Museum recounts prairie’s past
Collection offers glimpse of farm life from machinery to fine china
A typical farm museum is home to a collection of diesel-burning, gas-steaming and horse-powered pieces of farm equipment in various stages of working condition. Sometimes a few farm animals are part of the collection, and often visitors will find peculiar looking hand tools – no batteries required – from a couple generations ago.
What most people don’t expect is a huge collection of ironstone china, a heavy-duty variety of dishware, painted in classic, beautiful patterns of thistle, morning glories and tea leaves, but that’s what can be found at the North Spokane Farm Museum.
“People think a farm museum is just tractors, that there’s nothing here for the gals in the family,” said Loretta Greiff, who curates the museum together with her husband, Bob Greiff. “We collect anything the farmer, the farmer’s wife or the farmer’s kids would have from the period between 1850 and 1950.”
The museum is dedicated to Bob Greiff’s parents, who were second-generation immigrants with family in Germany and Russia. They came to the Wild Rose Prairie, just south of Deer Park, in 1916.
When Bob Greiff’s father, Willie Greiff, died in 1991, he left behind a collection of farm tools and machinery.
“I guess that’s how we got started,” said Loretta Greiff. “The building was built in 1996.”
And today, it’s full to the brim.
The walls are covered with tools – saws and hammers, wrenches and scythes, and dozens of plowshares.
“We also have a big collection of carpentry tools, like planes and drills,” Loretta Greiff said.
On one shelf sits old cans that used to contain fly repellant and insecticides.
Two leather-sewing machines have a spot against one wall, flanked by bigger pieces of farm equipment, like a large hay rake with rebuilt wooden wheels.
Horse-drawn walking plows of many brands sit on the floor, and one corner is dedicated to dairy equipment – including a Calf-Teria-brand pail from which calves could drink milk, complete with the original rubber nipple at the bucket’s base. In another building sit a couple of antique tractors.
The Greiff collection of large farm equipment is so big it spills out onto the grounds around the museum building and the big, old barn. Among the treasures outside is a 1940s wooden combine.
“We have plenty of land here, but what we really need is a bigger building,” Bob Greiff said.
The North Spokane Farm Museum is a registered nonprofit organization, and it relies on volunteers and occasional help from participants in Career Path Services, a federal program that helps young people improve job and life skills.
“The people we’ve had from Career Path Services are just great – they have been a lifesaver for us,” said Loretta Greiff. “But what we really need is a volunteer grant writer. We have this dream of adding on this building, we just don’t have the money to do it.”
The North Spokane Farm Museum also has a large collection of folk art carvings made by Bruce Kratzer, an Idaho man who constructed detailed miniature models of farm equipment and entire farms. Kratzer has won many ribbons at fair contests.
“I love what I call his panels,” said Loretta Greiff, pointing to a rectangular length of plywood covered in tiny farm buildings and equipment. “The detail is amazing, and some of the machines have working parts.”
In the museum’s main building is a huge collection of historic photos and documents, including many brought in by local farmers to document the history of Wild Rose Prairie.
“I take pictures of the photos people bring in, so they can keep their photographs,” Loretta Greiff said. A wall holds black-and-white photos of surrounding farms and teams of horses and mules. “It’s important that we know who’s in the picture and where it’s taken.”
Upstairs is the ironstone china collection, and a bedroom and kitchen set-up with period dresses and furniture.
“We really do try to have a little bit for everyone,” Loretta Greiff said.
Ideally, with more space, the Greiffs would like to display all the farm equipment in chronological order.
“That way you could walk through the exhibit and see how the equipment has developed,” Bob Greiff said.
The museum mainly has equipment used to plant, care for and process potatoes, grain and alfalfa – three major crops on Wild Rose Prairie – and the collection of historical photos and anecdotes about the people who operated them is still growing.
“People do show up with some interesting stuff for us sometimes, and we can take donations,” Loretta Greiff said. “And for the history of Wild Rose we are always interested in talking to the families that are still here. It just keeps growing.”