Antique Tractors and Engines


Written by: Linda Drake Contact #: 707-279-2009

Antique tractors and engines find new home
in Ely Stage Stop and Country Museum

Each year the Kelseyville Pear Festival honors antique tractors and engines in several venues. The kick-off parade features those pieces of equipment that are still running, either as workhorses on today’s working farms or for the pleasure of the hobbyist who garners interests in collecting, restoring, preserving and exhibiting equipment of historical value. The Antique Tractor and Unique Engine Exhibit on Main Street by the Kelsey Creek Bridge provides display of unique pieces that do all sorts of things and some that just do nothing. Here is a chance to see those engines that are either stationary by nature or those that cannot be driven on today’s “modern” roads. The Pear Pavilion, that big white tent in the middle of town, provides visitors with a collection of antique farm equipment. This year the Pear Pavilion welcomes docents of the newest museum in the county, the Ely Stage Stop and Country Museum (ESSCM), who will be available throughout the day to answer questions about their facilities on Soda Bay Road.

The Vision for the ESSCM includes the restored stage stop featuring displays and museum information. Barns are being raised to house historical farming implements and equipment, as well as a working blacksmith shop. The intent is to save and display artifacts too large and numerous for the Historic Courthouse Museum and the Lower Lake Historic Schoolhouse Museum to handle. The Mission of the ESSCM is to provide tourists, educators, families and residents an insight into our fascinating past through its permanent and temporary exhibits. In keeping with the museum’s mission, the ESSCM welcomed a Science and Museum Camp put on by the Lake County Children’s Museum of Art and Science on May 12 of this year. During the camp, Greg Dills, Museum Chairman, gave a brief history lesson and demonstration of a rare piece of farm machinery to schoolchildren.

One of the many showpieces for the museum will be a 1917 Fitch Four Wheel Drive Tractor. The Fitch tractor was invented by John H. Fitch of Mason County, Michigan in 1914. Mr. Fitch had been a millwright in the lumber industry in West Michigan and then turned his attention to fruit farming. He saw the new horseless vehicles getting stuck along the roads bordering his farm and began to think about a machine that would use all four wheels as drivers instead of just two while the others were helpless. Although there had been a few four-wheel drive tractors invented prior to his, “The Fitch” as he named the tractor, was the first to use gears instead of chains to transfer the power from the engine to the axles and wheels.

As ESSCM barns are completed, artifacts currently stored throughout the county will come to the museum for display and demonstration. Complementing the antique tractors, engines, and artifacts, will be many antique wagons and a stagecoach. The ESSCM will continue to provide a dynamic unique display of our history. The museum is located at 9921 Soda Bay Road. Be sure to visit or revisit.

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Pictures of Fitch tractor, etc in separate file

Grand Opening of Ely Stage Stop Scheduled for Next Month!

The longtime project of converting the old Ely Stage Stop into the Ely Stage Stop Country Museum is rapidly proceeding. In fact, the Stop’s grand opening will occur next month, on July 24, 2011!

The saga leading to the building’s upcoming incarnation as a Lake County Historical Society (LCHS)-run museum and shop has been a long an interesting one. The structure was originally constructed at around 1856. It is believed to be the oldest stick-built structure in the county. It began its life as a stage stop and hotel. Later, it served as a post office and general store. For over a hundred years the building was located at 7909 Highway 29, a few miles away from its current location.

In 1999, the Lake County Historical Society requested surplus county property for a museum site. Word of the request circulated through the county and in 2005 local vintner Andy Beckstoffer came through, donating not only a five-acre plot of land, but also the structure of the old Ely Stage Stop. In April of 2007, Lake County government officials signed a memorandum of understanding with the Historical Society (us), which was tasked with raising funds for the museum, as well as seeking the donations of equipment and barns. We also assumed responsibility for running the museum and maintaining the property. In July 2007 the Stage Stop was moved to its current home at 9921 Highway 281 (Soda Bay Road), about a mile east of Kitt’s Corner. In February of 2008 the building was set on its new foundation. Then in September of that year the walls were rebuilt and replicated windows were installed. Three months later, a well was drilled.

Work on the project has been headed up for the Lake County Historical Society by Greg Dills. Persons involved with fundraising for the project have included Wilda Shock, Marilyn Holdenriied, Broc Zoller, Keith Peterson, Jim Bengard, and Syd Stokes. Also contributing to the Museum’s completion were retired Lake County Public Works Director Gerald Schaul, architect Ted Kirby, and Lake County’s Deputy Development Director Eric Seely.

Still more help came from the Kettenhoffen Family Foundation, which donated $100,000 to the museum effort.

Reconstruction labor has been provided by volunteers and by inmates from the Lake County Jail.

The vision for the Ely Stage Stop Country Museum includes the restored stage stop, the downstairs of which will feature displays and museum information. The upstairs will serve as the administrative offices for the LCHS. It is hoped that the grounds will eventually feature an amphitheater and, possibly, a reconstruction of an Indian village. There also will be five barns to house historical farming implements and equipment, as well as a working blacksmith shop.

The grand opening of the refurbished Ely Stage Stop will occur at the location on July 24, 2011. The general public is of course invited to this historic event. Please stay tuned to this web site for details!

Special thanks to Elizabeth Larson and the online Lake County News ( for providing much of the information included in this article!