If you are an organization which holds shows and operates a museum as one of your activities, or if you are set up solely to operate a museum, this article opens a series which may be helpful.
The engine collection and restoration hobby has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years. It covers the United States, and much of Canada, and is strong in other countries such as Great Britain, Germany, Holland, Sweden. Our magazines have chronicled the growth from early days.
Museum operation for many organizations has been an offshoot of the main thrust, but it has served a vital purpose for it has preserved much that might otherwise have been lost. Today's visitors can gain some idea of what life used to be like, by walking into any of these sets of exhibits.
There are also many museums which are professionally funded, staffed and operated as fulltime places for the public to visit. The Smithsonian Institution has excellent exhibits; so does Greenfield in Michigan. Many museums are members of the Association for Living Historical Farms. Agricultural museums display engines or farm implements and hold events which tie in with this hobby.
Can you learn anything from the way other museums are operated? That's up to you. We'll try, in this series which will present articles at intervals when the information can be assembled, to bring you the latest on what is being done in the fields of steam, gas, implements and machinery, and in specialized museums. We will welcome letters and articles if you care to submit them.
We are interested in all phases... finding items that can be made part of a collection; acquisition; restoration; identification; labeling; housing; exhibiting to best advantage; use of museum objects; security; keeping of records and archives; financing; seeking grants; establishing authenticity; advertising and publicity; handling of visitors; reliance on paid staff and volunteers, and anything else our readers feel is to the point.
This month's article ties in with a report from Bill May, of the Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum, at Vista, California, near San Diego, whose institution we visited this past winter. Bill was a good host and guide to our cousins, John and Jean Baucus of Helena, Montana, and Margaret and me. I think you'll find this information stimulating.
Construction and Identification
Erection of a new building, and making a record of all items in the collection, are only two of the many phases of museum activity going on at the same time at the Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum, Vista, California.
The major building under construction by members is the new blacksmith shop, made possible through a $50,000 grant from the State of California. The group has made an application for further funding.
On the day Margaret and I visited with John and Jean Baucus, the building work was proceeding merrily. Bill May showed us around, and made an excellent guide. The day was a Saturday in winter, and it was fully evident that members were enthusiastic about expansion.
We met Heather Johnson, who holds a college degree in museum operation. She is the museum's first fulltime employee, working four days a week, running the office, answering the telephone, working on grants and directing the inventory.
The day we were there, a team of volunteers was working on the inventory, identifying items as they went along, and recording all they could learn about the pieces. One item, a horse-drawn Fresno, had been donated by Carl Myers, of Parawon, Utah, who 'stopped in and offered it'.
Making of an inventory is very important, for various reasons. For one, it provides a record that an item is in the collection; if it ever disappears or is misplaced, the record helps; it can show the extent of a collection; it can help toward a basis for insurance; it can aid other collectors who want to know about certain types of engines or implements, or about makes of machinery.
The Vista collection has far more of gas than steam, but there are several steam traction engines, and an impressive stationary steam display which is supplied by pipe.
Theft of valuable engines has made the members more conscious of the need for security, and they have acted accordingly. The subject of theft from museums is a very pertinent one, and we look for input from our readers on (1) objects that have been stolen and not recovered, so that we may try to help spread the word, and (2) steps taken to thwart thieves.
We like the information Bill assembled for us, and present it herewith.
Update on Vista
Our attendance was great again this year even though the San Diego Padres hit us head-on one weekend of our fall show. Weather out here being as it is allows us to put on 4 weekends of show a year. Two shows are in June and then two more weekends in October.
Of course the June show is probably a little better than the October show. In June we can have the Holt Hillside Harvester out in the field each day (no grain in the field in October) and cut, bind and bundle grain with the binder. Some of the old hands get to try to shock the bundles and even put a cap on them.
1984 was a banner year in many ways for the museum and show. Membership reached over 900 members. We had over 40,000 visitors from all over the world. The museum received over $50,500 in donations to build a permanent blacksmith shop. The building is 40 by 80 feet with engine shedline shaft and everything a person would want in a blacksmith shop. In June of 1985 Don Finney, Richard Schrader, Joe Nielson and friends will be able to do many things with hot iron in the new shop that they've been doing in their cramped up temporary quarters. It will also provide much better viewing for the public who come out to see us.
Of course the color article in American Ways Magazine in July 1984 didn't hurt us or the hobby in anyway. We had visitors taking taxis from San Diego to Vista whenever they stayed in San Diego having flown in via American Airlines. Mr. Lestz was kind enough to mention in Iron Men Album about the article and in case you hadn't seen the article, the hobby as a whole was portrayed as an international hobby through the eyes of our Vista museum. (If any one wants a copy of the article, please send a self addressed stamped envelope to the museum address.)
One other highlight was the building of a full-scale sawmill by one of our early club members, Bert Ninteman, and his family. Bert, several club members, and the Ninteman family spent 6 months building the mill as Bert had remembered it from his childhood. One thing different was the incorporation of several safety factors. Right after getting the sawmill set up, many of the club members bought an Advance Rumely steam tractor to use at the museum. It was put to work on the sawmill and acted like it was made for it. John Ninteman and Bert made the saw dust fly like there was no tomorrow. If we can just keep logs coming in for the mill we'll have enough lumber to put up more equipment storage sheds.
Dave Denny of Compton, California, with 200 HP Allis Chalmers-built Corliss, weight 52,000 pounds, which runs on live steam all day at the Museum shows.
Lest we forget, we acquired six more acres of land from the County of San Diego, and the Carlucci brothers loaned us some other adjacent land so that we have over 50 acres under our control. We planted about 35 acres of wheat, oats and barley for our 1985 shows. We had so many tractors, plows, discs and seeders in the field you couldn't see the ground. We thank the likes of Gary Jondle, Al Luedtke, Virgil White, Ernie Walder, Kenny Dutenhoffer, Charlie Pfrunder, Bill Rohr, Tom Mathews and the Jondle boys. I think I even saw Larry Nelson with his Percheron draft horses out in the field.
The June and October shows saw Beverly Krueger and many of the gals from the country kitchen and parlor all in early '20's dress, making cornbread and beans, churning butter, quilting, tatting and making soap and even some apple cider. I saw Jane Wischstadt helping grind corn meal on Virgil White's stone burr mill. The burr mill was powered by the stationary steam engines from steam engine row, run by Wes Hamilton, Dave Denny and friends. Don Alden, Walt Erickson, Al Mueller and their buddies really put on an excellent show with all the huge engines. Hopefully the 3 cylinder Fairbanks Morse Oil engine (150 HP) will be running by June show time. Bud Olney was making brooms, Carl Bergman's Model T Popcorn Machine was busy with Mrs. Bergman and Mrs. Fairchild keeping the public stuffed with good popcorn. We had Charles McMahon and Val Millard taking the kiddies from 8 to 80 for a train ride all day. Then we had the two musical orchestrations of Mike Ames playing beautiful merry-go-round type music, and if that wasn't enough, yours truly's Hickory Ridge Bluegrass band played music for the Moonshine Mountain cloggers.
Many thanks go out for the help, support and involvement that the local chapter of the F. F. A., 4-H Clubs and Boy and Girls Scouts gave us. The Vista Future Farmers have done a super job of parking our visitors' cars for the past 3 years. The Boy Scouts of either Vista or Ocean-side have led our parade the last couple of years. The last 2 years the Vista 4-H boys and girls have shown how dogs for the blind are trained, and they have had a lemonade stand.
Many things will be happening at the museum in 1985. We have six buildings filled with equipment. We would hope that by the end also have in the planning stage a 'Grange' building of 60 by 120 feet. It probably will be two-story with administration and the library all placed in it.
We have two line-on security guards, so if you get a chance to visit us at the museum you probably will meet one.