The joy derived from collecting and restoring vintage farm classics is sometimes tempered by the inability to properly house and display those treasures. In Elk City, Okla., though, the Oklahoma Farm and Ranch Museum has met that challenge.
The only museum in Oklahoma dedicated solely to farming and ranching, the Elk City collection is the culmination of Bill Grissom’s dream.
“I saw machinery my grandfather used, rusting and ruined,” Bill said. “I knew if somebody didn’t do something fairly soon, nothing would be left for my grandchildren to see. Then it occurred to me: That someone would have to be me.”
Bill’s dream took root when the Western Oklahoma Historical Foundation made a gift of $50,000 in seed money. A new red barn rose on land donated by the city, and pieces from Bill’s private collection and others were moved in. The doors opened last year, and an army of volunteers went to work.
“Keeping the doors open is our main concern,” Bill said. “But we’ve averaged 40 visitors daily. That’s a good start.”
Visitors to the facility find a broad collection that includes a full dozen rare pieces. Some are restored; others show their age. A 1919 Case thresher is the largest piece in the museum. At a special event this fall, the old giant will be cranked into gear.
“It will make a racket,” Bill said, “but people will get to see it in action.”
The collection also includes two Rumelys: A Rumely OilPull from the teens, and an Advance Rumely thresher from 1918.
Four restored tractors are on display (two Deeres and two Farmalls), as well as a wide variety of farm equipment and machinery. There is, for instance, a full blacksmith shop with two forges, wheel-rim stretchers and a full line of farrier equipment. The shop has a working cistern to catch roof run-off, complete with a wellhead and pulley cups.
Vintage windmills also are displayed inside and out: A 1917 Dempster #6 open-gear, a 1904 Currie on a wooden tower, a 1919 Morrison, and a 1930s-vintage Aermotor. The latter is used to pump water for a stock tank, illustrating a critical component of early ranching.
Ranching, of course, remains a major industry in the region, which includes western Oklahoma south to the Texas border. The Elk City museum has an extensive collection of ranch-related equipment: Dehorning tools, calf-pulling rigs, branding irons and barbed wire (including some 500 patented strands), as well as wire stretchers, pliers and post-hole diggers.
Other aspects of the collection may come as a surprise. In the early years of this century, broomcorn and cotton were major crops in Oklahoma. The museum’s collection includes an extremely rare Carnagie U.S.A. broom baler and a J.S. Bushnell cleaner, as well as a Go-Devil one-row cultivator, hand tampers, lint cleaners and cotton sacks. (Replica cotton bags are a popular souvenir at the museum.)
The collection is broad enough to take in everything from a beekeeping exhibit to a farm produce store (complete with milk cans, scales and an egg incubator), an early moonshine still, antique farm toys, artwork and farm-related postage stamps. FC
For more information: The Farm and Ranch Museum, 2777 W. Hwy. 66, Elk City, OK 73644; (580) 225-6266. On I-40 eastbound, exit 32; I-40 westbound, exit 41. The Farm and Ranch Museum is part of the Old Town Complex. Admission of $5 includes tours of a Victorian mansion, the National Route 66 Museum (featuring vintage cars and automobile travel in America), Old-Town Museum and the Beutler Brothers Rodeo Hall, as well as several dozen outdoor exhibits (including Main Street in the statehood era). Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday; 2-5 p.m. Sunday. Online at http://www.elkcity.com/Pages.asp?s=mus&id=9.
For more on the Blacksmith Shop at the Old Town Museum Complex, read Saving the Blacksmith’s Shop from the August 2010 issue of Farm Collector.
Rhonda Shephard is a freelance writer in Oklahoma.