Little Museum on the Prairie

by Ann M. Colford

Ever wonder what life was like for the early farmers of Spokane County? What did a farmer use to plow the fields during the 1930s? How do today's combines resemble their early horse-drawn ancestors? What did a typical farm kitchen look like as recently as the 1950s?

The North Spokane Farm Museum on the Wild Rose Prairie, a verdant patch of prime agricultural land about seven miles southwest of Deer Park, is dedicated to preserving the history of farming in the Spokane area. Founded by Bob Greiff and Loretta Hall-Greiff in 1996 as a tribute to Bob's parents, the museum uses the artifacts of a family to tell a story echoed across the region.

"What we do here at the museum is look at primarily 1850 to 1950, that 100-year span," says Hall-Greiff. "That's mostly the horse-drawn era -- and for the farmer, it was pretty much horse-drawn, with no electricity and no indoor plumbing, until after World War II."

This weekend, the museum celebrates its anniversary with a full lineup of events. The second annual Antique Tractor Pull kicks off the festivities on Saturday morning, with machines greater than 32 years old competing within weight classes. Sunday begins with the museum's annual meeting, followed by a potluck at noon and hay baling at 2 pm. Throughout the weekend, friends and neighbors will be on hand to demonstrate a variety of farm tools and skills.

"Last year we added a tractor pull [to the weekend] based on the people and their interest in that kind of event," Hall-Greiff explains. "It's mostly just fun, but we're hoping to grow and to actually make [the event] a profit-making thing for the museum, once a year."

Even if a tractor pull is not your thing, the Farm Museum has enough thing-a-ma-jigs in the farm implement display to keep the most diehard tool-hound happy. The Greiff family has farmed this land since 1916, so nearly a century of farm technology is represented here.

"What we're trying to do is give a visual history," she says. "That's our plan with all of the different crops."

To illustrate the changing technology of grain farming, Hall-Greiff points out the display of harvesting tools from a cradle and scythe to a late-1800s McCormick reaper and an early-1900s grain binder. To continue the timeline, the museum recently acquired a 1938 wooden combine and a metal combine from the early 1960s. A similar array of potato-farming implements hang on the wall.

But if you can't tell a cultivator from a cultivar -- and furthermore, you don't care -- don't fret: The Farm Museum presents the domestic side of the farm story as well. Several thousand pieces of English ironstone, some of it passed down through the family and some acquired by the Greiffs, fill the walls and display cases of the Red Shed.

"This is what people would have had in their barrels coming west," says Hall-Greiff. "We wanted to have something interesting for women, not just for the men. We ended up collecting English ironstone only, and mostly in white patterns. Now we actually have about 5,000 dishes in here."

Inside the Red Shed, a fully operational kitchen furnished in the style of the 1950s greets visitors at the entrance. Upstairs, a smaller display illustrates the typical domestic tools of a farm during the 1920s -- including a Monarch stove, a Hoosier cabinet and a washboard for laundry -- and a bedroom set up with family memorabilia from the 1940s.

"These two rooms are dedicated to my parents and Bob's parents," she says. "The 1920s kitchen has all my family's memorabilia. The dishes are my great-grandmother's - those are my few things from the 1880s. All of the laundry things belonged to my grandmother, and they're [from] around 1915. Over in the bedroom are all 1940s photographs of Bob's family and the bedroom set that his parents bought when they got married in 1939, the old waterfall style."

Not every item in the museum's collection is on display, of course. Several buildings hold new acquisitions or items not yet returned to working order. "Our policy is to restore," she says. "That's not the advice we were given by the MAC, but we want to demonstrate [the items]. We feel like we're telling the history, so we've chosen to restore it, make it work."

The newest addition is the tractor shed, which is full of gasoline-powered machinery from the 1930s and before, back to a steel-wheeled tractor from about 1917. In the adjacent field sits a 1933 John Deere hay press that the Greiffs will fire up on Sunday to demonstrate hay baling. Hall-Greiff isn't sure exactly what other machines will be active on Sunday because the invitation is open and it depends on who shows up, but that's just part of the small, informal nature of the weekend.

"Our hope is that it will grow, of course," she says. "But for now, we get 150 to 300 people for the event, so it's still almost like family."

Publication date: 06/24/04

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