Mid-Missouri couple to show off toys at heritage festival

Friday, October 9, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

ARROW ROCK — Artisans from across mid-Missouri will be showcasing their skills Saturday and Sunday at the 41st Annual Arrow Rock Heritage Craft Festival.

Homer McCollum, 80, and his wife Mary, 76, make wooden toys and puzzles to sell at various folk festivals in Missouri, including last month’s Boonslick Folk Festival and this weekend's festival at Arrow Rock.

If You Go

What: 41st Annual Arrow Rock Heritage Craft Festival

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 10-11

Where: Arrow Rock Village in Arrow Rock, MO

Admission: $1

Information: 660-837-3231 or go to

At Boonslick, Homer advised a customer on how to use a classic toy. The toy is a paddle on which wooden chickens sit. Strings attached to their beaks connect to a corncob hanging under a paddle.

"Don't pull on that," Homer told the customer. “Stir it like gravy.”

He took the toy and demonstrated the correct way to make the wooden chickens peck at the paddle. The stirring motion causes the corncob to pull the chickens' heads up and down, making them "peck."

“We kind of modernized some of them, but they’re all old ideas,” Homer said.

Homer makes the toys and Mary paints them. The McCollums have been making the toys since 1995, but they plan to stop soon.

“We’re getting older,” Mary said. “Some of the painting, to do it right, you’ve got to be fairly precise.”

Homer said they first made wooden toys for their grandchildren.

“(The kids) thought, ‘God, they’re neat, no batteries or wires or nothing,’” he said. “So then we decided that we’d try to sell some.”

The McCollums first took their toys to a craft show, but found they were more popular at folk festivals.

“Everybody loves them,” said Mary Beamer, a longtime friend who met the McCollums while working as chairwoman of the Arrow Rock festival. “All the kids love the toys because (the McCollums) set up inside the schoolhouse and the kids can just come by and play with the toys.”

The McCollums met on a blind date when they attended MU and have been married for 56 years. They have lived in California, Kentucky, Minnesota and Iowa, but moved back to Mary’s hometown of Paris, Mo., after Homer’s retirement.

They now live in a 100-year-old house on about 220 acres of land they rent out for cows to graze.

Mary said they make the toys for fun and not to make a substantial profit.

“They don’t really come to sell as much as to entertain people,” Beamer said. “But they keep (the toys) priced where people can afford them, even little kids.”

Mary said they would have to charge too much for the toys if Homer carved them by hand.

“The old timers used whatever tools they had to work with," he said. "I do the same thing. I figure if they had an electric-powered band saw, they would’ve used it. I do have one and I’m darn sure going to use it.”

The McCollums said they have enjoyed making and selling their crafts at the folk festivals, but they won’t be back next year.

“I think we’ll quit except continuing to make some for the grandkids,” Mary said.

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