East campus tractor museum looks to the future

The Lester F. Larsen Tractor Museum, located on East Campus of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is the home to more than 30 tractors.

Story and photos by Aaron Krienert, NewsNetNebraska

Covered wagons and trains brought many Nebraskans to the state. But it’s the tractor that kept many here, farm fans at the University of Nebraska’s East Campus say.

The administrators at the Lester F. Larsen Tractor Test & Power Museum, a small warehouse-like facility in the center of the campus, want Nebraskans to understand how important tractors have been in the state. They want to remodel the current facility and someday aim to open a larger museum in downtown Lincoln.

“If our real goal is to tell the story of Nebraska and its influential role in agriculture, we need to put the story in front of the audience,” said Jeremy Steele, a top staff member at the museum.

Jeremy Steele works in his office located within the museum.

Visitors to the current museum can see 32 tractors. They range from a 1915 Minneapolis Ford, the oldest in the collection, to a 1951 Case LA. None of these would be able to pull a modern day 16-row planter. A new museum could hold models from the entire history of the tractor, while including the latest models and innovations, according to Steele. It could also give museum officials a chance to showcase 10 other tractors now in storage.

The love of tractors and farming keeps eight to 10 volunteers coming by each week to give tours and run the welcome desk. Mark Nickolaus, a volunteer for 11 years, loves “just to meet the people.”

The volunteers and officials alike back the idea of an expanded museum downtown. The current site draws 4,000 visitors every year. Many more would come, Steele maintains, if the institution were based near other visitor sites such as State Historical Society and the Children’s Museum.

Besides tractors many other artifacts fill the current museum, at 35th and Fair Sts. The history of barbed wire, tools used by blacksmiths and other items used on the farm are on display. A bigger museum would highlight more farmland devices and equipment.

But the tractor would remain the showpiece. The farm country workhorses have proven to be big draws. Big Bud, a massive machine on display from April to August 2010 attracted nearly 20,000 visitors to the Heartland Acres Agribition Center in Independence, IA, according to Steele. Big Bud is 28.5 feet long and 14 feet tall.

Larsen Museum officials would like to build a facility that could house such agricultural giants and the crowds that would rush to see them. “We would have a bay that you could bring in the Big Bud, bring in John Deere’s newest combine,” Steele said. “You could bring in all the newest technology.”

The museum showcases historic tractors.

The tractor enthusiasts aren’t releasing any cost figures yet for their plans. For now, they are exploring architectural plans and hoping to generate interest in local and national farming circles. They will turn in time to donors to get the project off the ground. If these donations come through, a new museum could do more than teach, it could encourage the next wave of agriculture students.

“Ultimately what we do is you inspire people,” Steele said, “inspire people to work in agriculture.

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