WASHINGTON, Kan. — Those who say you can’t go home again haven’t met Lawrence and Cara Herrs.
By TOM STRONGMAN
Herrs and his wife have created a small museum that is filled with antique vehicles, many of which have deep roots in their families. Washington is perched on Route 36 west of Marysville, Kan.
“I wanted to show people how this country came to be what it is,” Herrs said. “I wanted to show how it started from 1900 to 1970.”
Herrs, 73, and his wife Cara have been married for 50 years. They started Herrs Machine in a 20-by-30 building behind their house in 1969. The company remanufacturers hydrostatic transmissions, diesel pumps and magnetos, and has customers nationwide.
In 1967 hydrostatic transmissions were a new thing in farm machinery. They use hydraulic fluid instead of gears. Herrs worked for an International Harvester dealer and, he learned to troubleshoot them himself. When the dealership closed he opened his own shop. Herrs Machine is one of the few companies that rebuilds and tests hydrostatic transmissions. The company has precision machinery that can machine-lap parts to a tolerance of one-millionth of an inch of perfect flatness.
Herrs grew up on a farm west of Linn, Kan., which is just south of Washington, where his father built a farm repair shop in 1929. He learned mechanical skills from his father. He disassembled, moved and reassembled his father’s workshop, attaching it to the back of his business. Inside are the tools his father taught him to use along with a portable welder his dad built in 1941, a tractor that Herrs built when he was 8 and a tractor that his dad built in 1949. The museum also has three tractors, a baler and some farm equipment that was on the family farm 60 years ago. Everything is restored.
“It was right in this building where it all started. When I was 4, 5 or 6 years old I was in this shop all the time, every minute I could be here.”
His quest to find things his father built led him to Nebraska. There, after 21 years of searching, he found the tractor that his father built for a school teacher in 1949. “It was all made out of salvage iron,” Herrs said. His dad got a Gold Hammer Award from Mechanics Illustrated for the tractor. Now it sits, restored, in the shop where it was conceived.
Next to the machine shop is the Memory Lane museum that contains vintage cars, tractors, trucks and an airplane. One of the older vehicles is a 1910 Model T racer with a body built by Herrs. He installed a Model A engine, even though experts told him that couldn’t be done.
In the rear of the museum Herrs replicated the original Pacey Motor Co. garage with parts, parts bins and shop equipment. Pacey was Washington’s Ford dealer from 1916 to 1951. Herrs has so many original Model T parts that he was able to build a complete Model T speedster out of them.
The Herrs’ museum is open for guided tours at 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. each weekday from April to November. Admission is $5.
Tom Strongman's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org