1915 Aulne now viewed as model city

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Few people remember Aulne as a thriving Marion County community of 175 citizens, but the town’s history is not forgotten.

Thanks to the efforts of Dale Unruh, patrons at the Marion Public Library can see Aulne as it was in 1915.

“In the midwest, farming communities and small communities like Aulne are disappearing right and left,” Unruh said. “It’s important to have some history preserved for future generations.”

The son of Herman and Iva Unruh of Marion, Dale built a replica of Aulne to HO-scale (1/87th) in the basement of his home in Peoria, Ill.

Unruh and wife Phyllis were in Marion Thursday to open the public display of his 4-foot-by-5-foot replica of 1915 Aulne.

The low-key ceremony was attended by nearly 35 interested friends and historians.

Unruh’s creation will be on display at the library until late May or early June, when it will be handed over to the Marion Museum for its permanent residence.

“I thought the best place for it for the long term would be the museum as opposed to my basement,” Unruh said. “Someday my grandkids wouldn’t know what to do with it, so it’ll be preserved as part of the history of Marion County and part of the history of Aulne.”

A retired Caterpillar worker, Unruh has been a longtime model-train enthusiast. His foray into modeling seemed like a natural progression.

It wasn’t until Unruh and his wife were cleaning the attic of her mother’s home that the impetus for the project was uncovered.

“We found a lot of postcards in the attic,” Unruh said. “One particular post card was from 1908 and written to a Miss Amelia Matz of Canada, Kansas.”

Coincidentally, Matz was Dale Unruh’s grandmother.

“I showed the card to Dad because it was from Aulne,” Unruh said. “He said the building on the postcard was my Grandpa Unruh’s building that served as the mercantile.”

Dale Unruh decided to tackle the replication project because of a close friend.

“We have some friends in Missouri who actually triggered this,” he said. “He was modeling New Franklin, Mo., and I thought it would be fun to do Aulne.”

His first piece was of the mercantile building he saw on the postcard.

“Once I got it going, I decided to expand Aulne,” Unruh said. “I thought it would be nice to preserve the history of Aulne.”

Although he was raised in Wichita, where his father worked for Beech Aircraft, Unruh said Aulne was a special place to him in his youth.

“I delivered a lot of grain to the Aulne elevator and Aunt Ellen and Lloyd purchased that in the 1950s,” he said. “So I had some history there.”

Unruh said he chose 1915 as his timeline mainly because of one building.

“I liked the Aulne church and I wanted to model that. But it burned down in 1917, so I had to go back at least that far. The church was rebuilt as a brick church and it’s still standing today.”

Although all buildings in his display are to scale, not all are located exactly where they were in proximity to other buildings in 1915.

“I brought the schoolhouse in from a quarter mile away and my grandma’s house was two blocks north, but I had to fit it in this 4×5 space,” Unruh said. “Modelers can bend some rules and use what they call compression. I guess that’s what they call artistic license.”

Unruh said the buildings in his display were constructed using variety of methods, including kits, from scratch and with kit bash-“which means you take a kit and modify it to look like what you want it to look like.”

Unruh’s investment in the project is both minimal and substantial.

“I probably have less than $500 in the entire project,” he said. “But I’d guess I have well over 1,000 hours of my time invested. So it wasn’t all that expensive, but it was time consuming.

“If you’d pay someone to build this, they would charge you thousands of dollars.”

History, Unruh said, wasn’t a staple in his life until this project.

“I’m not really a historian, but this is related to my hobby of model railroading,” he said. “But I guess I got interested in the history of Aulne because of this and did research. But I hadn’t done that much historical research before this.”

Enclosed in a wooden case with a glass top, Unruh’s creation is even child-friendly with “peep holes” in the end panels to allow youngsters to view his work.

Phyllis Unruh said the project means more to her husband than most people realize.

“Dale thoroughly enjoyed making this, and it was fun to watch him develop it all,” she said.

With his display back in Kansas, where the idea originated, Unruh said he hopes its significance isn’t lost.

“If nothing else, I hope this will make people appreciate more what they take for granted today,” he said.

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