Rust Man's Holiday at AGSEM

The Antique Gas and Steam Engine Museum (AGSEM) is a haven for vintage farm equipment collectors

| September 2000

If the Harvard School of Business concerned itself with the preservation of vintage farm equipment, it's focus would be tightly trained on the Antique Gas and Steam Engine Museum (AGSEM) in Vista, Calif. The museum's programming and activities provide a detailed case study of how such operations should be run. 

A firm commitment to education, heavy emphasis on recruitment, and innovative approaches to fundraising set AGSEM apart. But there's more to this success story than a coherent mission statement. Take a collection of more than 20,000 items (ranging from rare documents to a Corliss steam engine with a 19,000-lb. flywheel); Toss in a location on 40 acres of rolling farm ground; Watch a happy army of volunteers "working" daily with vintage farm equipment, and you begin to get an idea of a rust man's holiday.

"The thing that's made it work well here is that we walk a fine line between making it fun for the volunteers, and serving the public," says Rod Groenewold, AGSEM's director.

Picture a 40-acre site where volunteers have the run of the place: They raise crops (using the museum's vintage farm equipment), restore and maintain old equipment, put on shows and threshing bees, give tours, teach everything from mechanics to weaving, and host group events. And they do it fulltime.

"Volunteers are on site, working, all the time, every day," Rod says. "Some of them keep motor homes here year 'round."

A big part of AGSEM's attraction is the unique exposure to the permanent collection. The sheer variety of pieces – and the chance to work with all of it at any time – works like a magnet to draw in some 600 dues-paying volunteers.