DOWAGIAC, Mich.–As a kid, Don Lyons went dumpster diving at the Heddon factory for discarded lures.
“Don used to mow the lawn for one of the Heddon employees,” Don’s wife Joan said. “He would pay Don in fishing tackle.”
That was the late famed Homer Circle.
The Lyons are the right people to run the Heddon Museum, which catalogues the impact of the Heddon family on Dowagiac and fishing.
With the “Dowagiac,” an early topwater lure, James Heddon changed fishing in 1902. At its peak, Heddon had 275 employees. The factory closed in 1984. Don has been Dowagiac mayor for years.
On a summer evening, the Lyons gave a tour.
“As Don likes to say, `We were going along minding our own business when a family friend [the late Stan Hamper] came to us who had just retired from starting a county museum at Southwestern Michigan College,” Joan said. “He came to us and said, `You own the factory. There’s an older gentleman in town who used to work for Heddon and he has a lot of Heddon stuff and wants to sell it. Once he sells, it is gone. If you can set aside a portion of the factory and buy his collection, I will donate my time and help you save the history for Dowagiac.’
“Don and I talked. We live in an restored old house. We restore old cars. We both grew up fishing. We like the factory. Oh, why not? And again, in his famous words, `How hard could it be?’ ”
They started with 650 square feet of space in 1996. It’s grown to 3,200.
“We expected local people to come through,” Don said.
“What happened was, the collectors came through,” Joan said. “We collected old cars, but who knew they collected fishing tackle. We didn’t. Their attitude was, `You have a museum, you must have all the answers. Here are our questions and we are waiting.’ Actually, we didn’t know a thing.”
They caught up quick. They joined the National Fishing Lures Collectors Club. For $2, they got copies of all the catalogues over 82 years. They decided to show the 410 cataloged Heddon lures. She typed the labels. He cut out the boxes.
“Just last year, we found the last lure we were missing,” Joan said.
It was a three-hooked Zaragossa.
They have 250 Heddon rods (out of the 1,044 Joan documented made) and Heddon artifacts outside of fishing.
Don wrote “The Heddons and Their Bait,” out soon, about the family. Joan has published “Heddon Cataloged Lures 1902-1984: Plus a Bit More” and is working on two related Heddon books.
“Don concluded we had a beautiful museum full of artifacts, but no story, no history,” Joan said. “So he wrote his book, so we have the history now. The job now is to completely redo the entire museum. Every item will be moved, every label remade, a whole story line will be made.”
Don is making new cases, so far six of the 100 planned. Eventually they plan to merge the Heddon Museum with the Dowagiac Area History Museum downtown.
“Some passionate collectors see this as the Holy Grail,” Don said.
Information is at heddonmuseum.org. It’s free. Scheduled hours are 6:30-8:30 p.m. Tuesdays and the last Sunday of each month (1:30-4 p.m.).