In the mountains of northwest Haiti, John Kruesel, an Auctioneer from Minnesota, wandered around an outdoor market where hundreds of nearby villagers came twice a week to sell, trade and barter their wares.
Recruited by a medical mission group, Kruesel, a mechanic by trade, had come to Haiti in 2003 to help repair a village’s only mode of transportation, a Vietnam-era M35A2 six-by-six cargo truck.
That day at the market, Kruesel made his way through piles of tattered clothing, single shoes and other mismatched items when he spotted an old treadle sewing machine. The machine, he learned, was the only one for miles, and villagers used it to piece together scraps of fabric to make clothing.
“Here in the United States, we were throwing these old sewing machines away,” says Kruesel, of John Kruesel’s General Merchandise & Auction Co. in Rochester, Minn. “In third-world countries, these are one of the most valuable commodities.”
When Kruesel returned to the U.S., he could not shake the memory of the astonishing poverty or of the single treadle sewing machine. As an Auctioneer who specializes in antiques and unusual items, Kruesel had seen numerous treadle machines over the years.
Operated by foot, treadle sewing machines became antiques with the advent of electricity. Old treadle machines frequently show up at auctions and sell for next to nothing. Sometimes, they are taken apart and used for parts.
So Kruesel decided he would begin collecting treadle machines and send them to poor regions of third-world countries, where electricity is a rare luxury. As he spread the word among Minnesota Auctioneers, machines and money soon began trickling in.
Since that trip in 2003, Kruesel has sent about 100 treadle sewing machines and 200 early electric, non-computerized sewing machines to Haiti. The early electric machines helped start a school in Port-au-Prince, the country’s capital and largest city.
Sewing machines also have gone to Cambodia and Kenya.