North County San Diego is filled with fun, family-friendly attractions, some of which are very well known and others that are hidden gems tucked away among the rolling hills just waiting to be discovered. The Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum in Vista is one of these hidden gems of which even many locals are not aware.
If you have never heard of the Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum (AGSEM), you just might be missing out on one of North County’s best opportunities to step back in history, learn the handicrafts of yesteryear, and see some fine examples of the gas and steam engines that revolutionized American farming, mining and manufacturing.
There are not that many places where you can see an artisan weaving on a Civil War-Era loom in one building, and then saunter outside to see an enormous gas or diesel engine that is the only remaining engine of its kind still in existence. It is rarer still to find a working blacksmithing school offering classes for kids or a museum housing more than 20 steam engines that date back to the 1860s and still work.
In fact, that is one of the things that set this collection apart from most museums: The engines are actually kept in working order. This working museum is also different than most educational collections of its kind because they grow crops that are harvested at the tractor shows. For example, you can learn about farming through demonstrations using the wheat they grow on the property. You can then learn about harvesting and shucking wheat as it is harvested at one of their tractor shows. The museum’s own gristmill then grinds that wheat into flour that you can buy and take home with you. You can even watch demonstrations in the Farmhouse showing how this flour was turned into baked goods with a wood-burning stove. There are not many places where non-farmers can get this type of farm-to-table educational experience.
Exhibits at the Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum
The museum has more than 20,000 pieces on exhibit ranging from antique photographs to huge engines from the 19th century that are still fully functioning. There is a blacksmith shop that offers demonstrations and classes, a farmhouse decorated with period décor that shows how families lived long ago, the Short Track Railroad building with four model train layouts, the Museum Weavers building with looms dating from the Civil War to present day, a collection of gas and diesel tractors, a collection of steam traction engines, Gas Engine Row and Steam Engine Row.
Gas Engine Row is home to an impressive collection of engines used from the late 1800s until the 1940s. As electric motors began to take over after the 1940s, many of the older gas models were discarded or abandoned; therefore, there are few left in existence. Some of the engines in the museum’s collection are now the only remaining examples of their kind. On Steam Engine Row, you will find steam engines that date back to the 1860s and are still operational.
Classes at the Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum
One of the most interesting educational options at the museum is the bring-your-own-sledge-hammer blacksmithing classes for adults and kids 10 years of age and older. There are also more advanced blacksmithing classes offered by the California Blacksmith Association on the grounds.
You can also learn soap making, candle making, weaving, paper crafts, sewing, embroidery, jewelry making and upholstery. Folks with a particular interest in engines can also take classes to learn things like how to do a start-up inspection, how to perform light maintenance on engines, how to operate steam engines, and how to show engines at engine and tractor shows.
Events at the Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum
The museum hosts a variety of community events throughout the year, including auctions, family fun days, gem shows, tractor shows, fiber arts shows, a three-day bluegrass festival and a Civil War re-enactment.
There are also special events for museum members and engine enthusiasts, such as the parts exchange events scheduled a few times each year.
Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum Information
- Address: 2040 North Santa Fe Avenue in Vista
- Website: www.AGSEM.com
- Phone Number: (760)941-1791
- Regular Admission: $5.00 for adults, $4.00 for seniors over 65, $3.00 for children between six and 12, and free for children under six. Admission for events varies, so be sure to check the website when planning your visit.
- Hours of Operation: The museum is open for self-guided tours every day from 10:00am to 4:00pm, except Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, and days that are too rainy or muddy. The museum office and gift shop are also open from 10:00am to 4:00pm every day, except for major holidays. The model railroad building is open Saturdays from 9:00am to 1:00pm. The weaving building is open on Thursdays and Saturdays from 10:00am to 3:00pm.
- Volunteering: If you are interested in volunteering at the museum, you can complete their online volunteer contact form and receive more information on how you can help out.
If you are looking for family-friendly North County attractions that offer both recreation and education, the Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum is a great place to spend the day. Engine enthusiasts will, of course, find this museum particularly appealing, but anyone with an interest in how people lived, cooked, crafted textiles and made everyday essentials – like soap and candles –in years gone by will enjoy the fascinating exhibits and demonstrations offered at AGSEM.
Photos courtesy of the Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum website.