Porterville, Calif., farmer Doug Peltzer gingerly nudged his prized, restored 1923 Best crawler tractor into its parking slot in the new California Farm Equipment Museum in Tulare, Calif., inside the Heritage Complex.
George Wilson yelled over the roar of the antique tractor's motor as he gave one of his many tours of the facility amid myriad of finishing touches for the grand opening of the $3.5 million, 57,000-square foot complex earlier this fall.
Wilson, also from Porterville, is the director of the facility on the International Agri-Center grounds, home of what used to be called the California Farm Equipment Show and International Exposition - now called the World Ag Expo. Just like the farm show the locals still call the "Tulare Farm Show," there's something for everyone in the Heritage Complex.
Besides the 12,000-square-foot museum, there is a 17,000-square-foot trade center, a commercial kitchen, 2,300 square feet for a gift shop and restaurant that will soon open; a 4,500-square-foot learning center; a banquet hall that seats 500 and a theater that seats 89. The second floor trade center is basically fully furnished rental office space. It already has five tenants.
World Expo general manager Gary Schulz said the complex idea came partly from local farmer George Watte, who envisioned a museum to house antique equipment.
`Totally different' "It is a totally different project now," said Bobby Uchita, chairman of the Heritage Complex board of directors. "Now the museum is pared with the learning center and international trade center."
The center is expected to attract the attention of the 60,000 people who travel by it on Highway 99 each day. Hopefully, a stop at the center will give them a better understanding of the agriculture in the San Joaquin Valley and Tulare County. Schulz said eventually there would be a wide array of crops under production near the center for urban visitors.
Informing Californians about their state's No. 1 industry is a long-standing goal of farming. It's the goal of prominent Fresno County farmers Phil Larson and John Harris who envision a center similar to the Heritage Complex near Harris Ranch along Interstate 5 on the Western edge of the valley.
"We took the idea they had and did the same thing here alongside Highway 99," said Schulz.
The center has been partially funded with state and federal grants totaling $2.5 million. Schulz said private donations also have come in and the center continues to raise money to pay off interim financing provided by Valley Farm Credit.
The center will become a major element of the World Ag Expo, which will be held for the 34th time Feb. 13-15 next year. Schultz said Heritage Complex would house the International Business Center. Last year's show attracted about 2,000 international visitors, according to Schulz.