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A New Bright Light Shines In Cowtown

What had become a well-worn little museum mostly documenting the history of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA) is now a modern, sleek presentation of an industry

What had become a well-worn little museum mostly documenting the history of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA) is now a modern, sleek presentation of an industry with not just a romantic past, but a vibrant future.

The relocated and upgraded Cattle Raisers Museum (CRM) is a museum within a museum, located within the newly redesigned Fort Worth Science and History Museum ( Attracting visitors to both is a stunning, 76-ft. “urban lantern” that not only adds to Fort Worth’s nighttime beauty, but serves as a beacon guiding visitors to a center of innovative learning experiences.

And that’s an important task these days where agriculture is concerned. With less than 1% of Americans involved in agriculture and most Americans three generations removed from the farm, educating consumers on the workings and role of agriculture is paramount.

The ranching story. The resilience of ranchers is a recurring theme in the CRM, highlighted by a fast-paced newsreel in the Cattle Car Theater that covers the first half of the 1900s – war, drought, the Dust Bowl, depression, fever ticks, corruption, railroad strikes. It’s a great education for younger producers who think today’s business environment is tough.

The CRM’s collections feature everything from Blue’s Bell, which Charles Goodnight put on Old Blue’s neck – the lead steer that helped guide his herds north for eight seasons, to saddle and spur collections that aficionados of western artifacts will love, as well as a historically significant branding iron collection and even Quanah Parker’s headdress.

You can watch a demonstration of how a windmill works and learn how to read a cattle brand. Or watch a film about the ways cattle producers are using everything from global-positioning technology to online auctions and microchip technology in today’s operations.

The CRM’s most noteworthy aspect is its unique position to reach out to schoolchildren on a grand scale. About half of the one million visitors in the next year will be school-age kids who will have the chance to ride in a virtual roundup, run a ranch through computer simulation, learn about beef by-products that affect their everyday lives and play a fun, interactive nutrition game that highlights the dietary value of beef.

They will get to stand next to a life-sized longhorn steer or sit aside the “campfire” (under a 40-ft., full-dome planetarium screen with surround sound). There, they can listen to a modern ranching family talk about their way of life under shooting stars.

That’s just the local kids. Many more will be able to experience the CRM via distance-learning programs and other activities that a dedicated educator on staff will create or access via the Museum of Science and History’s highly respected, discovery-led educational programs.

“Once we have our educator hired, we can tap into the education machine that’s already in place. Kids have to be taught at a young age about how producers are caretakers of the environment, not destroying it, and learn the facts about beef nutrition,” says Brad Barnes, president of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Foundation, which oversees the museum, funding and scholarships given annually to agricultural college students.

Educational outreach. Barnes, who initiated the museum’s conversion from an outgrown and outdated area on the bottom floor of TSCRA’s headquarters into the state-of-the-art, 10,000-ft. wing the museum now occupies in the Science Museum, points out, “With the collaboration (between museums), our educational outreach will benefit from the built-in prestige of the Science and History Museum’s ongoing programs, and the content will be delivered in a familiar format for educators. Now that the bricks and mortar are in place, we can turn the page and focus on education and scholarships.”

Getting those bricks and mortar in place was no easy feat, either. Initially, the foundation planned to build a separate building between the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame and the renovated Science and History Museum. That proved too costly. So, Pat Riley, executive director of both the CRM and the adjacent National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, and Van Romans, president of the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, met to discuss other options.

Romans suggested incorporating the CRM into the plans for his museum’s new complex and the synergistic partnership was born.

“They wanted more emphasis on history, so it was simply the right collaboration at the right time,” Riley says. While both museums are operated and managed by the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, the CRM is a separate entity with its own board of directors.

With the location decided, Riley and the foundation worked with the same exhibit design firm already working with the larger Science and History Museum to develop specific presentations. Randy Webster of Emerald Palms Design Group, whose client list includes names like Walt Disney and the Kennedy Space Center, says working on the CRM was very much story driven.

To get the timeline down and understand industry background and highlights, Webster worked with Byron Price, the museum’s guest curator and a noted historian. “During the process, we kept in mind what age group this would be appropriate for and how best to engage that group,” Webster explains.

For example, one of his favorite pieces is the Ride Along Roundup, where visitors sit on a “horse” with reins, in front of a screen and try to herd 25 head into a pen. Webster’s niece and nephew, who live in Fort Worth, had never ridden a horse, so it was inspirational for him to create an exhibit for kids to mimic that experience. Although, at the grand opening it was whispered there were more adults playing roundup than kids.

“I hope people are surprised at what they see,” Webster adds. “For example, the glowing cow at the end (a 3-D steer lights up as a list of related by-products light up on the wall) is certainly not expected. I want people to see there’s a whole new world out there and that while raising cattle has a romanticized history, it’s also a modern business. And, like the rest of us, cattle raisers are changing the way they do business as the world changes.”
-- Sharla Ishmael