VISTA — If you yearn for the good old days when San Diego County was strewn with farms for as far as the eye could see — think avocados, citrus, strawberries and more — you might want to explore the Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum.
Located at 2040 N. Santa Fe Ave., in Vista on 55 acres, the Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum is where you can observe working farming equipment from yesteryear, as well blacksmithing, weaving, spinning, farming equipment, gardening, tractors, autos, trucks, wheelwrights, machine shop, gas engines, steam engines, steam traction engines, scale model trains, sawmill, and a large collection of collectible watches and clocks.
Founded in 1976, this is one museum you won’t want to miss if you love history, learning and taking in days gone by. In fact, there aren’t any other museums on this wide of a scale in the area or possibly in the country.
“There are facilities that cover just farming and include trades like blacksmithing and weaving but they don’t include a Clock & Watch Museum or a full-scale layout of a section of the Donor Pass,” said Ashley Jacques, interim director at the Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum. “We are different in that we have become home to so many other collections that add to the visitors’ experience.”
Jaques, who has been at the museum for 18 years, said it all started as the idea of a few guys who went to another group’s antique engine show.
“The museum started as a branch of an organization known as EDGE&TA and the group of gentlemen who visited the other show placed an ad asking if anyone wanted to join them in creating a branch,” she continued.
“After a few years of successful engine starts up that they did at local fairs and properties they were looking for a permanent home. In 1976 a lease agreement was signed with the county of San Diego for the 55 acres that the museum currently sits on.”
Today, The Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum is a nonprofit organization run by a board of trustees, museum staff and volunteers.
A working museum
Unlike other museums where items sit on shelves or behind velvet ropes, or in glass cases, this place is certainly different.
“We are a working museum, a group of doers,” Jaques said. “Just over 80 percent of our collection runs … yes even if it looks like we just pulled it out of the field there is a pretty good chance it runs. We use our collection to demonstrate to the public the way things were.”
On Thursdays (and most all Saturdays) if you happen to visit the museum you will be in awe of the 5,000-square-foot building filled with more than 50 different types of looms in operations.
“Our members and volunteers will be hard at work showing how textiles were created,” she said. “On Saturdays and most Sundays our blacksmiths are hammering away in one of two of our exhibits/teaching facilities the blacksmith shop or metal arts building.”
Place to learn, bond
The Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum is a venue that everyone should visit at some point for its uniqueness, as well as its educational value.
“I truly believe we have something for everyone in our collection that would trigger an interest,” she said. “When I get excited talking about our collection, I start going a mile a minute because I don’t want to leave something out.
“Kids love coming and seeing equipment in operation that they have never seen before and their grandparents/great grandparents love coming and reminiscing about the way things were. I have seen and have been able to be a part of more family bonding moments as generations come together to explore our museum.”
When asked what the most unique thing about the museum, Jaques said “that’s a difficult one to answer.”
“ … there are so many things here — more than 20,000 items in our collection — and it changes depending on what I am working with. But I think overall it would be our collection of Steam Traction Engines. There are not many places on the West Coast you can go and see these machines from the 1800s/early1900s in full operation.”
As for where the items come from, Jaques said most of the collections come from donations.
“As local farms in Riverside and San Diego County have slowly closed and become developed, pieces have found their way to the museum through direct donation or our members and friends,” she said.
Just like when it was first founded, the museum continues its mission today: Ingenuity, Industry & Arts.
“We are showing the ingenuity of past generations and what they accomplished, the industries and teaching lost arts,” she said.
If you are so inclined, you can also take a class or two at the museum; some of the most popular offerings include Clock Repair, Blacksmithing and Weaving.
“We are a great facility for learning arts that cannot be found at community centers or schools, such as clock repair, forging, weaving,” she said. “We can also help give live demos on the American Industrial Revolution.”
This month, the museum will also be participating in some exciting events including:
The Smithsonian Magazine Museum Day on Saturday, Sept. 22 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visitors can get their free admission tickets at smithsonianmag.com.
There will also be the bi-annual Antique Engine & Tractor Show on Oct. 20, Oct. 21, Oct. 27 and Oct. 28 where all exhibits will be in operation at one time.
For more about the Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum, visit the website www.agsem.com