Fred and Fran Iben of Monticello enjoy spending time on their hobby, making barrel wagons for young kids. Fred has been doing this for over 20 years now, getting order requests from all over Iowa. (Photos by Kim Brooks)
These Iowa Hawkeye barrel wagons were a gift from Doctor Gary Fisher to his grandkids. The Ibens painted the barrels Hawkeye gold and the decals were installed by Express Vinyl Signs. (Photo by Mark Spensley)
Have you ever been to a community parade and seen the barrel wagons (or barrel train cars) being pulled by a lawn mower? If you’ve ever been to Walnut Acres Campground or Camp Courageous, I’m sure you’ve seen kids enjoying rides in the barrel wagons around the grounds.
It just so happens that local couple Fred and Fran Iben makes barrel wagons.
This has been a hobby of Fred’s for over 20 years. His first wagon was made for Walnut Acres Campground, a business the Ibens’ use to own.
“The first time I made a train was with 15 barrels,” explained Fred.
He would participate in area parades with the barrel train, taking their grandkids and other children along to toss out candy as they rode past parade viewers. Over the years, Fred has participated in the Monticello Fourth of July Parade, Pumpkin Fest in Anamosa, Civil War Days in Hopkinton and Freedom Fest in Cedar Rapids. For the Independence Day events, he would decorate the barrels in patriotic décor.
Fred said the hobby became a passion of his after he saw a barrel wagon one time and thought to himself, “I can make that!”
He said his barrels follow in a one-track line verses maneuvering all over the place.
He can usually make one barrel wagon in a day, allowing the paint to dry for additional time. Fred cuts the seat hole inside the barrel, washes and disinfects the barrel, welds the frame and wheels together himself and puts a seat together inside the barrel. Sometimes, if requested, he’ll fasten a seatbelt to the seat as well for safety precautions. His wife, Fran, takes about half a day painting the barrels.
“We make sure it has a good cover,” she said. Fran paints each barrel by hand using a brush versus spray painting. Before they’re painted, Fred said they use a chemical to wash the barrel to allow the paint to adhere better.
“I learned that the hard way,” Fred said of the trial and error job.
The Ibens have had requests for their barrel wagons from all over the state. Just recently, they had an order from Ft. Dodge and an order for three barrels from Guttenberg.
“The word spreads,” Fred said.
Fred gets his barrel supply from a company in Dubuque. They’re blue to begin with, but, depending upon the request, Fran can paint them accordingly. They had a local request for Iowa Hawkeye barrels. Fred said it took a while to find the right tint of Hawkeye gold.
“The biggest thing is finding the time,” said Fred of completing one barrel from start to finish.
The Ibens get so much satisfaction out of seeing the smile on kids’ faces after getting a barrel wagon of their very own to enjoy.
“Making a kid smile and happy is all worth it,” he said.
The cost of a barrel wagon all depends on the time, materials and details that goes into it.
“We’ve had to double the cost since we first started,” Fred explained.