Zagray Farm Museum: Partnership Pays Off

Engineers and Historical Society Pull Together to Create a Farm Museum


| June 2006



1950s-vintage Model 99-H Austin-Western grader

Quinebaug Valley Engineers Association members delighted show goers with this 1950s-vintage Model 99-H Austin-Western grader. This machine has all-wheel drive, and four-wheel steering two features especially useful when grading ditches and crowning roads. Privately owned, the machine now resides at the Zagray Farm Museum where it maintains roads and offers untold entertainment.

Cooperation is the fuel that feeds most human relationships, and in the old-iron world, cooperation among organizations can also lead to wonderful opportunity. In Colchester, Conn., a cooperative joint venture between the Quinebaug Valley Engineers Association (QVEA) and the Colchester Historical Society created the Zagray Farm Museum, a 200-acre farm where the past now comes alive. What was once just another farm along the road between Colchester and Amston is now home to New England´s premier machinery museum.

The Zagray Farm Museum takes its name from the family that donated their farm to the cause. "Three brothers, Harry, Wilbur and Stanley Zagray grew up here," explains QVEA President Mark Maikshilo. "In 2001, when Harry was the only one left alive, he gave the place to the historical society."

Because the Zagray brothers wanted to protect their father´s farm from development, the gift came with a conservation clause. Essentially, the farm was to be preserved in its then-current state as green space and historical homestead site.

Partnership strengthens two groups

The QVEA was born in the winter of 1992, when friends and old-iron enthusiasts gathered to talk about engines, tractors and heavy equipment. Mark can´t remember whose idea it was to form the club, but with 26 founding members, the QVEA incorporated in 1993. "Our first summer gatherings were held in conjunction with the Norwich Auto Show," Mark recalls. "That first year we had about 10 tractors and a few engines, but we generated a lot of interest." In time, as the QVEA membership grew, so did their exhibit. Ultimately, the auto show´s management asked the group to find another place. The nearly 10-year-old club was in a bind.

"Our connection with the Zagray farm was really fortuitous," Mark says. "We needed a place to call home, and the historical society needed someone to help them manage their new property." But when club members first looked over the Zagray farm, they were a bit overwhelmed. "The Zagrays collected just about everything," says QVEA member and museum volunteer Dave Chester. "One brother liked farm equipment and the other collected construction stuff." To say that there was a ton of junk scattered all over the farm would be a gross understatement. "There was so much iron everywhere, we had no idea what to do with it all," Mark recalls. "And the machine shop, foundry and sawmill all needed considerable attention."

Undaunted, the QVEA membership, then several hundred strong, pitched in. Thousands of person-hours later, the QVEA had organized enough iron to have quite an auction. "We found the remnants of over 50 Farmall tractors on top of all kinds of bits and pieces," Dave says. But that wasn´t really the most interesting part."