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LeTourneau home donated to CILF; to be moved to Wheels O' Time

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Perhaps the country’s first termite-proof house is about to get its due in the city where it was created.

One of the original all-steel Carefree Homes built in the 1930s by R.G. LeTourneau will be moved from the site of his Peoria factory to the Wheels O’ Time Museum in northern Peoria in the spring, then refurbished and opened for public viewing next fall, according to the Central Illinois Landmarks Foundation.

Komatsu America Corp, which now occupies what was original the LeTourneau factory on Northeast Adams Street in Peoria, donated to CILF the Carefree Home that had once been the manufacturing office for the factory. While it ceased that use in the early 1980s, the house remained on the factory site.

“We view this as a really incredible opportunity to celebrate and honor R.G. LeTourneau and partner with other organizations to do something for the community,” said Brittany Brown, vice president of CILF, during a news conference Monday at the Carefree Home to announce the project, known as the Steel House Revival.

The foundation is working with the Wheels O’ Time Museum and the Peoria Historical Society to raise the money needed to move the house on a lowboy to the museum site and to restore it to its original condition. The 28-by-28 foot house will have two bedrooms, a bathroom, kitchen and small living room space when the work is completed, Brown said.

The total cost of the project will be $180,000 and more than 45 percent of the total was raised, mostly through private donations, before the project was even made public. In-kind donations from other organizations and a matching grant from the Caterpillar Foundation also will go toward the total.

The expenses of the project includes a 17 percent contingency and the money is earmarked for:

  • Moving the house, likely in May 2017
  • Site preparation and infrastructure
  • Restoration of the exterior and interior of the house
  • Furnishings and exhibits
  • Long-term maintenance

LeTourneau opened his construction equipment company in Peoria in 1935 after moving here from California at the urging of Caterpillar Inc. The country was coming out of the Great Depression but LeTourneau found that many of the people he hired for his factory needed housing.

He developed the all-steel Carefree Home and built several hundred of them at his factory here. At an original cost of $4,000, each house was billed as termite proof, among other things.

According to a brochure about the home: “It must be air conditioned, insulated not along against cold and heat but against storm, dust, termites, flood, flame and other foes. And it must be a trouble-proof house – a house requiring a minimum of maintenance.”

According to CILF, each home was machine crafted. Embossed steel panels were welded together to form the structural skin. Panels were used as the inner and outer skin to form the walls, roof and floor of the house.

Construction of the houses stopped within a few years when World War II created a steel shortage. It was never revived.

About 30 of the Carefree Homes still exist in the Peoria area, most in Peoria Heights. Some have been changed in appearance or been expanded.

At Wheels O’ Time Museum, the house will be placed on a piece of property adjacent to the museum building to the north. It will be visible from the road. Brown said there are talks underway between CILF and the Peoria Park District about the possibility of relocating a statue honoring LeTourneau from Glen Oak Park to the museum, as well.

The museum said it is proud to be the final resting site for the house. “The objective is to make sure the Steel House fits perfectly with the museum’s cultural and industrial artifacts from the Peoria area. All ongoing repairs and maintenance costs of the Steel House will be our responsibility,” the statement from the museum said.

CILF has established the website, where is more history about the steel houses, more information about the revival project and a method for individual giving toward the effort.

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).