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California Agriculture Museum, A History Lesson

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Have you been to the California Agriculture Museum?   It’s changed quite a bit since the last time I visited, some 10 years ago. The floor plan is more open and there are several new art exhibits that help to illustrate how these machines worked in the fields.  I recently sat down with the museum’s Executive Director Lorili Ostman to talk about its history, its current projects and what its future holds.

This is a two-part series leading up to the museum’s Tractor and Brew event on Thursday, June 16th.

Here is my conversation with Lorili about the museum’s history:

Introduce yourself and what is your title?
My name is Lorili Ostman and I’m the Executive Director of the California Agriculture Museum.

How long has the museum been open?
The museum opened in 1997, we were incorporated in 1995.

Tell me, what is the museum and how does it represent our community?
The California Ag Museum is the largest collection of California artifacts in the world and it is the rarest collection of tractors assembled that specifically represent the tractors that California pioneers would have used 100 plus years ago.

 

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CAAG-19Tell me about the collection.  Is it from multiple donors?
Collecting started in the 1930’s with Fred C. Heidrick Sr.  It’s a typical farmer’s story, especially in Yolo County, where the farm’s crew would slow during the winter months.  To keep everyone working Fred would have his crews reconstruct tractors.  This became a passion for Fred, as it did for so many other farmers.  He began to amass barn fulls of refurbished tractors.  The tractors were brought as close to the original condition as possible.

But what is not a common story is that Fred Sr. had become so interested in the history of the vehicle, the development and innovation of the tractor and local genius talent that the family felt the collection needed to go on public display.  The word got out and not only was his tractor collection shown but many members from the community came forward to give their tractors, harvesters, and miscellaneous implements that might help describe a grain harvester right down to the needle and thread that would have sewn the burlap sacks.  Even still to this day, people walk in and they want to donate.

How has the museum evolved since opening?

When the museum opened in 1997 it was a tractor collector’s view of what a museum would resemble.  The draw to the collection was significant, and the marketing was more simplistic in those days.  Busloads of people came to visit.  But once you’ve seen it, well, you’ve seen it.  It tended to attract agriculturally oriented people, machinists, mechanics, and people interested in vehicles.  Now the transition, the one we are in right now, is looking to broaden the appeal of the museum to a new population of people.   We want to target new markets and give them the opportunity to discover the California Ag Museum.

We’ve added art exhibits to help bring to life what these tractors looked like in the field.  If you’re from the city you have no idea what a tractor did or the purpose of a harvester.   You will be impressed by the awe of the machinery, but you don’t know how it fits in the landscape or how it has benefitted you personally.  Those are the stories we are trying to pull out by placing art and historical photos in the museum.

The other thing that has transitioned over the years with the changing Board of Directors and the different Executive Directors is the vision of the museum.  Initially, it was designed by a wonderful designer who specialized in county fairs, now that county fair element is starting to disappear.  We’re starting to open up the museum and showcase it similar to an automobile showroom floor.  You can set your eyes on a focal point and walk the museum with purpose.

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CAAG-11Can you tell me the history of the Board of Directors? 
When the museum first opened, it was a family board of directors and a private family foundation.  That is no longer the case.  The museum has transitioned to a public entity and non-profit.  Two of the board members are grandsons of Fred C. Heidrick Sr.  They regularly contribute their time and resources, but it is a 14 person Board of Directors.  It’s a group of men and women who are very dedicated to the museum and continue to provide oversight to the museum and help raise money.

What other services does the museum provide?
We also have an event center.  Initially, when the plans were drawn for the museum there was no event center.  As the research was done to determine how museums survive, they found that museums don’t necessarily make it at the gate or with memberships.  Additionally, they weren’t sure they could find funding through the usual museum avenues. For example, tourism taxes, city funding and state parks funding are core financial resources that help museums survive.  We didn’t have that here.  So, Linda Heidrick Lucchesi came up with the idea of adding an event center.  At that time, there were no major event venues in town or even the area.

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Anything else you’d like us to know about the history of the collection or the museum?
It’s taken me five and a half years to really understand the museum and probably another five and a half years to discover what Fred C. Heidrick knew about the history, mechanics and the tractors.  He really had the foresight, and that’s what I am trying to pull and share.

California Ag Museum
1962 Hays Lane Woodland, CA 95776
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Hours:
Wednesday-Saturday 10 AM-5 PM
Sunday 10AM- 4PM
Closed Monday-Tuesday