Discover Vintage America - JULY 2018
Agriculture Center and Hall of Fame plows ahead
An Act of Congress created the Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame in Bonner Springs, KS in 1960. That was the good news. Unfortunately, Congress failed to appropriate funding for the Ag Center, which relies on private and corporate donations, admissions (a $5 donation is suggested), memberships, special events and facility rentals to remain open.
The sign at the entrance of the Ag Center has weathered many seasons. (photos by Ken Weyand)
Over the years and despite its problems, the Ag Center, located on 160 acres of rolling farmland, developed major exhibits highlighting the history of U.S. agriculture. They include the National Farmers Memorial, Hall of Rural Living, Agricultural Hall of Fame, Rural Electric Theater, Museum of Farming, Poultry Museum, Rural Art Gallery, and a recreated early 1900-vintage farmstead.
Youngsters ride a miniature train around "Farm Town USA" that includes a one-room country schoolhouse, general store, hatchery, blacksmith shop, and old-time depot.
The Museum of Farming's collection includes tractors, plows, planters and cultivators, threshing equipment, and other historic farm machinery dating to the 1800s. There's even a rare 1919 "Waterloo Boy" tractor, built by John Deere and painted in green and yellow, adopted by the company as its signature colors.
For me, the bright red Farmall "H" brought back memories of my dad's tractor, bought during the 1940s when he gave up "horse farming." As a youngster, I'd sit on the big tractor and pretend to drive it, although I could barely reach the brake and clutch pedals.
Ken revisits the Farmall "H" tractor he first operated at age 8.
It was the era of wide-row cornfields. My dad and a hired worker shucked corn by hand, throwing ears into a wagon. On dad's signal, our horses would move forward until he yelled "woah." Then the process would repeat.
With the Farmall, I was recruited to steer, drive forward on my dad's "click-clicking" signal, and stop when I heard "woah." I felt a bit insulted, but as an 8-year-old I was actually driving a tractor, so how could I complain?
On a visit to the Ag Center a few years ago, I met a man who stopped to admire the Farmall H. As we discussed the vintage tractor he said many farmers had lost part of their hearing as they spent hours behind the droning engine.
"The sound had a specific frequency that gave them trouble," he said. "A doctor told me he could tell which farmers had driven a Farmall H by the amount of hearing loss they had."
I recently stopped by the Museum of Farming and located the Farmall H, displayed with other old-time tractors. Everything looked the same, but the tractor didn't seem as large as it did when I was a youngster.
Candy Wiley greeted me at the Ag Center entrance. An employee for the past three years, Candy comes from a farming background and appreciates what the facility represents. She said her favorite attractions at the Ag Center are the Museum of Farming and the miniature train.
"I'm especially looking forward to the Wizard of Oz event in August," she said.
Thanks to Judy Shelton, the Ag Center's office manager, I was able to get email updates from Charles Vogt, a board member and previous director. He told me that fundraising the past year has enabled the Ag Center to sustain an annual budget of $300,000 a year, based on revenues from special events, facility rentals, donations and admissions, and land sales.
Candy Wiley, a greeter, examines part of the Wizard of Oz display.
"A $150,000 grant from Bayer Crop Science USA to build a traveling exhibit on bees and their importance to the environment had to be suspended until we have the staff and resources to support it," he said. "A corporate donation from the Union Pacific Railroad helped make improvements to our very popular miniature train and tracks."
Vogt said his optimism for the future is based on several factors, especially the "tremendous cadre of volunteers and staff that keep the place going." But perhaps his biggest news was his next statement. "We are presently in conversations with the American Royal on the formulation of a new National Agricultural Education Center and Museum, and perhaps a new merger between the two organizations, which the corporate sector, the Kansas Farm Bureau, and State of Kansas Agriculture Department all support."
Vogt said the possible American Royal merger would allow the Ag Center to "rethink our land and existing buildings, since the American Royal is purchasing their own ground near the I-435 and I-70 intersection."
Vogt's optimism was echoed by Alan Barkema, board president, who added that the Ag Center's vision is "to acquaint young people with the exciting career prospects modern agriculture has to offer, and acquaint the non-farm public with the extraordinary industry that produces the nation's food and fiber."
Visitors admire the giant chicken sculpture in front of the Poultry Museum.
The annual Show 'n Shine Car & Truck Show is Saturday, July 28. A favorite event for antique vehicle enthusiasts for more than 45 years, there's always a surprising variety of old cars and trucks.
A Wizard of Oz event is set for Aug. 2-5. Visitors can meet Wizard of Oz characters, and relive the Wizard of Oz experience in Farm Town USA. Each evening, the Wizard of Oz musical will be performed at nearby Providence Amphitheater. Call 816-559-3846 for group rates.
The National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame is located near Bonner Springs, KS. From I-70, take the northbound Bonner Springs exit, turn right at the first intersection, and follow the signs. Hours are 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Wed.-Sat. For details go to www.aghalloffame.com.
Ken Weyand can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org Ken is self-publishing a series of non-fiction E-books. Go to www.smashwords.com and enter Ken Weyand in the search box.