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Museum offers visitors a tumble through history

The Tumbleweed Mobile Museum blew into town Sunday for the Merced County Historical Society's annual meeting but none of the pesky manifestations of super-sized weeds could be found among the exhibits.

The 22-foot trailer made its maiden run from the fledgling Hilmar-Irwin-Stevinson Historical Society to the front of the County Administration Building at M and West 23rd streets where about 100 society members also heard a renown cowboy poet, honored their own with awards and elected new officers.

When Hilmar was first settled by Swedes in 1901, the area was beset by jackrabbits and tumbleweeds and it took organized drives over a couple decades to get rid of the brambly, thistle-filled growths that once were alive and then blown by winds into uninvited and unwelcome territories.

Joe Gomes of Hilmar, president of the Hilmar-Irwin-Stevinson Historical Society, said work on the trailer, once a pair of portable restrooms, was mostly finished in December.

A year ago at the annual meeting, the county historical society gave the Hilmar group a matching $2,500 Rossotti family grant, which was part of the $6,000 and hundreds of volunteer hours lavished to turn the 8-foot-wide trailer into a museum chronicling more than a century's worth of local accomplishments.

Elaine Grant, the Hilmar society's secretary, said 90 people belong to the local society, which was officially organized in July 2003 to preserve local history, pictures, artifacts and documents chronicling early development of the area.

Grant, a retired teacher who taught in Hilmar for 35 years, said about 10 people worked hard to give the trailer its five glassed-in display cabinets on one side and a Velcro-backed wall with reprints of vintage photos on the other side. Grant is hoping area school children, church groups, and family reunions will take advantage of the tumbleweed-inspired trailer in the years to come.

The society has 300 to 400 pictures, along with a 1918-vintage child's dress, shoes and cap, brochures of early restaurants, a June 1932 front page of the Hilmar--Irwin Enterprise newspaper, vintage calendars and other rotating displays. Grant is hoping more people will donate historical mementos to the organization.

Pat Richardson was the special guest at the county historical society's gathering in the Board of Supervisors chambers, reciting poems and sharing cowboy jokes. Outgoing president Carol Luhring, a 10-year volunteer, was named 2007 Docent of the Year. Luhring organizes the courthouse museum docents' schedules and provides training for new volunteers.

Mike Bik is returning to serve another term as the society's president.

Donna Hall and Elizabeth Miller received the 2008 Heacox Pioneer History Award for their contribution to the publication of the history of Le Grand.

Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at 209 385-2485 or