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The Story of Percy Dezotell


Percy and Margaret Dezotell and their four children in 1943.   Photo © Jim Dezotell

The Dezotell Building currently houses the museum entrance and administrative offices for Antique Powerland. It is dedicated to the memory of Percy Dezotell and it was built to house his miniature farm display. Percy grew up in the 1920’s on a wheat farm on the plains near Saskatchewan, Canada.

This miniature farm display was handmade by Percy and Margaret Dezotell, of Salem, Oregon to tell the story of the way wheat farming was done in the 1920’s. The display is built on the scale of 3/4 inch per foot. It takes a 256 square foot table on which to display it.

Percy Dezotell was born and raised on a farm in Saskatchewan, Canada, a province where the main crop is wheat. He grew up farming with his father, driving horse-drawn outfits. At the age of 14, he was doing a man's job, such as seeding, plowing and pitching bundles. By the time he was 19, Percy could run the entire threshing outfit, having performed all operations.

First, they had horse outfits, then small gas tractors. The display shows spring seeding, summer fallow and harvest operations, all at one time, to give the overall picture of a year's farming activities. Also, he made the different types of machinery used to produce a wheat crop.

The horses were whittled out of 2 x 6 balsa wood, then painted and harnessed. The bundles and shocks were made of binder twine. The machinery was made of metal and wood and they have been placed where each was supposed to be. Most of the machinery is workable, like the real machinery was.

In 1920, Percy’s father purchased an International Harvester 2 cylinder Titan 10-20 tractor. That was the first tractor Percy learned to drive in the field. In 1926, his father traded the Titan for a 16-30 Eagle two cylinder tractor; and in 1928, they traded the Eagle for an 18-36 two cylinder Hart-Parr tractor. They had an Aultman-Taylor separator pulled by the Titan, then a Waterloo separator new in 1921. In 1928, they purchased a Bell City separator.

In 1928, Percy’s father bought a 10 ft. McCormick-Deering power binder. They pulled it with the Hart-Parr tractor. This was a one man job, and Percy cut many an acre of wheat with this binder.

After the Depression hit in 1929, there was the drought, then came an assault by grasshoppers and gophers. This wiped out three years worth of crops. Percy’s father managed to keep his land, but lost some of the machinery. Percy left with his family and moved to California in 1933, even though wages were very low there.

Percy couldn't get ahead enough to get back to Saskatchewan until after World War II. In 1946, he made a trip back, but it had all changed. Horse farming was a thing of the past, and the little farms had been bought up and consolidated into much larger ones, with tractors doing it all. A lot of the familiar farm homes had either been torn down or moved into town, and the barns made into machinery sheds and grain bins. Even the school house had been moved away.

Seeing all the changes after Percy left in 1933, motivated him to build his memories in miniature, as it had been in the period from 1920 to 1930. This display can be seen in the Percy Dezotell Building at Powerland Heritage Park.

How the Dezotell Building Became a Reality

By Julius Dalzell

On Sunday, May 5, 2006, Powerland celebrated the official opening of the Dezotell Addition. The construction of the Addition has been a “work in progress” for nearly three years. The requirement for the structure was previously identified by the APMA Board, the reasons being several of significance.

The first was the need for an improved Powerland office and a Board meeting area. The old office/meeting structure had served its time! The floor was falling apart and the exterior siding in various stages of failure. When yours truly painted the structure in 2002, it was determined that only one or two laminations of plywood remained on sections of the south facing wall.

The cost of heating the structure to protect the integrity of the computer system was increasing rapidly and little could be done to improve insulation qualities. It was evident that more not less meeting room capacity was needed at Powerland. The office/meeting space was inadequate to accommodate those wishing to attend the monthly Board meeting.

And the space was less than impressive for anyone visiting and a detriment in efforts to attract grants and donations. We had no respectable location to hold meetings with important stakeholders or those who we might be trying to impress i.e. potential financial supporters. The requirement for an adequate meeting facility was the principle motivator behind the earlier “push” to build the Commons Building, a project eventually canceled.

So the needs for an improved office, Board room and meeting area were confirmed! We also had identified that a significant longer term problem was the lack of library/archive space. This requirement had been confirmed in discussions with several of our partners and also other heritage groups which were considering activities at the site.

The remaining space requirement was for an exhibit area to show collections, both donated and loaned. Visioning was to add verification that Powerland’s future is equally tied to becoming a museum as well as expansion of the site’s event facility roll. The Hall of Power as the planned primary interpretative exhibit facility is yet far into our future. In the interim, we needed an exhibit area!

So the decision was made to proceed and “ground was broken”. Funding for the project was arranged with WAPI as the asset owner. To make the project at all financially feasible, we would need to supply as much of the labor and materials as possible.

In the end, a very attractive $240,000 building was constructed at a cost of $47,000. To achieve such an accomplishment, a whole lot of on site sawing and finishing of lumber, begging for donated professional services, and soliciting of donations of other building and finished materials and components went into the effort. A whole bunch of generous donations ensued!

The Addition design selected was that of a 1908 railroad depot. Attention was directed to acquiring authenticity of design and architecture both exterior and interior. The end result is a very attractive period structure that does much to enhance our heritage presentation abilities at Powerland.

So who contributed to this venture? Who do we have to thank for taking days, weeks and months of their lives to make this accomplishment possible, and providing support through in-kind donations. The listing is as follows:

Project Manager: Charlie Philpot; Construction Supervisor: Tom Kneeland

Primary Crew: Bill Roberts, Mike Oxborrow, Dave Dezotell, Chuck Kinkaid

Major Labor: Greg Bonn, Jerry Heater, Doug Nelson, Julius Dalzell

Additional Help: Larry Leek, Ron Burns, John MacInnes, Steve Johnson, Wayne Thackery, Thomas N. Kneeland, Dan Kneeland, Frank Ashley, Dean Fruth, Dick Green

Major Donations:

Roof Trusses: Clearspan Truss, Inc. Lumber: Powerland Saw Team HVAC Equipment: Greg Bonn

Plans and Drawings: Michael Wellman, Architect Period Light Fixtures: Thackery, Dalzell, Philpot, Leek

Drywall: Knez Building Materials; Freight Door Hinges: Powerland Blacksmith; Gas Lines: Montage Heating

Finish Lumber: Tom Kneeland

Significant Discounts: Dan Green, Civil Engineer, Everclear Windows, United Refrigeration, Withers Lumber, Walling Sand & Gravel

Subcontractors/Suppliers: Brooks Hardware, Parkin Electric, Bruce and Dana Roofing, Walling Sand & Gravel, Taylor Roofing, Caesar Sevrin Drywall, Hicks Striping, J & M Gutters, Willamette Concrete Pumping, Withers Lumber

Such is the anatomy of a great effort! Thank you to all individuals and commercial enterprises for making this project possible and so successful!

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