Rust Man's Holiday at AGSEM

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

| September 2000

  • Vintage equipment is used to raise crops (primarily wheat and oats) at the Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum at Vista, Calif.
    Vintage equipment is used to raise crops (primarily wheat and oats) at the Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum at Vista, Calif. Visitors can see the crops taken from the field through the kitchen, with exhibits and displays of binding, putting up shocks, milling and baking.
  • The
    The "Do Nothing" Machine, owned by Paul Freiling, Fullerton, Calif., and on display at the AGSEM spring threshing bee. Built by Lawrence F. Walstrom, Los Angeles, nearly 50 years ago, the machine "accomplishes absolutely nothing," Freiling noted ... or did, he added with a grin, until he installed a small American flag. "Now it's my flag waver."
  • Completion of a wheel built entirely at the wheelwright shops at the museum
    Completion of a wheel built entirely at the wheelwright shops at the museum.
  • 1903 2 hp Jack of All Trades by Fairbanks-Morse
    A 1903 2 hp Jack of All Trades by Fairbanks-Morse. The four-cylinder upright was "all rust when I got it," says owner Al Diamond, La Mesa, Calif. "I had to make an awful lot of parts for it."
  • Bob Walther with a 1941 Ottawa post hole digger
    Bob Walther with a 1941 Ottawa post hole digger owned by the museum. When Tom Walther (Bob's father) donated the piece to the museum, he also had the original paperwork for the unit, including the bill of lading and delivery slips to the Vista train station.
  • Star well drilling rig
    A Star well drilling rig, made in Akron, Ohio, in the early 1900s. The two-speed self-propelled rig was found in Boulder City, Nev., and is on slate for restoration at the museum. Just two other similar units are known to be in operating condition.
  • Union Steam Pump
    A Union Steam Pump, on permanent display. This single cylinder, direct acting steam pump features a shuttle valve controlled by a slide valve driven by the piston rod.
  • Caterpillar was the featured line at the spring threshing bee
    Caterpillar was the featured line at the spring threshing bee. This Holt 45, owned by Herk Bouris, Riverside, Calif., dates to about 1918. It was the first Holt made without the front tiller wheel.
  • Bill Reeves' 1919 Huber Light Four
    Bill Reeves' 1919 Huber Light Four. The restoration was primarily cosmetic. "The engine and transmission are just like when I bought it," says Bill, from Sylmar, Calif. "It runs really good. I didn't realize what a piece of merchandise I got in the Waukesha engine."
  • Steam engines on display at the June show
    Steam engines on display at the June show. Left to right: A 1905 Advance (from the museum's collection), a russell owned by Jim McEntire, a 1913 Case 60 and an 1895 Russell (the latter two engines also from the museum's collection).
  • 1922 Fairbanks Morse
    This 1922 Fairbanks Morse was originally used as a power plant on Santa Catalina Island. It is rated at 150 hp and is a three cylinder, two-cycle diesel with 1,850-inch displacement. In the 1930s the engine was taken to Quartzite, Ariz., where it ran a lead processing plant. Since 1983, it has been on display at AGSEM, where it was restored by volunteers.

  • Vintage equipment is used to raise crops (primarily wheat and oats) at the Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum at Vista, Calif.
  • The
  • Completion of a wheel built entirely at the wheelwright shops at the museum
  • 1903 2 hp Jack of All Trades by Fairbanks-Morse
  • Bob Walther with a 1941 Ottawa post hole digger
  • Star well drilling rig
  • Union Steam Pump
  • Caterpillar was the featured line at the spring threshing bee
  • Bill Reeves' 1919 Huber Light Four
  • Steam engines on display at the June show
  • 1922 Fairbanks Morse

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.



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