TRACY – Preserving local history means sharing people’s stories. That also includes sharing family histories, supporters of the Wheels Across the Prairie Museum said this week. It’s one of the reasons behind a new building addition at the big red barn at the museum. The newly-finished Family History Room features photos, artifacts and stories of Tracy area families.
“Everything came together so nice, it’s just unbelievable,” said Art Peterson, museum board president.
The addition was completed and open to visitors starting this week. The museum had an open house Thursday to celebrate.
“We are so excited,” said museum historian Karen Peterson.
The idea for the Family History Room was one that had been around for a little while, Art Peterson said. (The Petersons said, half-jokingly, that Art tends to think up a lot of long-term projects for the museum.)
“I started thinking about it three or four years ago. Last year, we decided we were going to do it,” Art Peterson said of the family history project.
Preparations for the new building addition started last fall, Art Peterson said. To make room for the addition, one of the museum’s historic buildings, the old Amiret Post Office, had to be moved to a new location. Besides getting a new spot on museum property, Peterson said the post office building has also had some restoration work done.
Construction got off to a slow start on the addition itself.
“This spring it rained and it snowed, and it rained and it snowed,” Art Peterson said. But once conditions cleared up, the builders worked quickly. The addition was painted and shingled to match the main building, and an arched window from the First National Bank in Tracy, dating back to 1895, lets in plenty of sunlight.
Sheltered by a corner of the building is a garden with a stone plaque commemorating the 1968 Tracy tornado. Nine bushes, planted in memory of the tornado’s nine victims, surround the plaque.
Inside the finished addition, a side wing to the main museum building, shelves and display cases were arranged with documents and family mementos of Tracy area residents.
Construction of the museum addition was made possible with the help of a family with ties to Tracy, the Petersons said. In recognition for their contributions, the Helmberger/Holmboe family are part of the new exhibit. Photos and other items from the Helmberger/Holmboe family are on display.
Other Tracy area residents whose families were featured in the exhibit included Dr. W.G. Workman, and Art Drackley. Workman served as grand marshal of the Box Car Days parade for 42 years, Art Peterson said. Workman would ride on horseback in the parade, and the riding boots and clothes he wore are on display at the museum. Writings by Drackley are also part of the family exhibit.
Karen Peterson said museum supporters hope more area residents will contribute to the exhibit over time, sharing their own family histories, photographs and more. The museum also hopes to bring in some interactive technology.
“When it’s all done, there’s going to be a flat-screen TV on the walls,” similar to a terminal at the Lyon County Historical Museum, Art Peterson said. Photos and information provided by Tracy area families would be available for museum visitors to browse through, he said. Computer resources, like the museum software program PastPerfect, could help them look things up.
Besides exhibit space, the Petersons said the building addition gives the Wheels Across the Prairie Museum a couple of extra amenities. One is a bathroom connected to the main building – before now, the museum’s restrooms were in a separate building. The other is a workroom that museum volunteers can use to clean and prepare artifacts for display.
“That’s something we never had before,” Art Peterson said.
The Petersons said there’s a lot of ongoing work at the museum, with exhibits being restored or updated. But it takes the support of a lot of people, from community volunteers to area residents and visitors. One of the ongoing projects is a mural that will be hung on the side of the post office building, Peterson said. The mural is an enlargement of sketches of Tracy area history, including the railroad. The sketches were originally featured on the cover of “Yesteryear,” Lorraine Radke’s book of local history.
The Petersons encouraged people to come see the new addition and enjoy the whole Wheels Across the Prairie Museum.
The Wheels Across the Prairie Museum is open 1-5 p.m. daily through Labor Day. The museum will have special hours and a “button weekend” during Box Car Days, the weekend of Aug. 31-Sept. 2.