One Moment, Please… The end of Elmer’s Auto & Toy Museum

Jason Sethre
Fillmore County Journal

For a number of years, I’ve been walking into Preston Service Plus and noticing a small stack of brochures resting on the front counter. The first time I saw one of the brochures for Elmer’s Auto & Toy Museum, I asked Preston Service Plus owners Craig Bond and Justin Jones about this place. They raved about it, and I have to say I truly didn’t comprehend their appreciation for this museum in Fountain City, Wis. They’d ask me from time to time whether I had made it to Elmer’s yet, and I just never scheduled time to make that trip happen.

Fast-forward to Saturday, August 20, 2022 – it finally happened. But, I had to be pushed a little.

One of my co-workers, Michelle Quanrud, visited Elmer’s with her family within the past month, and she said, “You have to go there. If you love muscle cars and classic cars, you have to go.”

So, what was I missing? I had no idea.

Well, the time had come.

Elmer Duellman died on July 29, 2019, at age 79. His wife, Bernadette, is now in assisted living.

His seven children are putting the entire Elmer’s Auto & Toy Museum collection up for auction with Mecum Auctions from September 14 thru 17. The auction will be held onsite, and only eligible bidders will be able to attend the auction.

We needed to go before we couldn’t. Time was running out.

From our home in Fountain, Minn., to Fountain City, Wis., it was roughly a one hour drive – and a scenic one at that. The Mississippi River coastline is always full of something to look at.

Along with a few of my family members (who are also car enthusiasts), we made our way around the museum grounds. For those of you who haven’t been to Elmer’s, there are a number of buildings full of more than 100 classic and muscle cars. Then there are the pedal cars – more than 800. Elmer collected snowmobiles, race cars, and toys as well. Basically, Elmer liked anything that was fun.

In the home of Elmer and Bernadette Duellman, there is a Model A car in mint condition. It’s parked in the living room next to the fireplace. He must have really liked that car. And, his wife must have been very understanding with Elmer’s hobbies. I can only imagine the surprises he brought home to Bernadette.

Every item in Elmer’s collection had a story. There were about 20 volunteers working at Elmer’s Auto & Toy Museum. The volunteers knew the stories and they’d share them with visitors while waiting in line.

I was told that with Elmer’s closing soon, they’ve been averaging around 5,000 attendees per day they are open. That may seem like a lot of people, but the flow of people runs pretty smooth. I wouldn’t let that number deter you from making one last visit. And, when I say one last visit, Labor Day weekend will be your last opportunity to observe this important and iconic piece of Wisconsin (and Minnesota) history.

I did take some pictures of fire trucks, for fathers and sons. There was a 1949 Ford fire truck from Lanesboro. I asked whether this was from Lanesboro, Minn., and the volunteer I spoke with said he believed so. I’m sure somebody in Lanesboro knows the story behind how this fire truck landed in Elmer’s collection.

I took pictures of pedal car fire trucks, as well. I had one when I was a kid – back when they were made with heavy-duty metal. I remember when my father would wash his car, I would borrow a bucket, a sponge, some soap, and the garden hose to wash my pedal car fire truck.

To me, Elmer’s Auto & Toy Museum is a trip down memory lane. It brings back memories. Honestly, when I looked around in every direction, I saw a lot of smiling people. Everyone was happy and excited to see what Elmer Duellman loved to share with the world.

This is one of the few museums in which I’ve been to that I know I’ll never get to visit ever again.

As we were exiting one of the last buildings full of toys, there was a sign that read, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” That’s a quote from Malcolm Forbes – publisher of Forbes Magazine.

Elmer won.