The Visitors Center Story By Howard Raymond
In 2020 after coming home from the RPRU in Huron I decided it was time to start a transfer of my IH collection so that it could be held intact upon my eventual demise.
To this end I visited with Rod Klepper of the Tri-State Antique Antique Engine and Thresher Association of Bird City Kansas where I had been volunteering for several years. I saw a need on the grounds for a year-round facility with restrooms and office space. Also I own a large collection of parts and service manuals and I wanted to have a library to preserve those pieces as well as others that people would want to contribute if they knew there was a safe place for them. Working with the board of directors, we came up with a plan to build a new building, 40×80 feet, insulated with heat and a/c. I was able to gift a portion of my cow herd which the Thresher Association then sold to provide the seed money for the building. (I needed to liquidate the cows anyway due to my anticipated involvement with the 2023 RPRU).
The building was erected in September of 2021 and the interior finished by volunteers that winter. In 2023 with help from Association members I moved my collection from Curtis NE to the new museum at the Thresher Grounds in Bird City. The new building is designated as the Visitor Center and will be the center for all activities on the grounds. We now have modern air conditioned office space with internet service and are now able for the first time in our history to be able to hold our membership and other meetings on-site.
The Tri-State Antique Engine and Thresher Association was formed in 1953 and has held a 3 day Thresher Show every year since. 2023 is our 70th year. This year we have 3 large events planned, a Military re-enactment show scheduled for April 28-29, the Thresher Show July 27-29 when we host the Central States Hart-Parr Oliver club, and our 7th annual Mule and Draft Horse show October 6-7. We host several school groups, the Hwy 36 Treasure Hunt, a July 4th community Fireworks display and other smaller events throughout the year. In 2022 we joined Harvest Hosts providing overnight camping for travelers and have gained many new visitors from that. It is our goal going forward to be open year-round as a destination spot for travelers in northwest Kansas.
I got started in collecting IH tractors and equipment in 1996 when completely by chance I bought a 10-20 McCormick Deering on full steel at auction. I restored that tractor and displayed it at the national Red Power Roundup at Madison SD in 1997. There I met many other IH collectors including a fellow Nebraskan who owned a fleet of Farmall F20s and Regulars. He was in failing health and I ended up with many of his tractors, fixing some and selling some. Over the years one thing leads to another and in 2009 I bought a building in Curtis NE to use for my evolving parts business. As I acquired collectables I would add them until I had a small museum along with the parts inventory. When I retired from selling parts the building became a museum only but very few people were enjoying it and thus the thought process that brought my collection to Bird City.
To describe my collection a little bit, I have a soft spot for the early IH history. The saga of the invention of the reaper by Cyrus McCormick is a wonderful story that needs to be told. If it were not for the invention of harvesting machinery you can well imagine that we would all be out in the field grubbing with a hoe to attain our sustenance and there would be no Industrial America.
When I moved my collection here I set the building up with a 1940s IH Dealership in mind. This era best fits the items I have displayed.
There is a 1900 McCormick binder which is one of my earlier pieces and I have access to a similar Deering binder to be moved in later. I also have a nice all-steel McCormick manure spreader that is slated to be a part of the museum too. A nice wooden wheeled McCormick grain drill represents the planing side of harvest and a 10 in McCormick Type D Feed Mill completes the picture. I have these items interspersed with typical farm items that would be found in any mid century barn. The opposite side of the room is decorated more like a dealer shop would be with benches, tools and memorabilia along with tractors. At the present time I have only 2 tractors on display, A 1941 Farmall H on propane and a 1939 F20. I have two other Farmall Hs here on the grounds, both on steel and also 2 more F20s, one red and one gray that will come here after the RPRU in Grand Island this summer. I will be able to rotate these in and out so the display will change from year to year.
The decision was made late last year to put the Curtis building on the market as I was no longer living there and it was becoming more of a liability and less of an asset.
I started boxing up items in October of 2022 and spent many days preparing to move. It is amazing how much stuff a person accumulates in a lifetime. The manuals and books alone were quite a project with over 2000 items cataloged. Rod Klepper and I built shelves and cabinets in the library in preparation for the move. Rod, Willy Martinez, Larry Shultz, and Wayne Ericson drove up from Kansas with three trailers to help make the move. Once we got the little stuff moved the larger items were easy and I closed on the sale of the building March 1, right on schedule.
It is our intent that the new Visitor Center be open to visitors anytime during the year. At present we are a volunteer only organization and do not have regular hours but both mine and the association President’s phone numbers are posted on the building. You are very welcome to visit anytime.
Building the Visitor Center