Trygve Trooin looks over a small sampling of his more than 200 bib overalls. It takes nine suitcases to hold the bib overalls used during his fashion shows. (photo by Jerry Nelson)

Trygve Trooin looks over a small sampling of his more than 200 bib overalls. It takes nine suitcases to hold the bib overalls used during his fashion shows. (photo by Jerry Nelson)

By Jerry Nelson

 

ASTORIA, S.D. – We are a nation of collectors. From baseball cards to balls of twine, there’s a connoisseur for almost every item.

Dairy farmer Trygve Trooin owns one of the region’s most extraordinary collections. Over his lifetime, Trooin has amassed a treasure trove of bib overalls. 

“Except for a few years when I was in the Army, I’ve lived in the same house my whole life,” said Trooin, 61. 

Trooin milks 30 head on the farm where he grew up. His rustic stanchion barn has changed little since his boyhood, save for the addition of a pipeline.

“I strive for quality and net profit instead of production in my dairy herd,” said Trooin. His latest SCC report bears this out with an average count of 94,000.

“When I got out of the Army in 1972, Dad was ready to retire,” said Trooin. “So we drew up a contract for deed and I began farming.”

As time went on Trooin gradually expanded his operation, although recent health issues have forced him to reduce his workload. But that has just given him more time to develop his bib overall collection. “It kind of started by accident,” said Trooin of his bib overall compilation. “I’m a packrat. I save everything, including my old overalls. And when you live in a house that has 18 rooms you have a lot of space to store things.”

About a dozen years ago, Trooin realized that his compulsion for saving had inadvertently resulted in an extensive bib overall collection. A friend of his suggested that Trooin put on a fashion show as a way to share his bib overall collection with others. 

“It seemed like a good idea,” said Trooin. “I now have over 200 bib overalls in my collection. There are 80 different kinds that include 42 different brand names.”

Trooin puts on several bib overall modeling shows each year, mostly during such events as senior citizen banquets, town anniversaries, and threshing bees. If the modeling show is nearby Trooin recruits local high school girls to model the bib overalls.

“The girls get quite a kick out of it,” said Trooin. “It takes 15 girls to do a modeling show; you need that many so they’ll have time to change. We showcase 55 different bib overalls, which takes about an hour.”

Some of Trooin’s bib overall fashion reviews have taken place as far as 150 miles from his home.

“When we have to go a long ways, the folks where we are doing the show have to supply all but 2 or 3 of the models,” he said. “That usually works out pretty well. People like it when they see their friends and neighbors get up in front of everyone and model bib overalls.”

His interest in bib overalls has made Trooin somewhat of an expert in the field. In addition to bib overalls, he has collected advertising materials and the paper tags that were once sewn onto bib overalls.

“The overalls in my collection that have traveled the farthest are a pair of King Gee that were hand-carried by me from Australia,” said Trooin. “I bought them in 1971 when I was serving in Vietnam and went on R&R in Australia.”

Some of his more unique bib overalls include a pre-1960 Lee Carpenter’s Special that has a built-in nail apron. Another distinctive set of Lee bibs, called the Creamery Special, are white with black pinstripes. The Creamery Special were made for those who worked in creameries and bakeries.

“Montgomery Ward bib overalls are probably the most rare,” said Trooin. “But Lee were regarded the Cadillac of bib overalls. If you find a new pair of Lee bib overalls with the paper tag still sewn on, it could be worth several hundred dollars.”

Like most serious aficionados, Trooin is constantly striving to add to his collection. He has driven as far as Wisconsin to purchase bib overalls and has a network of supporters who help him with his quest.

“I have friends who have picked up overalls for me at flea markets and at auctions,” he said. “As with anything else, you have to know what you’re doing when you buy collectible bib overalls.”

Trooin professes zero interest in the Internet, but that hasn’t stopped him from taking advantage of the reach of the World Wide Web.

“Some friends of mine got on the Internet and found me a pair of JC Penny Payday bib overalls in Spain,” Trooin said. “They haven’t made the Payday since the 1950s. They called them Payday because they were made cheaply and were supposed to just get you by until the next payday.”

But even a top expert in his field can occasionally find himself stymied.

“I have a mystery set of bib overalls that I can’t identify,” said Trooin. “Its buttons say Sanforized, but it has no tags. I’ve offered a $50 reward to anyone who can tell me what brand of overalls they might be.”

Community involvement mixed with a dash of showmanship seems to come naturally to Trooin. He is known as a local historian and serves on the boards of several local organizations. He also hosts a threshing bee at his farm each summer.

“Dad and I just never got rid of the threshing machine and continued to use it to thresh some oats every year to make a straw pile,” said Trooin. “We used a team of horses to haul manure until the 1980s. We usually have a couple hundred people show up for the threshing bee. We thresh a few acres of oats and cut some corn with the binder. We then chop the corn with a stationary chopper. It’s a fun time!”

About half the bib overalls in Trooin’s collection were once his work clothes. But not every pair is qualified for the bib overall fashion review catwalk.

“Some of them have been patched up quite a bit,” he said.

“I have a simple rule of thumb regarding my bib overalls. Once the pliers pocket wears out, they’re only good for pajamas!”