- Associated Press - Friday, September 2, 2016

SALINA, Kan. (AP) - For the Central Kansas Flywheels Yesteryear Museum to flourish in the future, it must attract younger people to visit the past.

The Salina Journal (http://bit.ly/2buNdFK ) reports that the museum was created in 1980 to preserve rural history by restoring and displaying agricultural machinery, implements, household items, buildings and vehicles unique to the Great Plains region from the mid-1800s to the 1940s.

Although the Yesteryear Museum has been a part of north Salina for more than 35 years, in many ways it remains a well-kept secret. That’s something the museum’s manager, Will Cooper, and the Central Kansas Flywheels board of directors, headed by Joan Caldwell, would like to change.

“We know we’re not for everybody,” Cooper said. “We know that we appeal to people over 60 or those who have a connection to a farm. But it’s important to keep this history alive.”

Caldwell said it’s important to show younger people what things were like in the “good old days.”

“We want younger people to come out and see what their great-great-grandparents did,” she said. “It’s fascinating to learn history, do research and educate yourself about the history here.”

The museum sits on 23 acres. The property contains eight buildings, including a main administration building, a sawmill dating from the 1860s, a tiny gas station from the 1930s, a 1901 Methodist church from Wells that was restored to its original condition using old photographs and a one-room schoolhouse, circa 1927, that came from the Bennington area.

The largest structure on the west end of the property is the Marietta Display Building, which contains vintage vehicles, farm equipment, household items and other machinery and cultural artifacts from the surrounding rural area.

Items warehoused in the facility include a horse-drawn buggy, a 1908 wheat wagon, a red firetruck from 1949, a Ford Model A truck from 1928, an 1855 alfalfa seed hauler, a broom-making machine, a vintage photo booth and an 1880 newspaper press with typesetting equipment.

“We do tours, but a lot of the time we just point things out to people and let them take a walking tour at their own pace,” he said. “Some people will find items that others wouldn’t find as fascinating.”

A unique feature to the museum is nearly everything is displayed to encourage interaction from visitors.

Cooper said it helps in the educational process by allowing equipment and artifacts to be touched and felt as their history is explained.

“Instead of seeing things behind a piece of glass, people can interact with and physically touch the items,” he said. “It makes it more fun.”

This especially is valuable for grade school-age children, Caldwell said, who learn better by doing.

“We’ve had inner-city kids from Kansas City here, and we’ve shown them how to make a broom or how to make apple cider,” she said. “Kids can make rope, shell corn, make campsites and just experience what it would be like to be a kid on a farm at that time, and what the responsibilities would be like on a working farm.”

Also, despite the age of most of the vehicles and machinery, many are still in decent working condition.

“A lot of this stuff still runs,” Cooper said. “We do farming and planting here - corn, sorghum, wheat - all farmed with equipment housed here.”

The Yesteryear Museum is a government-recognized charitable organization that obtains its financial support from grants, donations and membership for the development of operations and projects.

Volunteers have been crucial to keeping the museum in operation for more than 35 years, Cooper said.

“We’ve had more than 250 kids here at one time, and we couldn’t have done it without a lot of dedicated volunteers,” he said. “Without them, we would be lost.”

The museum hosts a variety of events throughout the year, including the annual event Exploring Yesterday for Youth, in which children from third through fifth grades learn everything from rope making to sorghum grinding. Each June is Wheat Harvest Day, which features horse- and/or tractor-drawn wheat binding.

The second weekend in October is the two-day Antique Tractor and Steam Show. With a name change this year to Central Kansas Heritage Days, the event features demonstrations, exhibitions, vendors, historic re-enactments, tractor games, agricultural demonstrations and children’s activities.

December brings the Annual Christmas Drive-Thru Light Show, for which the grounds of the museum are decorated with holiday lights and displays to celebrate the holiday season.

Although the Yesteryear Museum showcases the past, Caldwell is looking forward to a future in which she hopes the grounds will be a popular tourist attraction for out-of-town visitors and longtime area residents.

“We want these grounds to feel like being in a park,” she said. “You’re so close to town, but you feel like you’re in the country.”

Cooper said the museum needs to make better use of technology and audiovisual tools to create a more interactive experience for a new generation of visitors.

“We have to learn to reinvent ourselves to keep ourselves relevant,” he said. “A lot of people who have a passion for this are getting older, so we need to find ways to attract more people to come out here to keep this place viable.”

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Information from: The Salina (Kan.) Journal, http://www.salina.com

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