Bowman Museum unveils its Toy Town exhibit and invites visitors to tour the new caboose display

JASON CHANEY - A large pedal war plane is one antique toy slated for the new Toy Time exhibit.

Picture glass-enclosed wooden shelves stocked with antique toys cars and trucks, decades-old dolls, and tinker toys.

Imagine a shiny, red firetruck large enough to fit a small child or a silver warplane on wheels with pedals protruding from the bottom.

The smell of popcorn and cookies fills the air as people stroll back toward another door leading to a bright yellow caboose, once used on an historic city railway.

The Bowman Museum reopened Feb. 1, and to commemorate the occasion, the facility will unveil a new Toy Town Exhibit and invite people to an early sneak peek inside the recently acquired City of Prineville Railway caboose just outside its back door.

"We wanted something fun to do," said Museum Director Gordon Gillespie.

Next Saturday, beginning at 11 a.m., people are invited to view a toy exhibit that is intended to draw families and young children. Not only can young and old alike view hundreds of toys, they can test their skills on a vintage pinball machine and watch 16mm cartoons.

The pinball machine is rented for the occasion, and the four 1930s era 10-minute-long cartoons, one of which will air every hour of the event, came from a collection owned by an Historical Society board member's father.

The festivities harken back to a time early in Gillespie's tenure at the museum when reopening the facility from its winter break was treated with more fanfare.

"When I first started here years ago, every year we had a reopening gala of some sort, because we were changing out exhibits more frequently," he recalls.

But the reopening event also coincides with Gillespie's last day as director. He will retire on Feb. 10, and a new director will take over going forward.

The toys featured in the exhibit include many donated to the museum through the years and others from various collections owned by local residents. Gillespie said toys were cherry-picked from collections belonging to Pat and Snoden Deboard, Rick Bacerra and Forest Carbaugh among others.

Those toys are on loan, he added, and while the museum will likely return them at some point, Gillespie has seen some temporary donations become more permanent.

"People loan them and then they realize they like the idea of them being in here and looked after properly, when they may have had it stuffed in a closet somewhere," he said.

While checking out the new toy exhibit and enjoying some free popcorn and cookies, visitors to the Saturday event can also check out the interior of the new City of Prineville Railway caboose that joined the museum collection late last year.

"People have been asking us, almost daily, when they can look inside the caboose," Gillespie said. "The answer has been, 'When we get a beautiful new ADA ramp and deck access to it.' But we are going to put temporary steps in for this event, so everybody will be able to go inside and look around."

And although the outside of the rail car is sporting an eye-catching yellow paint job, little if any work has been done to the interior.

"The whole thing with the caboose was to see what the working life was like for people who worked in that situation, and you really get a feel for it now, especially with all of the dust and dirt in there," Gillespie said. "We don't want to take that away. It is very tempting to polish everything up, but we don't want to do that. It was used right here in the community, and some of the men who used it are still alive."

Also planned for the February reopening event is a book signing with local author Steve Lent, who just completed a new book, "Pillars in Time," which highlights numerous snippets of local history. In addition, visitors are invited to take a photo in one of several selfie stations throughout the museum and post them to Facebook.

While the upcoming event is intended to showcase new attractions in a fun, family-friendly environment, Gillespie hopes that it will spur the addition of new and younger members. Aiding that effort, the first 50 families to attend the reopening will receive a family membership.

"Our membership is aging," he said. "So we are trying to get some young blood into the business of promoting and conserving our history."

The Bowman Museum Fabulous February Reopening will be held on Saturday, Feb. 10, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The event is free to attend.

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