WINTERS — The Z.I. Hale Museum offers an in-depth look into the history of Winters and the surrounding area. The land was forged by people who came here looking for a better way of life for them and their families. Others came as well, entrepreneurs, inventors and cowboys, those men and women who helped to shape the community that many call “home.”
The Gus Pruser Agricultural Exhibit is a significant part of the Z.I. Hale Museum. It contains vehicles from over 100 years of West Texas history. One of the vehicles is a home-built farm truck constructed by Pruser. When Pruser came to Winters from Iowa, he was looking for a warmer climate for his ailing father. Once he settled in Winters, Pruser he started to work right away, working to shape the town and the area. The Pruser-built truck is made of wood with a motor that Pruser built and installed himself. The seat was constructed from what appears to be old bed springs. The dash, floorboard, seats, top and the rest of the vehicle are all wood, cut and milled by Pruser.
The farm truck demonstrates the resourcefulness of Pruser and the many that came out here with him to shape the land and community. Although he did not have a formal education, was able to build his farm truck and later patented a horse-drawn cotton picker in 1912. While the cotton picker was not successful, the design did include many of the features used in today’s cotton pickers. Also located in the exhibit is a cement mixer used by Pruser to construct many of the buildings in the town. It was even used to construct the building that houses the exhibit named for him. Additionally, Pruser built the St. John Lutheran Church while also serving as the construction foreman.
There are numerous other vehicles in the exhibit including vintage cars, tractors from the last 100 years such as Farmall, Alice Chalmers and John Deere. One of the vehicles is a tracked Caterpillar tractor with the old crank starter on the front. A horse-drawn hearse is in excellent condition and still includes the wicker “removal basket” that the deceased person’s remains were transported to the cemetery in. A true treat for visitors is the Excelsior motorcycle. The Excelsior Motor Manufacturing & Supply Company was located in Chicago and in business from 1907 to 1931. The Great Depression marked the end of Excelsior as motorcycle sales all but dried up. Of note is that the person who bought the Henderson Motorcycle Company and turned it into Excelsior was Ignaz Schwinn, who had founded the famed bicycle company.
Across the street from the Pruser Agricultural Exhibit is a building that houses the majority of local memorabilia. There is an area named for Hale with photos and other memorabilia from his life. Hale was a pilot for the Army-Air Force in World War II and for a few years afterward. When he was honorably discharged from the military, he went to school and became an optometrist. He opened an office in Winters and later it became a clinic and then a hospital. The exhibit contains photos of Hale in the various aircraft that he flew during the war along with other personal effects.
Included in the building is also an exhibit for Hall of Fame baseball player-manager, Rogers Hornsby, who was born in Winters on Sept. 10, 1915. He played baseball until 1937, finishing with a lifetime batting average of .358 to go along with his 2,930 hits, 301 home runs and 1,584 runs batted in, winning the World Series in 1926. Hornsby continued as a manager until 1953.
Among the many charms of the museum is the Ledbetter Pressed Glass Pitcher Collection, which is the second largest collection of pressed glass pitchers in the United States. There is also an exhibit containing many artifacts from the Masonic Lodge, a 1940s kitchen, bank room with items from the old bank and a school room with Winters school uniforms and memorabilia from the early and mid-20th century.
Walking through the Pruser exhibit and into the exhibits housed across the street is a stroll through the history and people who built Winters and the surrounding area and set the foundation for what the town is today. The museum is always adding pieces and is an ever-evolving entity. The people who oversee it donate a lot of their time and energy to preserving the history of Winters for others to learn about and enjoy. The people who oversee the museum and other buildings are just as resourceful and determined as Pruser and Hale were. Those seem to be common traits of people in Winters and it’s a history that the people can be proud of and share with others.
The Z.I. Hale Museum contains several buildings and exhibits that will interest people of all ages. There will be additional articles on the other fascinating buildings and exhibits of the Z.I. Hale Museum that will be covered in future articles in the Runnels County Register. The Z.I. Hale Museum is open on Saturdays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Special tours can be arranged by calling the museum at 325-754-2036.