February 25, 2021

High-Performance History: Ag and Motorsports Museum Offers Something for Everyone

20150114_maxyield_161 (1024x681)The 3 “R’s” mean reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic in school, but they mean racing, railroads, and rural heritage at the new Kossuth County Ag and Motorsports Museum in Algona.

“We hear ‘wow’ a lot when people visit the museum for the first time,” said Louie Bormann of Algona, board president.

Located on the north end of the Kossuth County Fairgrounds, the museum tells the story of rural and small-town life in north-central Iowa. The open areas on the main floor offer an ideal place to display vintage tractors and race cars, while the perimeters of both the main floor and upper level offer an array of interesting exhibits focused on agriculture and racing in north-central Iowa. From the unique 1960 John Deere 730 Turbo Diesel tractor, to a race car that belonged to Iowa racing legend Bob Shryock, the museum makes it easy to explore north-central Iowa history up close.

Nearly 3,000 guests visited the museum during the 2014 Kossuth County Fair. “There are a lot of racing enthusiasts in this area, plus this is a farming community, so we offer something for everyone,” said Ron Lohman, the museum’s curator and a board member from Algona.

Tractors and race cars aren’t the only attractions at the museum, whose guests have included Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds. Just beyond the main exhibit hall is a massive model railroad that takes up a complete room. “People of all ages enjoy this place,” said Arlen Benschoter of Algona, a museum board member who’s the creative force behind the railroad, which continues to evolve. “Some kids are so fascinated by the train that they start crying when their parents tell them it’s time to go.”

20150114_maxyield_122 (1024x681)Small-town promoters accomplish big dreams
While the Ag and Motorsports Museum opened in July 2013, the roots of the $900,000 project run much deeper. The idea began and evolved in 2009.

“Louie and I go on a lot of tractor rides and started asking if we could create a museum in Algona to preserve ag history,” Lohman said. “This was uncharted territory for us. Once we got into it more and realized how big of a project this would be, we thought, ‘What did we get ourselves into?’”

The volunteers hired a consultant, Ralph Savoy, from Cedar Rapids to conduct a feasibility study. When the results were positive, they began recruiting volunteers like Jim Voigt, a local CPA, to help with fundraising. They also decided that the fairgrounds offered the best place to build the museum. “We didn’t want it to be seen just as an Algona project,” Bormann noted. “It’s a Kossuth County project.”

After generous donations from area residents started coming in, the volunteers secured a $20,000 grant from the Union Pacific Railroad and a $100,000 Vision Iowa grant. The museum’s volunteers were inspired by the layout of the Hancock County Agricultural Museum in Britt as they designed the Ag and Motorsports Museum. After the building was completed, some of its loudest critics became its biggest promoters. “This museum has become a big asset to the community and gives people another reason to visit the area,” Bormann said.

See what’s new
Measuring 80 feet wide by 172 feet long, the climate-controlled, energy-efficient museum includes plenty of exhibit space and a gallery showcasing the remarkable rural artwork of Russell Sonnenburg of Forest City. The Ag and Motorsports Museum offers prints of Sonnenburg’s vibrant paintings, which feature farm scenes and a variety of ag implements. Sales of these prints, which start at $35, help provide funds for the ongoing maintenance of the building.

20150114_maxyield_143 (1024x681)Funding also comes from rental fees for the museum’s spacious, first-floor meeting room featuring modern audio/visual equipment and Internet access. The museum is handicapped accessible, with a new elevator installed in February so all guests can also visit the balcony level while they are at the museum.

There’s always something new to see. “Since most of the items here are on loan, they can be swapped out frequently to keep things interesting,” said Bormann, who serves with 14 other volunteer board members from around the county. “We really appreciate the community’s support and interest in preserving our rich local history.”

Algona Boasts a Rich Racing History

The Ag and Motorsports Museum houses the Kossuth County Racing Hall of Fame, which was established in 2007 and recognizes individuals who achieved great success at the track or contributed to the betterment of racing in Kossuth County. Honorees must have lived in or raced in Kossuth County, IA.

Auto racing has been an integral part of Algona history since at least 1914, with automobile and motorcycle racing held during the Kossuth County Fair and at special events. Originally the race track was a half-mile in length and the large grandstand sat on the east side of the facility.

Weekly racing at the track began for the first time in 1961. During that time, high school football games were held in the infield of the speedway. This required volunteers to climb the light poles to turn the lights outward for racing, or inward for football games.

In the third race of 1961, tragedy struck when Larry Cordes died after his car left the speedway and caught fire. Prior to the start of the 1962 season, the speedway was reconfigured into a 1/4-mile track to reduce speeds.

Racing continued weekly at Algona until the conclusion of the 1975 season. Due to economics, the track sat dormant until 1986. The county fair board and local volunteers reopened the track.
Weekly racing has continued, with Joe Ringsdorf promoting the track the last 21 years, up to 2014.

In 2015, the fair board is promoting races on Thursday nights, with Al Thoreson from Fairmont, MN, as race night manager.

Plan Your Visit
The Kossuth County Ag and Motorsports Museum is located just off of Highway 169 on the north end of the Kossuth County Fairgrounds. Admission is $3.

For more information, log on to www.kossuthmuseum.com or call Louie Bormann (515-320-0332) or Ron Lohman (515-341-1312) to schedule a time to visit the museum.

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