Several miles away from the nearest paved road in a section of Texas County near the old community of Turley, there lies a large outbuilding on a remote piece of land on Roubidoux Creek.
But despite its secluded location and that it is unknown to most of the world, the barn-like structure is home to an amazing collection of items ranging from the historical to the hysterical.
Lining one wall are 100-year-old fixtures from the old Turley store, including its well-preserved wooden counter, fully stocked wooden shelves and even the storefront bearing the name of owner D.M. Gladden.
Arranged on a nearby table are several authentic newspapers depicting life-changing historical events, including the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
In a corner, dozens of hornets’ nests hang from the ceiling and on an adjacent wall hangs a six-foot long “otter gun.”
The curator of this personal museum is Donald “Debo” KcKinney, whose name still graces the front of the hardware and supply store in downtown Houston that he opened in 1979 and operated until he sold it a few short years ago.
“Getting the front of the store kind of got me started,” McKinney said. “Then I thought, ‘I need more.'”
And he got it. The museum contains hand-hewn timbers from the old Turley Mill, unlikely collections of items like steel traps and antique vehicle jacks and many other museum-quality pieces of history.
Intermixed with it all are numerous unusual and even humorous nick-knacks.
“A lot of this stuff would be gone forever if it wasn’t in here and that would be a shame,” McKinney said. “But there’s a lot of other stuff in here that maybe should be gone.”
The inside of the old Turley store had balconies running down each side, and McKinney has rebuilt one of them in his museum using the actual railings. Underneath the balcony, he has recreated an early 1900s kitchen, bedroom and front room, complete with era appliances, furniture and other fixtures — all displayed with much attention to detail and accuracy.
But while his enjoyment and execution of preserving history is noteworthy, McKinney’s sense of humor and eye for the interesting and out of the ordinary adds a unique flavor to the experience of being in the building.
And his collection of large hornets’ nests can’t possibly have many rivals.
“I invented a tool and a way to get them down without getting stung,” he said. “It got to where people call me to remove them from their property and I just kind of save a lot of them.”
The makeshift museum isn’t the only unusual thing to be found on McKinney’s property. Outside, sharing space atop the rocky bluff with the log home he finished building a couple of years ago in which he and his wife, Kathy, now reside, are several roadside-attraction-like objects — one of which takes the unexpected nature of the whole place to another level.
Walking around the forested bluff-top oasis, one will encounter everything from large artificial farm animals to a “hysterical marker” that denotes a location at which nothing happened in 1897.
“There are no historical markers on this property,” McKinney said. “But there is a marker.”
But perhaps the most iconic, ironic and unexpected object positioned at the McKinney place is the hollow log convicted killer Neldon Neal used as a hideout during the 62-day manhunt for him in 2007. McKinney obtained a permit from the United States Forest Service to gain possession of the log and it now sits protected under a garage-like structure built just for it.
Someone once asked McKinney what he would do if Neal ever gets out of prison and asks for his log.
“I’ll help him load it,” McKinney said.
Wildlife apparently enjoy the river, bluffs, trees and generally undisturbed nature of the remote property as much as McKinney does. Mother bobcats with litters, coveys of quail and lots of deer are commonplace there.
The tight valley and steep surrounding hills and bluffs even act as somewhat of an eagle sanctuary during winter months. McKinney encourages the birds to hang out in his Ozark wilderness outpost by strategically placing carcasses of small animals where the big raptors can easily feast on them (anchored to stakes so coyotes don’t run off with them).
During one of the many cold snaps this past winter, Debo and Kathy witnessed a virtual bald eagle convention, as 10 of the nation’s avian symbols took advantage of the easy access to food at the same time. McKinney’s videotape of the scene shows that the majestic birds were of varying age, some mature with full white headdresses and others younger, still wearing black feathers up top.
While the McKinneys often see eagles from their dining room window and deck, the double-digit gathering was the most they have seen at one time.
“To me and to most other people, 10 is quite a few,” Debo said.
Even the way McKinney acquired the 41-acre, half-mile long strip of creek-front property in the mid-1990s is an unusual story.
The spot is smack in the middle of what for years was his favorite fishing destination on the Roubidoux. He eventually purposed in his heart that he wanted to own the land and periodically asked its owner if he was interested in selling.
The answer was finally “yes,” and Debo purchased his river valley paradise. He set up a trailer on the bluff as a temporary shelter and eventually completed the rustic cabin (which also incorporates old mill wood and other recycled materials).
Unfortunately, the fishing at McKinney’s old favorite spot isn’t nearly what it used to be. He said that when the Missouri Department of Conservation stocked otters in Roubidoux Creek about 15 years ago, the result was a sharp decline in the population of fish.
“I got this property right in the middle of where I wanted it and then they turned the otters loose,” McKinney said. “Now it’s the worst fishing in the state of Missouri. You couldn’t catch a keeper down there now if you wanted to.”
The alteration of the quality of fishing in the creek also altered McKinney’s longtime hopes for his senior years.
“My plan for retirement was always to get up every day and do some fishing and then go grab my chainsaw and cut some wood,” McKinney said. “But as it turned out, I just go grab my chainsaw.
“I’m not sure if I even know where my fishing pole is.”
Hence the giant (but not real) otter gun; it’s Debo’s way of making light of what he perceives as a shameful situation.
“It’s never going to be back the way it was,” he said.
While his museum has been more or less a well-kept secret since he began putting it together, McKinney will one day begin to share its treasures with others.
“When I get it done, I’ll probably get in touch with the principal at Plato and they can bring kids here,” he said. “That would be a whole lot better education that reading and wondering what this stuff looked like.
“I’m not going to advertise it or anything, but schools were my first thought. I graduated from Houston and they would be welcome, too, but we’re basically in Plato and I thought it would be interesting for them to know what was up the road here.”
If a busload of students ever does come for the tour, Debo will have a huge surprise awaiting them when they arrive. But that’s for him to share…
Whether it’s his collection of antique colored glassware, indoor reconstruction of historic buildings or extensive visual transformation of his land, what’s found at the McKinney place is a rare visual manifestation of a man’s personality and passion.
And at this point, he has no plans to stop. He said that some day, the familiar Clydesdales that for years have been a landmark in front of Debo’s Hardware and Supply will find their way out to “New Turley” and take their places in the same yard that sports a life-size buffalo and the Neal log.
One of the next projects on McKinney’s list involves using historic stone material he has acquired to enhance his yard’s walkways and garden areas.
“I enjoy doing the work,” he said. “But I sometimes wish work wasn’t so heavy. I need to come up with lighter weight things to do.”