Local

A taste of the old west in the North Valley

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Merced County man has dedicated decades of his life to preserving centuries of the Valley's history. And now he's preparing to take on an ambitious new project on a dairy farm that he owns in the Merced County town of Stevinson.

This old western town takes visitors back to a time when families traveled by horse drawn carriage, and farmers were shaping the Valley's future.

Hansel Kern from North Fork told Action News, "From the first time we came we fell in love with it, there's just so many different antiques, there's old milking equipment, kerosene lanterns, horse and buggies, stage coaches, horse equipment, horse shoes, I mean, you name it."

But you may be surprised to see where this local gem is located. On a ranch in Stevinson that's also home to an organic dairy farm.

The owner, Tony Azevedo, has spent the past 30 years building the storefronts and collecting and restoring countless items for what's now the Double T Ag Museum.

The main attraction is the History Train, made of old parts from across the country, including an antique locomotive.

"We're particularly proud of this because this is actually the oldest Union Pacific engine left in existence, built in 1887," Azevedo said. "Then it was sold in 1906 to Southern Pacific."

The unique venue has become a popular place for weddings and other special events, which help pay for the restorations. But it all started with a passion for preserving the past.

"I've always had a tremendous respect for the people who came before us and did all the work, put in the roads, put in the railroads, built the dams," Azevedo said. "And this is kind of a tribute for the people who are long gone to just leave something behind to say thank you for what they did us."

With such a variety of artifacts, and details down to the swinging saloon doors, you may think this museum was complete, but now Tony is getting ready to take on a new labor of love.

The Yancey Lumber building has stood in the city of Newman since 1892. It served as the main office for Yancey Lumber until 2005 when the company built a new retail center and gave the historic building to the city. Officials hoped to restore it here behind the local museum, or move it to the plaza downtown. But the building began deteriorating as the city searched for ways to pay for the project.

Newman City Manager Michael Holland said, "We're looking at over $100,000 to restore that building to public standards, so it just didn't make financial sense for us."

So Tony recently offered to restore it at his ranch, which is only about ten miles away. Some Newman residents were hesitant to let the building go, but the council ultimately voted to sell it to Tony for a dollar.

Newman Historical Society Member Jim Bassett said, "I wish it had ended up in the plaza, but I'm so happy now that it's coming over here to Tony's because he's done such a terrific job of preserving our heritage."

A moving company will drive the Yancey building to the ranch in the next few weeks, and then Tony will start working his magic.

"We're gonna make it one of our crown jewels, kind of in the center of town. And we're excited about that," Azevedo said. "I think it's gonna really add to everything else we have going here."

He's also planning to put it on a temporary foundation in case Newman wants it back in the future. Just one more way this second generation farmer is paying tribute to those who tamed the wild west.

Tours of the Double T Ag Museum are available by appointment only.

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