Sunday, February 8, 2015


Once or twice a year, 30 or 40 men who’ve known each other for 20 or 30 years rendezvous at a Days Inn just off I-80, surrounded by central Illinois farmland. If you look it up on Google Maps, the place appears with the caption: “Simple hotel with free breakfast and a bar.”

Don’t bother vetting this Days Inn on TripAdvisor – I’ll tell you right up front that the wallpaper can be found peeling, the pool is empty of water in the middle of August, and the décor is heavy on 1970s-era wood paneling.

These fellows aren’t there for the ambiance, though. They’re private collectors of antique flintlocks, tomahawks, Bowie knives, and scrimshawed powder horns. They come from Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Missouri, and Illinois. As close as the farm just down the county road, or from as far away as a retirement enclave in South Florida. 

There’s some horse-trading that goes on, sure. But mostly they gather twice a year to show their collections, tell stories, and stay close to their buddies. In their areas of expertise, they’re as knowledgeable of Revolutionary or Civil War history as any college professor. If you’re lucky, they’ll bring out a mandolin and a fiddle and play you a tune.

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