Plowing Through the Past

| July 2001

Just 18 miles from downtown Kansas City, Kan., green pastures flash past the car windows. And if you slow down, take a few turns to the north, you'll come across a modest acreage, covered with... antique farm implements. Some are in rows, some dot the landscape in solitary positions, as though the farmer just dismounted and will return at any moment. Wooden buildings spread out in a small community; train tracks, leading to nowhere, circle the homestead.

The National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame, located in Bonner Springs, Kan., boasts one of the largest public displays of agricultural equipment in the nation. The modest museum sites 40,000 visitors a year, but those numbers are expected to increase dramatically due to a planned fundraiser, and with an increase in traffic expected when a Nascar racetrack moves into the lot next door. The contrast between past and present will be heightened, the peaceful air surrounding the grounds presently will be shattered with the noise of the race track, but there's no denying that the track will also help bring visitors to this historical display. Education of the public is the most important goal of this museum, and the staff is gearing up for the racetrack tourists, according to Tim Nimz, the director and executive vice president of the National Agricultural Center museum.

The museum consists of three parts: the main display building; the Museum of Farming where most of the large implements are stored; and Farm Town, USA, an outdoor display of buildings, including a schoolhouse, blacksmith shop, train depot, silo and a farmhouse. The Island Creek school-house (from Piper, Kan.), the train depot (Morris, Kan.) and the silo (Tonganoxie, Kan.) are all historical buildings, moved to the National Hall of Fame and preserved on site. Tim is especially proud of the silo.

'It's a six-sided wooden silo, which is pretty rare,' he says. 'It was actually patented in Tonganoxie, Kan., in the 1920s, and it's called the Common Sense Silo.' The rest of the buildings were constructed on the museum grounds, patterned on post-Civil War buildings that might have existed in a western town.

The largest equipment display in Farm Town is housed in the blacksmith shop, which is stocked with anvils, trip hammers, bellows and wheelwright equipment. Iron pieces, the uses of which visitors can only guess, line every available surface of the wooden walls.

Inside the Museum of Farming, the eye is assaulted by the colors and shapes of an incredible spread of implements. Green, red, blue and yellow paint, worn and faded, decorate iron pieces that, for so many years, shaped farmland from West Virginia to Oregon. Potato planters line up next to seed planters and check-row wire. Hand tools hang on the walls above each set of implements, specific to the process that the implements below were invented to carry out. A tour guide, Diana Buck, points out the thing that all these machines have in common.