New exhibit, old story
June 15, 2005
The three stairs leading down from the Conestoga wagon made it easy for little Sara Tor to disembark from the canopy-covered prairie schooner.
But it was not dirt nor a wagon-covered trail that she exited onto, but the floor of the Children’s Museum of Northern Nevada.
“I wanted to get a picture of her dressed in period clothing and sitting with me on the bench waving out the front,” said her mother Melissa. “It didn’t happen.”
In fact, other visitors occupied the front bench where Tor wanted to get a shot of her and her daughter, an image that she had returned specifically to the museum to take.
“I was really driven to (the wagon),” she said. “I think it’s great. I think it’s lovely. My understanding is this area was a stopping point for people traveling through. I think this is an excellent place to put this piece of history.”
The Conestoga wagon, with real 14-spoke wooden wheels encircled in metal and original axles and brakes, yes, brakes, is on display at the Children’s Museum until November.
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It’s usually a feature at the KidZone Children’s Museum in Truckee, Calif., one of the few children’s museums in the area.
“This is a win-win situation,” said Ken Beaton, director of the Children’s Museum of Northern Nevada. “They needed to get this out of there.”
That’s because KidZone is re-modeling and they needed the space. On a recent Sunday, KidZone workers brought the wagon down and Beaton and four other men carried the two axles with wheels up the 10 front stairs of the Children’s Museum one at a time.
It took about an hour to set the wagon up.
All in all, its feature include: stairs to climb in through the back, a bench to sit on, a shelf to rest feet on, a tool box under the shelf, and of course, the canopy. That part of the wagon is new, but the wheels, axles, brakes look like original pieces.
“You didn’t go to NAPA or Kragen to get parts,” Beaton said.
To make room for the wagon, one of the exhibits at the museum, blocks that build an arch, went downstairs.
“I don’t know if kids really realized what the kids went through then,” Beaton said. “This is the biggest part of the interactivity, whether it’s a grandparent or a parent that says, ‘Hey, there were no DVDs, there were no CDs to put in a CD player, there were no batteries.”
He thinks that children in a wagon train might have had a deck of cards, finger puppets or dolls embroidered on or shaped like pillows.
“The kids weren’t bored because they had the theater of their own mind,” he said.
Period clothing hangs on hooks at the base of the wagon stairs so that children can put them on. A nearby water barrel shows how water would have been hauled. The interior of the wagon is small, but the canvas arches high.
“Some people couldn’t even fit the stuff they have for sale in a garage sale in this,” Beaton said.
Admission to the Children’s Museum is $3 for children 3-13 and $5 for children 14 and over and adults. Admission is free for children under three.
Beaton said the exhibit helps the museum, which opened in June 1994, meet its goals of promoting the sciences, the arts and the humanities.
“Speaking for myself, it’s important to know what my relatives were like that came before me,” he said. “It’s important for me to know whose shoulders I stand on.”
n Contact reporter Maggie O’Neill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1219.