Farm And Ranch Museum’s old iron plays starring role in PBS documentary.
The Farm And Ranch Museum, Gering, Neb., was transformed into a film production lot in July 2011, as a film crew from Inspirit Creative arrived to shoot footage for the upcoming film documentary, Harvesting the High Plains .
Directed by cinematographer Jay Kriss and produced and scripted by him and Sydney Duvall, the documentary tells the story of Kansans Ray Garvey and John Kriss, who endured the Dust Bowl days to create one of the largest wheat farming operations on the High Plains.
“It was essential for us to show vintage farm equipment in the film,” says Jay, whose grandfather, John Kriss, served as a partner/manager of G-K Farms. “We were fortunate to obtain rights to use archival 16 mm film shot by Works Progress Administration (WPA) cinematographers in the 1930s. But we also wanted to film vintage tractors, combines and equipment at work in the field. So I posted inquiries on tractor collector websites, looking for specific years and models of equipment we could use in the film.”
“Jay’s inquiries led him to our museum website,” explains Jack Preston, co-director of the Farm And Ranch Museum. “By sheer coincidence, we were both in Washington, D.C., at the same time, so we had an opportunity to sit down and talk about the film. He was looking for vintage equipment that would have been used for ground preparation, planting, tillage and wheat harvesting in the 1930s and ’40s. It turned out that we had much of what Jay wanted, so he made arrangements to visit our museum.”
In July 2011, filming began at the museum’s farm in western Nebraska. About 75 acres of the 100-acre farm is planted to crops each year, and a portion of that had been planted to wheat just ready for harvest. The biggest filming challenge the filmmakers faced was the scenic Scotts Bluff National Monument, which towers 830 feet above the valley floor a scant half-mile from the museum’s grounds. Since the film is intended to depict the flat plains of Kansas, the cinematographers had to focus their cameras tightly on the equipment.
The Farm And Ranch Museum has more than 50 vintage tractors in its collection, most of them in running condition and many in their original paint. That was just fine with Jay, who says Ray Garvey and John Kriss didn’t believe in spending money on new equipment. “I wanted the equipment to look like it had been working for a few years,” he says.
That it did. Tractors featured in the film include the museum’s 1931 Case Model L on steel lugs, a 1930 McCormick-Deering 22-36 on rubber tires and a 1926 Caterpillar 60 used in highway construction before being acquired by a wheat farmer in nearby Banner County. The filmmakers also used a 1930s-era International WD-9 on loan from local collector Gary Senkel.
Charlie Fenster, another museum co-director, says vintage equipment portrayed in the film includes a Krause one-way plow, a John Deere 10-bottom gang plow, a 3-row Oliver lister and a 1930s-era spring-tooth harrow, as well as a Cheney rod weeder and a vintage Sishc duckfoot cultivator manufactured in Torrington, Wyo. The museum also supplied a McCormick-Deering 12-hole, 10-foot grain drill and a Peacock grain drill developed in the 1920s by Charles Peacock, Arriba, Colo. To add realism to the harvesting footage, the museum borrowed a 1939 GMC AC303 1-1/2-ton farm truck equipped with a beet/grain box owned by Tom Wayman, Harrisburg, Neb.
“The piece of equipment that got us the most excited was the museum’s vintage Gleaner Baldwin Model A self-propelled combine,” Jay says. “Back in 1947, John Kriss sent Ray Garvey a telegram saying, ‘Have 130 combines cutting in the field today.’ We felt it was essential to show one of those old Gleaner Baldwins in action.”
The filming, which took a full week, was attended by Susan Miner, whose late husband, Craig Miner, authored the book upon which the film is based, as well as by Jay’s father. Several museum supporters were on hand, along with area newspapers and a local television station. The event also drew the interest of 12-year-old Jason Koster, Rochester, Minn., who happened to be visiting the museum that week. “He asked if he could help, so we put him to work,” Jack says. “He said later it was the best day of his life.” FC
For more information: Legacy of the Plains, incorporating Farm And Ranch Museum and North Platte Valley Museum, 2930 Old Oregon Trail, Gering, NE 69341; (304) 436-1989. Open daily, May 1-Oct. 31; Monday through Friday, Nov. 1-April 30. Call for hours.