We all know that a gift needn’t be expensive, flashy, or purchased to be loved. The story of this rocking horse proves that. We’re fortunate that this cherished little piece of Nebraska history ended up in the Society’s collection in 2007. Neal Wilson, who received the rocking horse as a Christmas gift, writes:
“In 1938, the Depression was still in effect, and vestiges of the Dust Bowl days were still blowing over southwest Nebraska. Youngster Neal Wilson, age 3, lived with his parents smack in the center of a one-square-mile farm southwest of Elwood. His maternal grandfather, Ernest “Stick” Strickland lived in Holbrook. Ernest had been on the school board and had built the new Holbrook school building that had opened in 1929. The new custodian the school board hired couldn’t handle the new-fangled school building with its central hot-water heating system, so Strick resigned the school board position and took up the custodian job. It still didn’t pay a lot in those Depression days. Stick took up woodworking with his nearby neighbor, Mr. Illian, and they had many projects.
For Christmas 1938 Stick apparently wanted to get a nice present for his only grandson; with little available cash, he decided to build a toy and he built these rocking horses. With a “horsey” on each side of a boxed-in seat, there would be little likelihood of young Neal falling onto the floor, as he might if he rode on the horse(s) rather than BETWEEN them. And so, on Christmas, 1938 Neal got his rocking horses. They initially had “tails,” but these almost immediately disappeared. Neal enjoyed the horses for several years, then his parents put the horses into storage. The horses were taken along with the family when it moved to Holbrook in 1942. Later, when Neal’s parents moved from Holbrook in 1953, they left the horses with Neal’s maternal grandmother, Cora Strickland (Stick had died in 1947).
When Neal’s grandmother needed special care, Neal’s parents took the rocking horses to their homes, first in South Dakota, and then to Ashland, Nebrakska. In the late 1980s, Neal wanted the rocking horses available for his arriving grandchildren. Neal’s stepmother had the rocking horses refurbished (someone had stomped a hole in the floor of the passenger compartment and Neal kept the rocking horses for several more years.”
–Deb Arenz, Senior Museum Curator