BOISE — A $70 million community gathering place under construction in downtown Boise will house 52 antique tractors from the turn of the 20th Century that will serve as a reminder of Idaho’s agricultural roots.
The tractors are among the 110 that J.R. Simplot purchased from an auction in Billings, Mont, in 1998.
Twenty-five tractors are already in place at Jack’s Urban Meeting Place, a community gathering place and creative center funded by the J.R. Simplot family.
The building, which will open in 2015, is being constructed around them.
Simplot, who died in 2008, founded the J.R. Simplot Co., which produces frozen french fries and other agricultural products such as beef and fertilizer.
“JUMP is going to be a wonderful tribute not only to an Idaho agricultural icon but also the entire industry,” said Food Producers of Idaho Executive Director Rick Waitley. “JUMP will make Idaho agriculture proud.”
“Jack” Simplot, who became known as “Mr. Spud” for his hand in putting Idaho potatoes on the world map, wanted the tractors to be part of an agricultural museum, said Kathy O’Neill, JUMP’s community engagement director.
The building, which will include an outdoor amphitheater and urban park, is designed to show people how American farming methods have progressed through the years and inspire them to do epic things, she said.
“It’s a blending of our agricultural past … within an urban setting,” she said. “It’s kind of a juxtaposition between the two.”
“Knowing that Simplot does nothing that is not first class, I am excited to see how they will depict the story of Idaho agriculture and the important role that the man, the family and now the company continues to play in the lives of Idaho farmers, ranchers and the agriculture industry,” Waitley said.
Simplot purchased the tractors from an agricultural museum owned by Oscar Cooke, a Montana farmer who died in 1995. Many of the tractors Simplot purchased are extremely rare, said Marcie Cooke Limpp, Cooke’s daughter.
Cooke collected the tractors from around the world from 1962 to 1993 and Cooke Limpp said she’s glad they will be on display at JUMP.
“Oscar saved them to be enjoyed by the world,” she said.
Idaho Farm Bureau Federation public affairs representatives Jake Putnam and Steve Ritter were the last media members to interview Simplot.
During that 2003 interview, Simplot talked about a vision he had for creating an agricultural museum with antique tractors, Putnam said.
“We were thinking, ‘Wow, this is a really great idea,’” Putnam said. “It’s kind of eerie. We’re seeing almost exactly what he envisioned. It’s like having a front-row seat to that vision.”
Putnam said the antique tractors will help bring a unique perspective to a younger generation of urban folks.
“It will bring Boise and Idaho back to its agricultural roots for a lot of urban folks,” he said. “It’s important we do not lose touch and contact with (those) roots.”