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In Yoder, A Store Purposefully Steeped In The Past

Lu Anne Stephens
Rod Fry has owned Yoder Hardware and Lumber for 43 years. His father owned it before him.

YODER, Kansas — When you walk into Yoder Hardware and Lumber, the first thing you notice isn’t the rows of tools, the old wooden counter or even the prized oil lamp collection — it’s owner Rod Fry and his cheerful, booming voice.

"Mr. Jake! What can I do for you this fine day?" Fry bellows to Mr. Jake, a regular customer.

Mr. Jake — who asks to be identified that way — is looking for something to get rid of ants.

"I can sell you a hammer … and a piece of wood," Fry laughs.

The two banter for a minute before Fry leaves and then returns with some ant bait.

"They’ll carry this back and kill everyone in the house," Fry said, laughing again.

Credit Lu Anne Stephens / KMUW
The store's inventory, a mix of past and present, matches the tiny Amish community in Reno County.

Fry has owned Yoder Hardware and Lumber for 43 years. His father owned it before him.

You won’t find power tools here. No shiny rows of lawn mowers or oversized grills. But Fry said the inventory matches the tiny Amish community in Reno County: a mix of past and present, with a distinct emphasis on "past."

"It’s a little more laid back, a little more old fashioned," Fry said, "and, of course, because of the Amish-Mennonite heritage we get a lot of tourism here. People just want to see how we live."

The store opened in 1903, about a decade after the town — about 40 miles from Wichita — was established. The current building has been on Main Street since 1926.

Wooden floors, a corrugated metal ceiling and scattered antiques are a backdrop for both practical – and unique – merchandise.

Like oil lamps, for instance, which some people in the community still use to light their homes. There are shelves and shelves of lamps in different styles and shapes and sizes — some decorative, some plain.

The collection of lamps and parts takes up an impressive amount of real estate in the store.

"Our specialty are Aladdin lamps," Fry said. "They're a mantle lamp. They’re an old company that started in 1908 in Nashville, Tennessee, and they’re still making them. …. burners and wicks and chimneys and shades and brackets and all that sort of thing."

Credit Lu Anne Stephens / KMUW

The store also has rows of farmhouse pottery crocks from 10 gallons down to one quart, galvanized tin washtubs, cast iron cookware and all the tools you might need to shoe a horse.

"We carry four different sizes of horseshoes and the horseshoe nails and the hammer and the rasp … farrier tools," Fry explained.

And then there’s the toys: harmonicas, tops, checkers, tea sets, paddle ball — and not a battery in sight. The tourists like the nostalgia, but the locals also like the simple toys.

"Especially grandma and grandpa because we grew up with those," Fry said, "so we want our kids to have toys like we had."

And that includes Radio Flyer wagons; the store has nine different models.

"We also have the tricycles like I grew up with back in the late ‘50s and even canopies for the top of your Radio Flyer wagon," Fry said.

Credit Lu Anne Stephens / KMUW
Fry helps a customer at Yoder Hardware. He says it's one of his favorite parts of the job.

The store carries standard hardware, of course: hand tools, yard tools, painting supplies. You can buy glue or have a key made.

The tourists come to get a glimpse of another culture. The locals come for basics and — maybe — a friendly chat with Fry.

"You know, I tell people I’m a lucky person," Fry said. "I come to a job for 43 years that I absolutely love to do.

"I love to meet people, I love to help people, and it’s just fun."

This story is part of a series for KMUW's The Range called Hidden Kansas, which is made possible in part by Humanities Kansas.