In an isolated spot on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s East Campus lies a hefty track, sprawling upon a barren field, waiting to host the tromps of tractor tires. Perched on a hill overlooking the grand concrete oval sits a quaint white-walled museum.
Between the pale walls sits a plethora of information gathered over the years by historians and engineers, curated and displayed as part of the Larsen Tractor Test & Power Museum. The assemblage of tractor knowledge first opened in 1998 and has been sharing the history of tractors and tractor testing for 21 years.
Museum manager Lance Todd has a background in restoration work and exhibit building, formerly working on the Smith Collection at Speedway Motors Museum of American Speed.
Within the museum are many exhibits that tell the origin story of Ford tractors, what happens to tractors when they are retired and other information regarding tractors and tractor testing.
“The first exhibit you see when you come through the museum is the history of what started the tractor test law, and you get to see the progression of technology from the early teens all the way up through the ‘60s. Then when you go to Splinter Labs, you get to see what’s going on today,” Todd said.
Passed in 1919, the Nebraska Tractor Test Act requires all agricultural tractors sold and advertised in the state to have their performance tested by the Tractor Test Laboratory, located on the west end of Splinter Laboratory on East Campus, right down the hill from the Larsen museum.
“Nebraska is the only state that has the tractor testing law. We’re the only testing facility in the United States. So, it’s very unique, not only for the university, but also for the state and the country as well,” Todd said.
Kolby Griger, a senior mechanized systems management major at UNL, has worked at the Larsen museum since he was a college freshman. His job consists of building exhibits and keeping tabs on all of the tractors. With this job, Griger is able to meet lots of new people daily.
“You see all sorts of people. People that have never seen or touched a tractor. Mainly a lot of people from out of state or out of country. With the test lab being just down the hill, you have people from far away and want to know what we’re all about,” Griger said.
While the museum provides information, tractors can be seen in action on the half-mile concrete track found next to it. The track was first laid down in 1956 and has since been repaved to its current state in 2008. The track is used by Splinter Laboratory for two tests of tractor prowess — the drawbar and sound decibel tests. Additional evaluations include the hydraulic lift and hydraulic flow tests, as well as PTO horsepower test, which is conducted at the nearby Nebraska Tractor Test Laboratory on the west end of Splinter Laboratory. The ability to accommodate this heavy machinery traffic, however, requires a steady platform.
“When you think about concrete, and the strength of it, an airport runway is twelve times stronger than an interstate highway. Our track is twelve times stronger than that. So, it’s pretty robust,” Griger said.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the tractor test law being passed and next year commemorates the start of 100 years of tractor testing. There will be an event held at the museum on July 11, 2020, where tractor clubs will bring their favorite farm vehicles to display, and there will be special museum exhibits and activities for families.
Both Todd and Griger said they are passionate about the work they do and the contribution they are able to make to the museum.
“I really enjoy working with my hands and putting them to good use and making things that matter,” Griger said.