Online Exhibit - Popcorn Wagon

    The restored Waseca Prince Popcorn Wagon located in the Meredith Willson Music Man Square, Mason City, Iowa. Photo: Terry Hoil

    People who lived in or grew up in Waseca from the early 1910s through 1971 are certain to remember the popcorn wagon that was parked uptown either alongside Didra's Drug Store (the early years) or alongside the Rendezvous Cafe (the later years). Unfortunately, the popcorn wagon was lost to Waseca. It was sold and left Waseca in 1973, was restored by some dedicated retirees in Mason City, Iowa, and is now located in the Meredith Willson Music Man Square, Mason City, Iowa.

    Popcorn wagon manufactured in 1911 by Dunbar & Co., Chicago, Illinois

    Operated by George and Carl Ericson (George b. May 30, 1893, WHS class of 1914; Carl b. May 30, 1899, WHS class of 1919). [There was another brother, Albert Ericson, who graduated in 1911 and who may have been involved in operating the wagon and who may even have been the/an original owner.] The boys bought the popcorn wagon while they were still in high school to earn some money and ran the popcorn wagon for many years. The Ericson boys parked the popcorn wagon uptown at the corner of West Elm and State Street alongside Didra's Drug Store.

    Their father, John Ericson, started the first concrete company in Waseca and constructed the first sidewalks all over the city. He would not support George going to art school because he didn't think George could ever earn money as an artist. George went to art school anyway and brother Carl kept the popcorn wagon going and sent George money to go to art school and to live on. George Ericson later changed his name and became well-known as illustrator and painter, Eugene Iverd. See WCHS Introduction to 'The Art of George Erickson as Eugene Iverd: August 4-September 30, 2002' exhibit.

    The popcorn wagon parked alongside Didra's Drugstore on West Elm and State Street.

    1951 - Operated by William 'Bill' Topel. At some point during Topel's ownership the State said the wagon could no longer be parked on State Highway 14 and the wagon was moved a block south to 2nd Avenue West alongside the Rendezvous Cafe.

    1936 or thereafter - The popcorn wagon was involved in an infamous prank. According to Jim Fox and Lois Anderson, during Bill Topel's ownership the police were in the habit of parking their 1936 Ford squad car ahead of the popcorn wagon on West Elm while they went into Carl's Hamburger Shop for coffee and lunch. One night while the police were absent, kids tied the popcorn wagon to the rear bumper of the police car. When the police returned to their squad car, the kids ran the stop sign and the police gave chase through the intersection with the popcorn wagon in tow. According to Lois Anderson, many people of this area of Southern Minnesota claimed to have been involved in the prank or professed knowledge of the identity of the pranksters.

    1951 - 1971 - Operated by Leonard B. (1921-1994) and Lois Anderson, and family, in Waseca.

    The Waseca Popcorn Wagon in about 1960, at Waseca County Fair. Photo courtesy of Waseca County Historical Society.

    1973 - Sold by the Andersons to Ralph Preuss of Mason City, Iowa (Preuss was originally from Waterville MN), according to Preuss for "around $1,000" and hauled to Iowa. Preuss told Ruth Ann Hager, Waseca County News reporter, that he popped popcorn for the neighborhood kids, took it to a couple of charitable events and then stored it. Preuss said he had conversations with Wasecans who wanted to buy the wagon but a sale never materialized. Preuss apparently knew of the wagon because he was raised in Waterville and was a brother of Don Preuss, Waseca baker.

    1999 - Preuss donated the wagon to the Mason City Foundation and he and a group of senior citizens (Art Ades, Lowell Cook, John Eason, Donald Jones, Vernon Kirlin, Melvin Mitchell, Earl Opheim, Ralph Preuss, and Earl Schutz) supervised by Larry Ewers restored it. During the restoration process an etched glass window was discovered with the words "Waseca Prince." It had been covered with paint.

    Memories of the Waseca Prince Popcorn Wagon

    - "I remember the wagon and the wonderful smell emitting from the truck. I don't know who owned it prior to Anderson. I think it was a WWII vet, but I can't recall a name. I know the wagon was moved once and Dad had to go to the City Council or someplace to get it back on 'our' corner. Dad would buy a bag of popcorn every night. It always had extra butter and salt. He'd eat half of it on his way home from work and the rest was for me. I still love popcorn." Jan Didra Stubbs

    - "I remember the first job I ever had was selling popcorn out of that wagon at Braves baseball games along with Bert Anderson, Leonard's son and classmate (Waseca HS '64). Leonard was a tough but fair employer, generous in many ways, but I always appreciated the chance to make some spending money when I was growing up." Rev. James Schoenrock, North Hollywood, CA

    - "I have such fond memories of the popcorn wagon. Whenever I stayed overnight with my Grandma Belle and Grandpa Donald, we always made a trip to see Bert and get a bag of popcorn." Roberta Brown Root

    - According to Jim Fox, the person who operated the wagon in the 1930s and 1940s was Bill Topel. Jim described an incident involving the popcorn wagon in the mid- late-1930s (Jim knows it was about then because it involved a 1936 Ford police car). The story goes like this: The police parked their car ahead of the popcorn wagon on West Elm. Kids tied the popcorn wagon to the rear bumper of the police car. The kids ran the stop sign and the police gave chase through the intersection with the popcorn wagon in tow. Jim didn't say what the consequences were. Phone call with Jim and Elaine Fox 5/6/12.

    - "My sister Barb [Lechner] worked in the popcorn wagon and I worked in it sometimes when she wasn't available. At that time it was parked alongside the Rendezvous Cafe on West 2nd Avenue at State Street. Leonard was operating a grocery store in Otisco when he contracted polio the same year I did, 1949, but he had it real bad; he was in an iron lung up in the cities. Leonard was my God-father. The Andersons bought another newer, larger popcorn wagon which they used during fair week and parked at Clear Lake Park." Phone call with Bill Lechner 5/6/12.

    - According to Lois Anderson, wife of Leonard Anderson, they either bought the wagon from Bill Topel or a Whipple about 1951. They sold it to Preuss in about 1973 after not operating it for a year or two. The State (DVR?) actually bought the wagon for them because of Leonard's polio. They had considered buying the wagon before the State bought it for them but they weren't sure they wanted to operate a popcorn wagon. They parked the wagon alongside the Rendezvous Cafe on 2nd Avenue West at State Street because the State said it could no longer be parked on State Hwy 14 (Elm Avenue). She said she has one photo of the wagon but doesn't know where it is. Said it could be in an album at her old house in Waseca (currently owned by son, Bert). She said they did buy a newer, larger wagon which they parked at the fair during fair week and at Clear Lake Park the rest of the time. They sold this wagon to someone in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. She said she didn't know about the name "Waseca Prince" until Ruth Ann Hager's 2001 article about the restoration of the wagon. She said they operated the wagon from about April - October, depending on the weather. Said she never did like popcorn! Phone call with Lois Anderson 5/6/12.

    - According to Bert Anderson, son of Leonard and Lois Anderson, they took the newer, larger wagon the family bought to high school football games, Brave baseball games, and the Waseca County Fair. They also took it to area festivals and county fairs including the Steele County Fair. It was usually parked at Clear Lake Park and it was operated by his cousin, Beth Timmerman. They sold the popcorn in 5c, 10c, 25c and 50c bags and boxes. He said he recalled driving to Minneapolis with his father the day before a big parade, probably a Loyalty Day Parade, and picking up a cotton candy machine. He said they made enough money during that one parade to pay for the machine. Said his dad would operate the popcorn wagon from 5-11 p.m. most days and from noon-11 p.m on Sundays. Phone call with Bert Anderson 5/6/12

    - "I did a couple of stories about the wagon several years ago [for the Waseca County News]; Mr.Preuss brought in pictures of the wagon during renovation by a group of elderly men and before it went into Music Man Square. Wish I could remember when...I also have the old popper from the wagon (gas popper was replaced by an electric in the renovated wagon or vice versa). It should go to the Anderson family if they want it." Ruth Ann Hager

    Chuck Lucas