The story of the Kansas Barbed Wire Collectors Association actually begins on May 17, 1964 with the dedication of the
Post Rock Museum in LaCrosse, Kansas. Displayed on the wall above the model quarry was a small, unassuming collection of
40 barbed fence wires. During the first years, museum workers discovered that a growing number of visitors were
inquiring about the small collection. Many of these visitors had collections of their own, some much larger than the
museum’s meager sampling. A bit of research determined that, not only were there hundreds of varieties of this peculiar
fencing material, there were a lot of people who collected it. Opportunity was knocking.
By 1966, the barbed wire hobby, in an organized state, was still in its infancy. A collector’s association had been
organized in Texas, a few books had been published, and a history professor had recently been interviewed in
the “Wichita Eagle.” According to the “Eagle”, Dr. Ross Taylor, head of the Department of American Civilization at
Wichita State University, was a researcher of the history of barbed wire as well as an avid barbed wire collector. The
news story brought to light that not only was barbed wire an interesting collectors’ item, it was also a credible part
of American history.
With all this interest in barbed wire, three visionary LaCrosse businessmen decided it was time to seize an
opportunity. The men met in the office of a local attorney and, over a cup of coffee, discussed bringing collectors of
this intriguing fencing material together with the intent of establishing a barbed wire collecting organization in
Kansas. The men were: Ivan Krug, LaCrosse attorney; Roy Ehly, Southwestern Bell Telephone manager; and Bill Robbins,
local banker. In December 1966, Krug sent a letter to collectors announcing an organizational meeting to be held in
“Kansas has nearly 100 known barbed wire collectors. We think this much interest in a fast growing
hobby warrants the formation of a state organization. Possibly an annual meeting, or display and swap session should
be organized so that those of you just starting would have an opportunity to increase your collections or see what
others are doing.”
On Sunday, January 8, 1967 a group of barbed wire collectors met at the LaCrosse Country Club. There were 68 persons
in attendance from throughout Kansas and Oklahoma including “the man who invented the machine to mass produce barbed
wire.” During the meeting, collectors were given the opportunity to display their collections, discuss the hobby, and
swap pieces of barbed wire. Along with ten collections of barbed wire, displays included wire tools, fence tighteners,
and what was described as a very special item – a cane made of barbed wire.
That afternoon the Kansas Barbed Wire Collectors Association (KBWCA) was born, the second association of its kind
in the United States. The first officers elected were: Ivan Krug, president; Roy Ehly, vice-president; and Bill Robbins,
secretary-treasurer. Directors included: Hal Moody, St. George; Francis Cox, Grainfield; Don Wigington, Quinter; Leo
Schugart, Hoisington; and Don Stites, Grinnell.
The first decision of the new group was to incorporate as a non-profit organization and establish dues of $5.00 for
initiation and $5.00 annually thereafter. Plans were also made to host a special swap and sell session in the spring.
The first KBWCA Swap and Sell show was held on May 6-7, 1967 at the Rush County Fairgrounds in LaCrosse. Show hosts
had initially planned for 44 display tables, but by 10:00 a.m. Saturday, they were sold out and had to secure additional
tables and display space. Before the show was over, the Exhibit Building was overflowing with displays. Collectors were
in attendance from Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Nebraska, Colorado, South Dakota, and several towns in Kansas. Between
1500 and 2000 people passed through the fairground gates to exhibit and trade wire, or simply look.
Two “firsts” took place at the LaCrosse show. The World’s Champion Barbed Wire Splicing Contest™ gave
contestants a chance to compete against each other to see who could mend a fence in the shortest amount of time with
the strongest and tightest splice. J. Delevan Smith, Oklahoma, defeated over a dozen other contestants to claim the title as the first World Champion.
The first Barbed Wire Auction was started as an experiment to show non-collectors the value of some wires. Directors
brought a limited number of wires to be sold in traditional auction style. Russell Lohrey of LaCrosse was chosen to be
the first barbed wire auctioneer – a tradition he continued every year since with exception of missing one year due to illness.
Subsequent auctions set the value of wires for the entire hobby.
In the first year, the KBWCA had 133 members. In a few years, it grew to nearly 350 members from 18 different
states. Magazines across the country ran stories about the hobby. In 1969, Ivan Krug, the local attorney whose office
has been referred to as the birthplace of barbed wire collecting in Kansas, made an appearance on The Tonight Show
Starring Johnny Carson to talk about the hobby and to give Johnny an opportunity to try his hand at splicing
barbed wire. Barbed wire, a once prominent industry that had all but faded into the history books, was once again
in the national spotlight.
Over the next few years, interest in the hobby continued to grow. Other collectors associations sprang up
across the country. Collectors began to amass huge and valuable collections of barbed wire and related tools.
Some realized a need for a permanent home to exhibit a sampling of these unique collections. Opportunity was
knocking again. The same group of LaCrosse businessmen, along with a few veteran wire collectors, set to work
on a barbed wire museum. At the turn of the decade, the LaCrosse Chamber of Commerce purchased an old
storefront on Main Street and offered the front room to the collectors. News of the unique museum spread
like wildfire. In May of 1970, Charles Kuralt brought his On the Road crew and filmed a segment in LaCrosse
at the yet to be dedicated museum. In May of the following year, the Barbed Wire Museum was officially
dedicated. With barbed wire collecting now synonymous with LaCrosse, the small western Kansas community
became known as The Barbed Wire Capital of the World.
By 1990, it became apparent that more space was needed to house several large collections that had
been offered to the museum. The downtown museum had only about 500 square feet of display space and that was
already filled to capacity. In January of 1990, a new group of local businessmen had a meeting at the Family
Castle restaurant in LaCrosse to discuss options to house the growing museum. The best alternative was to
construct a 60 x 90 metal building in Grass Park adjacent to the Rush County Historical Museum and
Post Rock Museum. Ground breaking was held in May of that year, and exactly one year later the new facility
was dedicated debt-free.
Over the next decade, the museum continued to grow, but the hobby began to change. Many of the original
collectors had passed away and several others were no longer able to travel to the several wire shows held
each year across the country. The need became apparent for an international association dedicated to the preservation
of the hobby. An organizational meeting was held in Dodge City, Kansas and the Antique Barbed Wire Society
(ABWS) was born. A home base was needed for the new society and LaCrosse became the obvious choice.
In 2004, an addition to the museum was planned to house collections of the ABWS. In May of 2005,
the new facility was completed featuring a research library housing the largest collection of fencing-related
materials in existence, a community room, and storage facility.
The Kansas Barbed Wire Museum and the ABWS continue to receive new artifacts for their collections.
Thanks to the Internet, the hobby is discovering a previously unknown network of collectors throughout the
world. Today, over 40 years later, wire collectors still come from across the United States and occasionally
other countries to spend the first weekend in May swapping and selling those 18 inch pieces of American
history called Barbed Wire. That ingenious invention designed as a barrier to separate people, now brings