Art’s Popcorn Wagon returns to Merrill

Alix Clark and Mike Janssen pose by Art’s Popcorn Stand, newly refurbished thanks to all their hard work. Tina L. Scott photo.


Art’s Popcorn Wagon has returned to downtown Merrill and will move around Merrill for various special events, selling fresh popcorn along with candy apples and rope licorice, the same treats Art’s Popcorn Wagon sold years and years ago. Then this particular popcorn wagon was primarily located at the corner of East First and Mill Streets near what is now Ana Blair’s Boutique. Now it’s back in action thanks to the Lokemoen brothers (Pete, Dick, and Jim), Michael “Gus” Caylor, Mike Janssen, and Alix Clark.

Art’s Popcorn Wagon many years ago was located on the corner of East First and Mill Streets. Photo courtesy of Dick Lokemoen.

The history of Art’s Popcorn Wagons

ccording to local Lokemoen historian, Richard “Dick” Lokemoen, his uncle Art Lokemoen became the Merrill popcorn man some 80 years ago. “In the early 1940’s, Art Lokemoen added a popcorn machine to his business called Grand Avenue Billiards located at 314 Grand Avenue on Merrill’s West Side,” Dick said. “A few years later he purchased a turn of the century C. Cretors horse drawn popcorn wagon to operate on South Mill Street north of the Citizens Bank.”
“With the success he had operating this ‘wagon,’ he later decided to close the pool hall and expand the popcorn concession business by having his cabinet maker cousin, Harry K. Johnson, and Art’s neighbor, tinsmith John Waldburger, construct a more portable popcorn wagon for use at City Band concerts and the swimming beach at Stange’s Park and also baseball and football games at Athletic Park. Later he located it at the corner of First and Mill Streets where it is long remembered being.”
“Desiring a larger portable unit, Art added a popcorn truck in about 1951 which he used extensively for many years until it was sold in 1963. The old C. Cretors wagon was sold in 1958 to a collector of horse drawn wagons from Chicago,” Dick said.
After Art opened another new business, Art’s Sport Shop, in 1959, “he retained the popcorn truck but sold the home built wagon to Frank Zastrow whose son, Dale, operated it for a period before Dale’s parents Esther and Frank Zastrow; Esther’s sister, Margaret Kopanski, and her husband, Alex Kopanski, continued the operation for many years,” he said.
“My brothers and I purchased the wagon in the later 1980’s from Marvin and Darlene Hinz in memory of our Uncle Art,” Dick said. “For most of last 30+ years it resided at our family cottage at Lake Pesobic.”

A woman and child cross the street in front of Art’s turn of the century C. Cretors horse drawn popcorn wagon. Photo courtesy of Dick Lokemoen.

Restoration and a return to service

Fast forward some 30 years or so, and Michael “Gus” Caylor started making inquiries. He remembers Art’s old popcorn wagon being stored on the Lokemoen property at Lake Pesobic “and this thing sat out there for years, just at the end of the road,” Gus said. “And, you know, here comes 4th of July, they’d fire it up and make some popcorn and then fill it in for the neighborhood kids.” So it was occasionally used but not very regularly. It got put into storage at some point and Gus would always tell the Lokemoen brothers that if they ever wanted to get rid of it, he would love to get it and see if he could put it back in service. “I often told Jim that I would take that off his hands some day because as a child we all were enchanged by the ‘popcorn stand,’” Gus said. “In the fall of 2023 he took me up on my offer.” One day just out of the blue Gus got a call that if he still wanted it, he could come and get it.
“The time had come for the wagon to have new caretakers,” Dick said, “and upon inquiry by Michael “Gus” Caylor, the wagon was donated by my two brothers, Peter and Jim Lokemoen and myself to use once again for charitable functions in our city.”
“The wagon was in dire need of restoration,” Dick said.
“I dropped it off at Mike Janssen’s [Janssen Heating & Cooling in Merrill],” Gus said, He asked Mike to mount two propane tanks on the front of the cart, because the popcorn maker runs on propane. He didn’t think it would take very long.
But “He [Mike] never got back to me, never got back to me. So I finally went over there,” Gus said, “And Mike is the guy who likes to restore things … so he’s like, you know what? I really can’t let this go. I really want to do more for it.”
“After looking it over, we decided to do an overhaul on the machine,” Mike said. “We started with a list of things to do and checked them off as we went.”
Gus said it needed new tires and the trailer it was mounted on was rough and the receiver where it hooked onto the trailer hitch “was shot,”
“We couldn’t tow it,” he said. Gus figured they would just move it to one place for the summer and park it and use it there. But Mike said, “I got some ideas,” Gus said. “And he had a brand new trailer sitting there that he had picked up and he’s like, ah, that’ll work just fine.”
Mike’s granddaughter, Alix Clark, who also works at the shop, got involved in the project and together they mounted the popcorn stand on the new trailer, cleaned everything top to bottom, put in a new floor, and repainted the entire thing, and, of course, mounted the propane tanks.
“It was not in the best shape,” Alix said. “You could tell it was a little run down.”
“Then once we did one thing, we kind of just needed to do the other thing, because otherwise it didn’t look finished to us,” she said.
Alix really took pride in the project, Gus said.
“The other guys at the shop, my dad – Jimmy Clark, and then also his other daughter’s fiance, Brandon Graap, helped a little bit too with stuff,” Alix said.
“This very extensive work was carried out with all labor and materials donated by Mike Janssen of Janssen Heating & Cooling of Merrill,” Dick said. “Thank you very much, Mike!”
Gus was also very appreciative of their work. “It’s a part of Merrill history that’s being returned,” Gus said. “If you saw this thing sit at the end of Lake Pesobic Road all those years, you never would have figured this would end up back alive like it is, and it’s beautiful.”
“We’re glad to do it,” Mike said. “It’s part of Merrill’s history and needed to be preserved.”

Valerie Caylor prepares to take bags of freshly-popped popcorn over to Kindhearted Home Care in Merrill as a treat. Gus just finished making the popcorn and bagging it. The popcorn wagon first started out behind the Trophy Bar (Gus’s business) while he got it up and running. Tina L. Scott photo.

Get your popcorn here!

Art’s Popcorn Wagon will have a semi-permanent spot this summer in the empty lot next to Ana Blair’s Boutique downtown on East First Street where the bakery used to be. That lot is now owned by East Hill Farms and is used to sell their Christmas trees and wreaths in November and December, but they welcomed Gus using the lot for the popcorn wagon during the summer months. The beauty of it is, it’s now located just a very short distance from where it was once a fixture all those years ago. “Hopefully we will be open 3-4 days a week,” Gus said. “Then on Thursdays for sure the Masons are going to take it up to the park [Normal Park} … for Gazebo Nights. … Now we have a mobile popcorn wagon to bring back memories and help some non-profits, too.”
“Please think of Art and the good times of years past when enjoying ‘Fresh, Hot Seasoned Popcorn’ when you visit ‘Art’s Wagon!’” Dick said.

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