Just northwest of the Rockford city limits, there’s a vast array of artillery that would impress anyone, even the U.S. Army. But chances are, the Army has never seen these cannons, rifles, mortars, tanks and even a submarine, because they’re miniatures, and they’re inside a house.
Just northwest of the Rockford city limits, there’s a vast array of artillery that would impress anyone, even the U.S. Army.
But chances are, the Army has never seen these cannons, rifles, mortars, tanks and even a submarine, because they’re miniatures, and they’re inside a house.
A big, rambling ranch house, to be sure. Ralph and RoseMarion Koebbeman’s house, to be exact.
Ralph, an inventor and successful entrepreneur who founded Kebby Industries, a manufacturing firm, has been putting together his impressive collection for 35 years.
It’s so vast it takes up seven rooms on two floors.
Ralph has been fascinated by models since he was a kid growing up in Bensenville. Now 96, he’s as intrigued as ever, something I learned one recent afternoon as Koebbeman guided me on a two-hour tour of his breathtakingly-detailed miniatures.
As we went through room after room, I told “Kebby” I’d probably driven by his house thousands of times over the past few years, never suspecting anything like this might be inside. People ought to be able to see this collection in a museum, I thought.
That’s what Ralph thinks, too.
“My dream for my collection is to put it in the armory on North Main Street,” in Rockford, Koebbeman said.
“Let’s say someone from Denver wants to come here to see ‘Jane’ the dinosaur. Someone might want to see the all-time best miniature museum in the country, too.”
What’s inside Koebbeman’s home that would interest a tourist? First, there are cannons. Lots of cannons, scale models from the 14th century, on through the American Civil War, to the Germans’ Big Bertha of World War I and Dora of World War II.
Many of them were made by Koebbeman’s friend, the late Valentin Pavlow, an immigrant from Russia who was captured and imprisoned during World War II by the Germans, spent nine years in Venezuela and eventually ended up in Rockford in the mid-1950s, according to Koebbeman’s book, “The Wonderful, Wacky, Terrible World of Artillery in Miniature.”
Pavlow had a small foundry in his northwest side garage and spent his spare hours researching and building intricately detailed miniature cannons. But Pavlow was more interested in constructing the cannons than in keeping them.
“Val loved to build them, and I loved to accept them,” Koebbeman said.
But that’s not all. Ralph has miniatures of rifles, pistols and a detailed model of a gunsmith’s shop from the Revolutionary War period. How detailed? Down to the sawdust on the floor.
He has working models of catapults from ancient times, one of which is fashioned into a pinball game.
There are dioramas of the U.S. Navy’s capture and boarding of the German submarine U-505.
One scene depicts the aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and there’s a scene featuring a swift boat on a Vietnamese river.
And that’s just a peek at what’s inside Koebbeman’s house.
The museum Koebbeman envisions would house not only his collection, but model railroad layouts, model ships — he knows of a 20-foot scale model of an aircraft carrier — dollhouses and airplanes.
“If a live wire got hold of this idea, who knows what could happen?” Koebbeman said.
Chuck Sweeny can be reached at email@example.com or (815) 987-1366.