages during the summer. If you’ve come out to camp before, you know that each camp group has a camp counselor that leads kids’ groups and helps them explore our sites! But did you know that all of our camp counselors have a chief camp counselor? Christa is our Day Camp Manager or Head Camp Counselor. She plans the summer activities for all the camps, makes sure each group has what it needs, and helps the other camp counselors know how to play games, do activities, and have a good time at the museum. Christa also plans and leads many of our Spring Break Camps and Winter Break Camps. If you come out for camp, you might find Christa helping a counselor greet her campers in the morning, bringing supplies for an activity, or even leading games and play during lunch! Let’s find out more about Christa and what she thinks about camp and summer fun!


Q. Have you always lived in Des Moines?

A. I have only lived in Des Moines (and Iowa for that matter) for 3 ½ years. I was born and mostly raised in Texas. I lived in 3 major cities of Texas. I was born in Dallas, I went to school in Houston, and I went to college in Austin. I also lived in Louisiana for a few years and in Germany for one year when I was little.

Q. Have you always worked with history camps?

A. While I have worked with camps before, they have all been science camps. I’m actually a biologist. I have worked for a science club, at an aquarium, and the Houston Zoo. During the school year I would go out to schools and teach science lessons. During the summers, I would teach camp or just help out with all the behind-the-scenes camp stuff. When I moved to Des Moines there just happened to be a job opening at a history museum, and I took it. I had to learn a lot about Iowa history in a very short time.

Q. Are you crafty? Is it hard to plan all those activities?

camp craft

A. I can be crafty. Some of the crafts I come up with turn out to be really cool, while others are great in my imagination, but don’t turn out as pretty as I would like. Planning camp activities can be tough, especially when there are so many camps! I try hard not to repeat activities and crafts from grade-to grade. It isn’t much fun to come back and do the same thing you did the year before.

Q. Why do you work with kids?

Christa and kids

A. When I started college I didn’t really know what I wanted to do “when I grew up”. I just knew I really liked science. In college, I had an internship working for a science club. I really enjoyed what I did there, coming up with cool activities, and ended up staying with them for three years. I realized that I really liked teaching, but not in a classroom. I wanted to have the freedom to make learning fun, with no tests to worry about. I figured the best place to do this would be at a museum. While it can be a challenge to make every topic interesting and hands-on, I try my best to do just that. Learning should be fun!

Q. Describe what a week of camp includes.

Camp circusCamp face paintCamp historic site

A. Camp is a lot of fun. When you first arrive at camp, you will meet your counselor and junior counselors. Once everyone is checked in, you travel to your camp site for the day. During the day you will get to walk around and visit different parts of the museum; some are parts that a normal visitor doesn’t get to see! There will be crafts, games, face painting, dress up, skits, visits to historic sites and farm animals, cooking over an open fire, shopping in the General Store, and creek walks! We explore many topics from history, to art, to math, and science. Time flies while you are here with so many things to do.

Q. Tell us something new about the 2014 camp season.

Big Red Barn School

A. Those who think they know everything about Living History Farms will be surprised to see some new changes to the museum. Not only is the 1700 Ioway Farm site moving, but we will be moving some camp sites too! This year, we welcome Sammy, who worked as a camp counselor last year, as our new Day Camp Assistant. We also have a new camp for kids entering 1st grade, called the Big Red Barn School camp. This full-day, 3-day camp takes a look at farming, from the animals and crops to home life. Campers will visit the different historical farms to see how farming changed through the centuries.

Q. What is your favorite place/site at LHF?

A. My favorite is the Flynn House. I would have enjoyed living during the Victorian time and in a grand house like the Flynn Mansion. I like the clothing that was worn then and how proper everything was. I may have thought differently if I actually had to grow up during that time period. It is fun to just pretend.

Flynn Mansion

There are still openings for our 2014 Summer Day Camp. Caregivers can find more information here.

Meet Farmer Kelly

The museum opens May 1st! That’s only three days away. When you visit our museum this season, there are many people for you to meet. There are greeters in the Visitor Center. There are tractor drivers who help people board the carts and drive them out to the trail stop. At each of the farms and shops, you will meet our historic guides. They are the people who answer questions and help guests understand what it was like to live in Iowa a long time ago. Kids often ask us about our jobs at the museum and what we do every day. Would you like to know more about us? Maybe why those historic guides like to dress up in long sleeved clothes on really hot days? Or how they know the answers to all those questions? Let’s get to know Farmer Kelly this week. Read about why she likes her job and what keeps her busy. Then stop in at the museum on Thursday and say hello!Farmer Kelly

Farmer Kelly works at the 1900 Horse-Powered Farm. You might see her working in the barn or driving the Percheron draft horses there. Do you think it’s hard to take care of those big horses? Or milking cows? Let’s ask her!

Q. Hi Farmer Kelly! Where at the museum do you work?

A. I spend most of my time at the 1900 Horse-Powered Farm, but you may also see me working with the oxen at the 1850 Pioneer Farm.

Q. We see you at the museum a lot. Do you live at Living History Farms?

A. I don’t live at the museum. I only work here during the day. When the museum closes, I go home to a modern house with indoor plumbing and electricity.

Q. Have you always lived here in Iowa?

A. I’m originally from Perry, Iowa, but I lived in New Hampshire for several years, where I learned a lot about dairy cows!

Q. Do you make your own old style clothing?

A. Thankfully, I don’t have to make my own clothing for work – called “Period Clothing”. We have someone who is in charge of making (and mending!) everyone’s clothes here at the museum. I do enjoy wearing my period clothing. It’s all made out of cotton, so it’s light, cool, and airy during the summer time, but it also protects me from the sun and from getting scraped up around the farm. 

Q. What kinds of things do you do at the farm every day?

A. The first thing I do when I get to the 1900 Farm is open up all of the buildings and feed the animals. They are always very hungry for breakfast! Every day is a little different. Some days I work in the fields planting, cultivating (that’s weeding), or harvesting crops. But other days I am mostly in the barnyard, fixing fences, splitting firewood, or cleaning out the barn.

Q. What is the hardest chore you have to do?

A. Splitting wood is one of the harder tasks I have to do. The logs and the ax can be heavy, and it takes a lot of bending over to pick up the split pieces of wood. It took a lot of practice to get better at it. The more I practice, the stronger I get. That makes it a lot easier, and my aim is even starting to improve! 

Q. What is the most fun chore you do?

A. Driving the horses is one of the most fun activities I get to do on the 1900 Farm. It usually doesn’t matter what I’m doing with them; even spreading manure can be fun. I like it because I get to spend time with the horses. It can be really relaxing to work with them, and its fun to show people that girls can drive the horses, too!  

Farmer Kelly

Q. Those horses are really big—are they scary to be around?

A. The horses are very big; some weigh more than 2000 pounds! But they aren’t scary to be around. All of our horses are very friendly and love to be petted. Draft horses are often referred to as “gentle giants”, and I’d say this is true of our horses!  Farmer Kelly

Q. When kids visit the 1900 Farm with their family, how should they act around the horses?

A. When you visit with your family, it’s important to ask a farmer before you pet a horse that isn’t in the barn. The horses also like if you act calm and cautious around them. Running and loud noises can make them nervous! You should also always be careful of going behind them and be careful of their back legs. Make a big, wide circle around the horse.  


Q. What do you like to show people at the 1900 Farm?

A. I love to talk with visitors about milk and dairying on the 1900 Farm. Did you know that milk wasn’t a common drink back then? I also love to show people how to milk a cow by hand. I even let visitors try it for themselves. If you visit the 1900 Farm in late June and July, usually at the beginning or end of the day, you might get a chance to try your hand at milking a cow.

 Farmer Kelly

Q. What is your favorite season and what are your favorite animals on the 1900 Farm?

A. My favorite season is spring. I love seeing everything green up as the snow disappears, and I’m always anxious to start working in the garden and fields. My favorite animals on the 1900 Farm are the pigs. They’re very smart animals and love attention from the farmers, especially having their backs scratched.

 Farmer Kelly

Q. How did you learn to work with farm animals?

A. I went to college to study Animal Science. I learned a lot about how animals behave and how to handle them. I also learned what to feed them and how their bodies work. I’ve been working with horses since I was about 8 years old, but I didn’t learn how to drive draft horses until I started working at the museum.  

Q. You know a lot about history! How do you learn it all?

A. We have a library here at the museum full of books and articles that help us learn the history of farming. I also spend a lot of time searching the internet for information on topics I am interested in or questions visitors ask that I don’t know the answer to. Last summer, I was interested in the history of beekeeping, so I read a lot of issues of the American Bee Journal. It does take a lot of reading to learn all this history. But it’s fun when you like what you’re reading about!

Q. Who is your favorite person in history? Why?

A. I have a lot of favorites, but John Muir is at the top of the list. He is often referred to as the “Father of the National Parks in America” because he petitioned the U.S. Congress for the National Park bill that was passed in 1890. I think it’s pretty cool that he fought so hard to keep some of the most beautiful places in America wild and natural. 

Come visit Kelly at Living History Farms this season!