Mount Horeb: home to trollway, tool museum

Trolls rule in Mount Horeb, a peculiar, creative and vibrant Dane County village of 7,000. The scruffy, impish troll carvings – happy-crazed-creepy in expression, dwarfs to giants in size – have defined and guarded the community since the 1970s.

The first trolls were Norwegian imports. Then local wood carver Mike Feeney took over, commissioned by village officials to create a group of the sentinels, and today around two dozen pop up along or near the business route for highways 18/151 – aka “trollway” – that heads into downtown.

Newest is the Sesqueen Troll that flits from one business lawn to another, in honor of this year’s Mount Horeb sesquicentennial celebration.

Now the untimely death of a former machinist, antiques dealer and community leader has widened the scope of Mount Horeb’s quirks to another species of outdoor art. Flanked by trolls at the visitors’ center is Brutus the Temple Lion, a rusty, fierce- and dazed-looking monster made of welded junkyard scraps.

“So far, they get along,” jokes Melissa Theisen, executive director of the Mount Horeb Area Chamber of Commerce, of the troll and industrial art mix.

The one-ton Brutus sculpture was the creation of Wally Keller, who died in a 2009 lawn tractor accident. “He perfected his craft over the years,” Melissa says, and was among the first vendors at the annual Mount Horeb Art Fair, which this month celebrates its 40th anniversary. His artwork began with wagon-wheel tabletops and wrought iron décor.

Still on the Keller family’s rural property, north of Mount Horeb on Highway 78, is a menagerie of outdoor sculpture – including an Oz-like Tin Man – all made from discarded farm machinery and other contraptions.

“I like making things that are one of a kind,” Wally had explained to a writer, but his legacy isn’t limited to the bigger-than-life artwork. He also owned a collection of tools, 3,147 pieces patented from the 1860s to 1960s. The oldest are horse carriage tools from the Civil War era.

About one-third of the collection is arranged as art on pegboards, inside of the downtown flagship store for Duluth Trading Co., whose clientele for clothing and accessories includes people who work outdoors, with their hands and in the dirt.

The store opened in late 2010, and its free-admission Wally Keller Tool Museum separates the inventory of women’s clothing from that which is designed for men. All fit into a building that was home to the Mount Horeb Mustard Museum until 2009.

Duluth Trading Co. CEO Steve Schlecht bought the tool collection after Wally’s death and promised to keep it intact. Suz Harms, the company’s marketing director, says the collection began with pipe wrenches (there are 150) and grew from there, gathered from farm auctions to tool trading shows.

So sip complimentary coffee or water while meandering the walls of firefighting tools, woodworking tools and alligator wrenches. Study a panel of 47 miscellaneous tools and try to guess their purposes (details are listed around a corner); the assortment includes castrators, a rope maker, cheese saw and railroad spike puller.

A string of plumb bobs hangs in a row and sways slightly, looking more ornamental and arty than functional and practical. One of Wally’s sculptures, a five-foot-tall bird with a fat, wire-beater tail, stands on the museum floor.

“This store and its history are important to us,” Suz says, but not because of its former life as a museum for mustard lovers. For more than a century, this space was a hardware store.

She considers it a good match for Duluth Trading Co. customers, many of whom “are into how things work, and we also have a lot of history buffs in our fan base.”

The company emits a mix of practical sense, whimsy and humor. Check out the online explanation of Buck Naked Underwear, or the Longtail T (designed to cure “plumber’s butt”). Suz describes apparel as “a little pocket-happy,” and says a sense of modesty and femininity are big factors in the women’s clothing line.

That includes pastel T-shirts – some with a cell phone pocket, and shoulder loop snaps inside of tank tops – to keep bra straps aligned. “Maybe you’re not doing a girly job or hobby but still want to look like a woman,” Suz explains.

The company’s line of products began in 1985 with the Bucket Boss, a canvas organizer with 56 pockets that slips over a five-gallon plastic bucket.

Deep discounts show up at the company’s annual tent sale, July 21-23 at 170 Countryside Dr., Belleville (18 miles southeast of Mount Horeb).

Mount Horeb whoops it up big this month with a trio of events: the Fire Muster (a fire department fundraiser of music, games, food and fire truck rides), July 15-17; Art Fair (150 artists as vendors), July 16-17; and Sesquicentennial Birthday Party (free cake, ice cream), July 17.

The village is near a trio of longtime tourist attractions: Cave of the Mounds, Little Norway and Blue Mound State Park. For more: www.trollway.com, 888-765-5929.


Duluth Trading Co. seeks “real women” models and product testers. Women whose jobs dirty their fingernails, cause calluses or cover them with sweat, paint or pet hair are encouraged to apply.

The roster so far includes a carpenter, landscape designer, farmer, veterinary surgeon and horse trainer.

For more: www.duluthtrading.com, 800-505-8888 (under “Inside Duluth,” look for “Duluth Real Women”).

The former Mount Horeb Mustard Museum now operates as the nonprofit National Mustard Museum, 7477 Hubbard Ave., Middleton (west of Madison). The inventory for founder Barry Levenson, a former assistant attorney general, exceeds 5,300 mustards from all states and at least 60 countries, plus mustard artifacts and collectibles, including Poupon U apparel.

Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Aug. 6 is the 20-year anniversary of Mustard Day, which means mustard samplings, music, games and free hot dogs. Don’t ask for ketchup.

For more: www.mustardmuseum.com, 800-438-6878.

All “Roads Traveled” columns are archived; these articles began in 2002 and are the result of anonymous travel, independent travel, press trips and travel journalism conferences. What we choose to cover is not contingent on subsidized or complimentary travel.