Agricultural Heritage of the Pacific Northwest

Museum trio in the Pacific Northwest preserves agricultural heritage in bountiful region

| December 2011

Antique farm machinery and agricultural heritage are alive and well in these United States. Public and private museums dot the countryside: Draw a circle on the map, and chances are good of finding at least one museum celebrating our agrarian past within it. In the Pacific Northwest, stretch that circle to about 250 miles wide, and you’ll hit three fine museums. Each brings the region’s agricultural heritage to life in unique and memorable ways. 

Pomeroy, Washington

Think dreams don’t come true? Visit Pomeroy, Wash., and think again. Home to more than half of Garfield County’s population of 2,300, Pomeroy is also home to the Eastern Washington Agricultural Museum. Dedicated in 2008, this agricultural heritage museum is proof of what can happen when a group of people catch a dream and hold on tight.

Intent on preserving the history and heritage of local agriculture, volunteers began planning for a museum in 2004. A blend of state aid and nearly unanimous local support put the museum on the fast track. Pomeroy FFA members wrote personal letters to state officials seeking funding; volunteers donated sweat equity to convert salvaged steel, lumber and roofing from an old pea cannery into seed money; and local entities jumped on the bandwagon in any way they could. Construction of a 72-by-120-foot building was completed in 2007. By 2011, supporters had set their sights on a second building.

Today, the museum is a comprehensive collection showcasing the area’s agricultural heritage. A 1932 26x38 Harris Harvester combine pushes at the building’s ceiling. Nearby is a wagon unique to the area. Known as a “wide ax,” it has exceptionally wide rear axles (the rear wheels are outside the wagon box), lending stability on steep hillsides. A seven-arm horsepower sweep dating to about 1850, salvaged from a local farm, is a noteworthy part of the outdoor collection. A reconstructed tower stands near the building’s entrance, a remnant of the Judkins bucket tram that once transported grain from Pomeroy-area fields to a warehouse 2,000 feet below on the Snake River. Like many pieces in the collection, all are handsomely restored.

Take the museum’s John Deere hay loader, for instance. “It was made out of three loaders,” says David Ruark, museum secretary. “It was a project taken on by three guys; each had a specialty area. We’re not blessed with a large number of people here (the museum is supported by 90 members) but our members certainly have many talents.”

The fact that so many pieces in the collection came from the immediate area gives the displays a uniquely intimate feel; it is easy to picture the original owners in your mind’s eye. Volunteers are relentless in their quest to secure relics of local importance. They are a “can do” group, ready to mount salvage operations to remote and sometimes precarious locations. Success is tied to the fact that more than a few local farms apparently opted out of war-era scrap drives. “A lot of the older generation never got rid of things,” David says. “I know of one farm that donated four generations worth of stuff.”