DANVILLE — One of the most unique places to see in Danville for a child, and many adults, too, during the years of 1949–1994, was Herb Drews’ Air Conditioning & Furnace business on the north edge of town.
Children were amazed to see tin man and Native American statues standing 17–20 feet high in front of the business. Herb Drews Sr. started his business in the 1930s as Drews-Schultz Furnaces at 1331 E. Main St. During this early time, he created the Tin Man from furnace parts to stand in front of the business to draw attention to it.
The Tin Man, known as Toncan Charlie, made one trip to Cleveland, Ohio, in 1940 as a display for the Heating & Air Conditioning Conference, according to Drews’ daughter, Marilyn Graham. Toncan Charlie was also used as a model of encouragement for people during the scrap iron drive in World War II to get scrap iron donated to the war effort.
“Dad donated him for a scrap drive collection during the war,” Graham said, “but the kids were so upset about that, so instead he was put on the square (Redden Square) with a fence so others could put their donations there.”
She added, “For the war, dad made a soldier’s cap for him.” Randy Graham, Drews’ grandson, said, “Throughout the scrap drive, people came and laid their scrap metal at his feet as if bringing sacrifices to an ancient idol.”
After the war, Toncan Charlie was returned to Drews and was erected at his shop again, but he would not stand alone. Drews, who moved his business to 3716 N. Vermilion in the 1940s, created the Indian, Chief Kesis, in 1949 to stand with Toncan Charlie. These two icons became a staple of the business and for Danville residents and visitors entering Danville from the north on Route 1, a unique sight.
Chief Kesis was built to honor the Native American tribes who lived in the Danville area before the settlers came, a passion of the senior Drews. Evidently, according to Randy, the remains of Chief Kesis were found near the Middlefork River when erosion from a storm uncovered his remains. “He was wearing a peace medallion given him by George Washington,” he said, “so apparently he was a well-respected chief and at some point, traveled to Washington.”
Chief Kesis was a leader of the Kickapoo and Potawatomi tribes who lived in the area, and was probably one of the chiefs that took part in the treaty of the Potawatomi and Kickapoo with William Henry Harrison in 1809, which opened the way for settlement along the Wabash River.
Another story by Randy was that Kesis’ tomahawk was stolen in the early 1950s. The high school student who stole it later returned it. “My family placed it on the statue once again,” Randy said, “and it was stolen again a few months later.
“It has been nearly 40 years now so maybe it’s due to be returned again soon,” he said. Even a University of Illinois fraternity rented Chief Kesis for its 1980 homecoming from his uncle and brought it to Champaign for their homecoming.
When Herb Drews Sr. died in May 1961, his son Herb Jr. took over the business, running it until he died in December 1994.
The question is: Where are Toncan Charlie and Chief Kesis today?
Chief Kesis didn’t move far. He resides in Curtis Orchard, 3902 S. Duncan Rd., Champaign, moved there in 1994 after Herb Jr. died. The orchard is owned by Randy Graham. Mike Clawson, who worked for the younger Drews for 18 years, bought the business in 1995 which included Toncan Charlie. Toncan Charlie was, by that time, in such disrepair that Clawson moved him to the back of the business, where he remained until Clawson moved to his present location at 814 Warrington Ave., Danville.
Clawson did take Toncan Charlie with him, maybe with the thought of restoring him, but instead Toncan Charlie, it is believed, remains in the rafters of one of Clawson’s warehouses. Graham has said he has tried several times over the years to contact Clawson about Toncan Charlie, but has yet to receive an answer to his calls. Clawson was unavailable for comment.