August 28, 2012
Plowing a path to the past
CORTLANDVILLE — Walking into the Tractors of Yesteryear museum is like taking a trip back to the 1930s, a time when farms were transitioning from using horses to tractors.
Tractors from the era line the walls of an old barn, which is a part of the Central New York Living History Center at 4386 Route 11.
Tractors of Yesteryear (TOYS) is a club that began in 1990 and was incorporated in 1994, according to Roger Karn, a TOYS member and current supervisor of the tractor museum.
He said all of the tractors are either donated or are on loan. The featured tractor company of 2012 is Allis-Chalmers, adding that the museum has decided to feature a different tractor company each year.
In April, Karn said, the museum’s organizers will meet to decide the next featured line.
The Central New York Living History Center came about when the Brockway Preservation Association, Homeville Association and TOYS each wanted to start museums, according to History Center Chief Operations Officer Doreen Bates.
She said the three could not each operate on its own, so they came together and formed the Central New York Living History Center. She also said the center had an estimated cost of $2 million to get it up and running.
“It all came together to form the CNY Center, what you see out there today,” Bates said.
Six years ago the project to turn the building, which used to be the A.B. Brown department store, and the barn into a museum complex began.
Barbara Karn, Roger’s wife of 50 years, said there was difficulty in getting the barn ready due to a bevy of reasons.
“This place was a disaster at first,” she said. “The windows were all broken, the walls were just concrete blocks — I can’t begin to tell you how bad it was. But thanks to the super dedication of about 20 people who donated time and materials, we got it up and running.”
The Tractors of Yesteryear museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. An admission fee to that collection also gets a visitor access to the neighboring Brockway Museum and Homeville Museum.
Many of the tractors are restored to the way they used to look brand new. Roger Karn said he does some of the restoration, outsourcing the rest of the work.
“This place encourages people to look back and see how we got here, how food was made,” Barbara Karn said. “Kids these days don’t know about these types. They know about the modern ones.”
She was referring to some of the tractors that can mow and cultivate at the same time, which, she says, rendered horses obsolete on farms.
There is a display of old milk bottles, a collection on loan from Cortland native Roger Thomas, from all over Cortland County. Roger Karn says this shows much of the local history the museum provides.
The TOYS museum is a place that features more than just tractors. While Karn — who has been collecting tractors for 30 years — is a walking encyclopedia of tractors, he also saw the importance in displaying the history of rural life, especially on farms. Karn said he grew up on a farm.
But what really gets the Karns talking is Grandma’s Kitchen, Parlor and Laundry room, which is a recreation of an old house in the museum, complete with multiple washing machines, old furniture, a refrigerator that was owned by Barbara Karn’s mother and a wood stove, among many other unusual items. The floor, brand new, as well as the labor was donated by Cortland Floorcraft.
“It brings back so many memories,” Barbara Karn said. “There’s a lot of stuff from the family’s farm in here.”
While Roger Karn said the tractors are the main focus for the men who visit, Grandma’s room is what gets women excited.
“Their eyes immediately open up when they see the room,” Barbara Karn said. “We have it setup just like an old rural home would be set up. It really brings us back to when we were growing up.”
All the work to fix up the place was done by what Barbara Karn describes as “about 20 faithful volunteers” who made a dedicated effort to get the job done. In the end, though, the couple put in the work for one reason.
“We really enjoy this so much,” Roger Karn said. “It’s not a job to us in any way.”
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