Whether there’s truth in the Kenny Chesney song “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” or not, there’s no denying the invention of the tractor as one of the most important agricultural advancements of our time. The West Baton Rouge Museum will highlight innovations and inventions like the tractor that transformed sugarcane farming and processing in the rural South in the “Rural Engineuity” exhibit opening Saturday, May 19.
The exhibit features Louisiana inventors Leonard Julien, Allen Ramsey Wurtele and Norbert Rillieux. Julien, a native of Ascension Parish, invented a sugarcane planter. Wurtele, a native of Pointe Coupee Parish, invented a cane harvester and mechanized much of his rural farm. The Wurtele family in New Roads donated photographs and original blueprints of his invention to display in the exhibit. Rillieux, a New Orleans Creole, invented a steam-powered cane processor, which eliminated the dangerous job of hand scooping sugar from boiling the liquid.
Artifacts such as antique sugar sacks, thermometers and measurement instruments from the West Baton Rouge Historical Association’s collection will also be featured.
A cane planter invented by Julien will become a part of the permanent exhibit at the museum, with a spot for it secured in the “Louisiana corner.”
“We have this wonderful collection of artifacts, our goal for the future is to focus on our own collection,” Collections Curator for the WBRM Elizabeth Brantley said.
Inventions by local farmers changed the way the land was worked and improved profit margins, but the change wasn’t always welcome. The exhibit highlights inventors as well as the efforts of the Boys Corn Club, which evolved into 4-H, Cooperative Extension and Future Farmers of America on the industry.
While older farmers were less willing to change the old way of doing things, the leaders of these organizations knew real change in the industry would come through reaching young and aspiring farmers.
Many farmers and agricultural workers took manufactured tractors and modified them to meet the unique needs of their crops. Tractors evolved from steam to gas-powered, this progression will be on display in the form of pop-up tractors.
The skill and engineering genius of these individualized modifications are undeniable. Farmers have always had to master many skills, from weather forecasting to veterinary sciences and animal husbandry to engineering.
Photos of sugar cane farmers using machines and working the land are also included in this exhibit. The photos include farmers at the Cinclare Sugar Mill and other farms and mills across southern Louisiana.