Agricultural museum grows like weed

Tractors fill the newly constructed second building.

Tractors fill the newly constructed second building.

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Rachel Alexander

The stove is shown.

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Rachel Alexander

The Eastern Washington Agricultural Museum’s collection of cattle brands includes dozens from the early 1900s.

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Rachel Alexander

The main building at the Eastern Washington Agricultural Museum features a replica of a farmhouse kitchen.

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Franks

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ruark

POMEROY — When the Eastern Washington Agricultural Museum first got off the ground, a few locals were skeptical about its purpose.

“Some people said it was an idea for a place for some guys to put their tractors,” said Jay Franks, the museum’s president.

In the five years since its first building was completed, EWAM has built an impressive collection of agricultural equipment that goes well beyond tractors — everything from turn-of-the-century cattle brands to the county’s old mail delivery wagon, complete with a wood stove in the back.

Now, the collection has grown so large that EWAM has expanded into a second building, which was completed in September. The museum’s two red, barn-like buildings sit a few miles outside Pomeroy at the Garfield County Fairgrounds, and are open to visitors by appointment.

The main building has a number of displays, including a home kitchen set up with a wood-burning stove and an old Singer sewing machine. There’s a collection of cattle brands; books listing all of the registered brands in the state; a model of a tractor being pulled by a 34-horse team.

“I’ve been totally amazed by how much stuff is out there,” Franks said. The entire collection is donated, and Franks said he regularly gets calls about possible additions from all over Eastern Washington.

By far the largest item in the room is a wood combine, made in 1932. The combine takes up a good portion of the main building, and was given to the museum by a local farmer.

“He’d had it in a shed since 1987, never could find a museum big enough to take it,” said Franks.

EWAM’s second building is unfinished, and, true to predictions, mostly full of tractors. Many of the items inside are more than 50 years old.

Franks explained he hoped the larger second building would allow EWAM to display larger machines and make use of more of the collection.

Franks, as well as David Ruark, the museum’s secretary and treasurer, are available to show visitors around and share their knowledge of the machinery and other artifacts. Both are knowledgeable about the history of agriculture in the area, and each man has stories to tell about almost every item in the museum’s collection.

Ruark particularly enjoys challenging visitors by asking them to identify obscure pieces of old farm equipment laid out near the combine. He plays the same trick on other museum volunteers, though he said most of them do better than the visitors.

“It’s kind of neat to bring something in and see if you can stump ’em,” he said.

Ruark explained that one of EWAM’s goals is preserving the agricultural heritage of the county. He hopes the hands-on experience of seeing old equipment will give young people a better sense of the hard work required to live an agricultural life, and inspire them to continue farming.

To this end, the museum hosts Spring Farming Days every April at the fairgrounds. The weekend-long event, which will be held April 6-7 this year, gives visitors a chance to see demonstrations and get hands-on experience with some of the equipment.

In addition to educating people about the region’s agricultural history, EWAM works to document knowledge of agricultural practices.

Franks explained that some people in the county have memories of using older types of equipment, but their knowledge is dying out without being passed on. EWAM has tried to videotape some of these stories to preserve the county’s agricultural knowledge.

“If people like us don’t do something with it, it’s gone forever,” said Ruark.

Old equipment can also sit neglected and be lost without an organization like EWAM to collect and display it.

Franks and other volunteers frequently do restoration work on machines to get them ready for display. The museum has a group of about 15 regular volunteers with skills ranging from woodworking to ironworking.

“It’s a lot of fun. I could retire from my job and just do this every day,” said Franks.

Ruark said that, in addition to preserving history, the museum provided a chance for volunteers to practice skills and have fun.

“I tell people it keeps us off of the streets and out of the bars,” he said.

Visitors can schedule an appointment to see the museum by contacting Ruark at 509-843-3506 or dnruark@wildblue.net.

Rachel Alexander can be reached at rachelalexander@wwub.com.

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