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The Stuttgart Agricultural Museum
by Cindy Ladage
While cold wind was blowing back in Illinois, in Arkansas, daffodils were in bloom, and the Magnolia trees were adorned with fragrant blossoms. Stuttgart, Arkansas was the site of this year's winter Minneapolis Moline Collector's show February 25-27, 1999. The show was held at the Oliver Museum created by Don Oliver, the pioneer of the four wheel drive tractor. Oliver along with Gale Stroh and Kenneth Bull using Minneapolis Moline tractors and parts created what has become known as the "Stuttgart Tractor."
One of the first things Frances Camp, the Museum Assistant said was, "Did you know that Stuttgart, Arkansas is known as The Rice and Duck Capitol of the World?" Camp said that visitors from other parts of the country are unaware of the significance rice plays in our agricultural heritage. Camp added, "Stuttgart is number one in the production of rice, and second in the production of Catfish."
Wayne Clow, a retired rice farmer said that rice originated on the Isles west of Australia. "They had rice in China 5,000 years ago, and we got rice in South Carolina in 1686 when a British ship needed repair. The ship was sailing from Madagascar."
Clow explained that by 1700 there was a lot of rice in South Carolina then it did well in Florida and Louisiana because of the slave labor. In 1718, a man from Arkansas went to Louisiana and brought rice back to Arkansas. "It took a while to learn to grow it, but by 1904, we learned and by 1915 there were probably 7,000 to 8,000 acres of rice in Arkansas County," said Clow.
Growing rice is much different from the traditional corn, soybeans and wheat grown in much of the country. Clow said that it takes 65 million gallons of water to water 100 acres of rice, or 650,000 gallons per acre. He said that 89% of that water comes from groundwater. The rice is flooded once they have drilled it and is about three to four inches high. They must apply the water at intervals as it matures. Clow said, "Don't let it get too dry."
Levies built in the fields allow the water to remain in the fields. They plant rice around the first or second week in April and harvest the last of August or the first of September. Some farming equipment and murals on the history of rice are on display at the museum. For a novice on rice, the history is fascinating.
Clow said that rice used to be about five or six feet tall. However, they have developed new strands that don't grow so high and get lodged so easily in the combine. "The combine didn't come to use until 1950. Prior to that we cut, bind and threshed. Around 1950 we changed over. It was hard work back then. I know. I started farming around 1932. I stopped my schooling at the University of Tennessee."
The museum will catch the attention of an antique tractor lover in an instant when they glimpse the Twin city and Old Threshing machines through the window. An old plow display from the 1930's is another eye catcher for any old machinery buff. Farming displays include items like a 1920 Fordson Tractor, a Mogul one cylinder tractor and a rice bundle wagon that belonged to Wayne Clow's Dad. There is even a covered wagon that floated across the river. Clow said that many families didn't make it across.
Other items in the museum include a scaled down reproduction of stores that were found on the Prairie. Stores included are a mercantile, doctor's office, photography shop, millinery, grocery, post office and jail. In the front of the museum, displays of clothing, and everyday life items from the past fill you in on how the early pioneers once lived. This section of the museum includes an organ, old cards, and clothing.
Another display that goes along with Camp's comment of duck capital of the world is a simulated early morning duck hunt. The duck hunt has a duck blind and takes you through the rising of the sun, and the duck calls of the native waterfowl. Antique guns, decoys and Indian duck effigies are also on display. Another rare item displayed in the duck wing is a hat and coat made of duck feathers. Francis Camp said that each November, Stuttgart becomes a busy place as they hold the World Championship Duck Calling Competition. "It is one of the largest contests. Thirteen people from Stuttgart are World Champion callers!"
This fascinating museum opened on September 8, 1974, an effort of Bennie Frownfelter Burkett, and the local community. The Arkansas County Agricultural Museum Association raised funds and they built the museum without any cost to the County. For several years, the county was in charge of running the museum and the day to day funding. In 1985, due to economical constraints, the city of Stuttgart took over, and changed the name of the museum from the Arkansas County Museum to Stuttgart Agricultural Museum.
The displays of farm equipment, tools, wagons, cars, and buggies were built with the effort according to the Stuttgart Agricultural Museum History, "to tell the story of how the prairie farmers and their families lived, worked and played."
Besides displays of old tractors and early farm equipment, there is also a small village outside the museum consisting of a one-room school house, a church, and even a three-hole privy. Descendants of the pioneers have donated all items in the museum from the local area. The village of Stuttgart was named in memory of Stuttgart Germany, and was settled by a colony of German immigrants that came to Arkansas in 1878. The group came with Reverend Adam Buerkle, a Lutheran minister.
One brochure about the museum said that many of the descendants of these farmers still live and work the land that the original pioneers settled. With over 10,000 artifacts, the museum has a lot to offer. Local history, and a chance to see a different crop and the special duck wing area are a few items that makes the Stuttgart Agricultural Museum an award winning museum.
If you are down Arkansas way, add the Stuttgart Agricultural Museum to your list of stops. The museum is at the corner of Fourth Street and State Highway 11 and is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. until noon. The museum closed for lunch, and reopens at 1:00 p.m. until 4:30. The phone number is (501) 673-7001. The museum is free although they accept donations. If you want to add the Oliver museum to your travels while you are in the area, be sure to call ahead, and arrange a tour (870) 673-2881.
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