Stuhr Museum wants a building filled with steam year-round.
Executive Director Chris Hochstetler said, when he began his position in February 2020, he opened an unheated farm machinery building on the east side of the museum grounds to a group from Australia that wanted to see the farm machinery on display.
This incident made him realize the importance of the farm machinery building and how it needed to be open year-round, rather than just a few months of the year.
“During the cold months like this, we didn’t have heat in this building, so it was only accessible for maybe five months out of the year,” Hochstetler said.
“It was impractical to us to say that we have this very deep collection — there are 138 pieces in this collection — and only have it accessible for half of the year. That made zero sense.”
He said Stuhr Museum installed a heating system in the building “right before the holidays.” The building reopened to the public on Tuesday and now will be open to visitors year-round.
“The heater feels pretty good and it is not so loud that you cannot have a conversation in here,” Hochstetler said.
The next step is to reimagine what the farm machinery building space looks like. He said the roughly 40-year-old collection features 138 exhibit pieces that include farm machinery, carriages, some cars and other steam-powered machines.
The farm machinery building has an adjacent storage area, which Hochstetler said Stuhr Museum hopes to use to expand the collection.
Since a number of the pieces of machinery in the building are steam-powered, he said the museum hopes to reimagine the space as a center for STEAM-based learning (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) where kids, parents and educators can experience the exhibit and “tinker in experiential activities that are STEAM-related that would connect it all together.”
Hochstetler said, in reimagining the farm machinery building as a STEAM-based learning center, Stuhr Museum hopes to add some outdoor activities and exhibits. Some pieces will need to be restored before they can be displayed.
“We want this to be a place on our campus where people can come and do things, rather than just see things,” he said.
“This will be a place where families can come and spend hours and hours together doing activities. To me, that resonates so much more and carries so much more weight.”
Hochstetler said the farm machinery building has a treadmill-powered washing machine children could work with to have a hands-on, STEAM-based learning experience.
“We could use shuffleboards to say, ‘Here is how grain is separated from the chaff; this is what this does,’” he said. “You could even take it a few steps further and have grain being ground in this space. Maybe we could do something simple like having the grain ground into bread or something. We can do those things so that it connects kids to these pieces. Then, they are going to have a completely different perception of what these things do.”
Hochstetler said he would like to see the STEAM-based activities in the farm machinery building by spring.
“We will monitor the COVID situation, but our hope is that in the spring, when people come back to visit us, we will have those stations set up and they will be doing STEAM-related activities,” he said.
Hochstetler said the museum does not currently plan to install air conditioning in the building.