Navigating Red Rivers

Rivers leads tours through the exhibits of the Bayer Museum of Agriculture.

Red Rivers strolls slowly, but purposefully, through the Bayer Museum of Agriculture as he points to gleaming tractors and offers information on the different exhibits. He runs his weathered hands over the glossy metal of the tractors, his voice filling the hall with the sureness of someone that has given this tour many times. At 88 years old, Rivers’ same hands have restored rusting equipment for the museum, driven a tractor as a child in the cotton fields, and greeted countless friends.

Coming from a small town in West Texas, Rivers married Patricia in 1954. The couple has two children, George and Ruth.

I was born on January the 17th, 1930, in a little place called Tuxedo,” Rivers said with a slight smile as he pointed to the brightly colored dot marking his birth place on a map.

Rivers was raised on a cotton farm and helped his father with the operation.

“I grew up on the Model A John Deere; my dad bought a new 1937 model,” Rivers recalled. “I was 7-years-old, and within three weeks I was driving the tractor, and by the time I was 10-years-old, I was the tractor hand.”

When he was 19-years-old, Rivers went to work at a John Deere dealership in Snyder, Texas; he began at the small tractor dealership as nothing more than a janitor. He soon moved up to a sales position and eventually he became a manager. Today, he owns stock in the John Deere dealership.

Rivers stresses he has never worked a day in his life and enjoyed the relationships he formed with the people he met along the way.

“I never did dread going to work in the morning,” Rivers said.

Rivers said serving the farmers everyday was a pleasure.

“They weren’t just customers,” he said, “they were friends.”

Rivers restored a tractor in 1960 for the first time for the John Deere dealership. He would place the older tractor by the new merchandise so customers could make comparisons on what they were purchasing.

It was only natural that Rivers became involved at the Bayer Museum of Agriculture. Rivers was friends with Alton Brazell, who developed the idea of collecting old farm equipment so the community could have an agriculturally-focused museum. Rivers helped Brazell accumulate and restore agricultural artifacts and materials.

Forty years ago, Lubbock civic leaders, including Brazell, recognized the region’s agricultural heritage was slipping away. In 1969, the Lubbock County Commissioners’ Court gave Brazell approval to begin collecting machinery that was a part of the technical transformation that took place on the farms of the South Plains.

The tractors, combines, plows, drills and thousands of other farm-related artifacts soon became a part of the Lubbock County Historical Collection.

Originally called the American Museum of Agriculture, the Bayer Museum of Agriculture first opened the doors of its current facility, the Alton Brazell Exhibit Hall, at Lubbock’s Canyon Lake Drive on April 13, 2012.

Lacee Hoelting is the executive director at the Bayer Museum of Agriculture in Lubbock, Texas. Rivers was a volunteer at the museum when Hoelting began working there 10 years ago. Hoelting said he was one of the first people she met.

“He has a lot of knowledge about specialty items and artifacts,” Hoelting said.

As Hoelting grew to know Rivers, she realized he had been involved with the museum since its inception in 1969 when the commissioner’s court got approval to start collecting items for the county historical collection.

Hoelting said Rivers would use his extensive knowledge of agricultural equipment to help collect and appraise items. He has also helped numerous farmers value their machinery and equipment.

Rivers has been instrumental in recruiting and coordinating the museum volunteers, Hoelting said.

“He’s also phenomenal at keeping in touch with all of them,” Hoelting said. “If someone doesn’t show up, he is the first one to call. He goes and visits people in the hospital. He just checks up on people.”

Hoelting said Rivers is like a grandfather at times and always makes himself available to help.

“He really cares about agriculture and history,” Hoelting said. “He does everything he can to help the museum; to help it grow and to preserve things.”

Hoelting said Rivers is very creative and good with his hands.

“He’s good at building,” Hoelting declared, while pointing to a lamp on her desk that Rivers created for her out of antique materials.

“He is also very driven,” Hoelting said. “If you ask him to do anything, he’s doing it that day or looking into it that day. He does not put things off.”

Rivers regularly gives tours to visitors, restores materials for exhibits, and collects equipment to enhance the museum.

It’s just been a good life for me.

Rivers said the best part of being involved at the Bayer Museum of Agriculture is meeting people.

“That’s the best part of this job,” Rivers said, with a grin. “Of course, I enjoyed restoring the old equipment, too.”

Rivers’ individual reasons for being involved at the museum center on his love for the work and the people he meets. He especially enjoys giving young children tours of the exhibits.

“Little kids are my favorite,” Rivers said. “I tell couples all the time that come in here that life won’t get any better than raising those kids.”

Rivers wants people to know agriculture is where we come from.

“You know, a hundred years ago, nearly everybody was involved in agriculture in one respect or another,” Rivers said.

Rivers thinks it is important to keep telling agriculture’s story to keep people interested. He connects with people every day at the museum, builds relationships, and therefore instills the significance of agriculture.

Each tractor in the museum Rivers has helped restore serves as a reminder and symbol of the connection with the tractor’s previous owner.

“It’s just been a good life for me,” Rivers said softly as he gazed across the exhibit hall, his eyes reflecting the shine of the tractors.

Rivers began his life on a tractor, worked for another 60 years with tractors, and continues to restore them to this day. However, tractors are not the only things Rivers restores. Rivers rebuilds the stories of agriculture’s history that could otherwise be lost.

Red Rivers is many things to many people. He is a conservator of artifacts, storyteller of agriculture, and most importantly, a friend to all.

Rivers restores equipment in the museum’s expansive warehouse in downtown Lubbock.