How the Twenty Mule Team Museum Went From Dream to Reality


By Patti Orr, Mojave Desert News

Tourists from all across the United States and around the world have at one time or another come to the small community of Boron; many of them visit the Twenty Mule Team Museum and discover the history of the community as well as the history of the U.S. Borax mine and the surrounding area. The Twenty Mule Team Museum takes tourists back in time to give them a glimpse of what it was like to live back in the early days of the community and work at the mine.

Back in the late 1960s and through the mid 1970s, the community of Boron pondered with the idea of a museum in their community showcasing the history of the community as well as the history of the U.S. Borax mine, which is located 3 miles west of Boron. The subject of the museum was brought up off and on through the years by the Boron Chamber of Commerce and different members of the community; then in late 1976 and early 1977, the dream of having a museum gained momentum when the Chamber authorized the formation of a museum committee who began negotiations with Bud and Helen Barnes to purchase the strip of land from where the museum building is now west of the Santa Fe Railroad spur tracks.

Throughout the course of several months the Barneses made a purchase price negotiation to the Chamber and came up with the amount of $8,000. The Chamber agreed on the price to purchase the land and immediately went to work on several fundraisers throughout the community in order to purchase the property for the future museum.

Boron residents, friends of residents, and Boron business people including U.S. Borax and different community organizations joined forces and got to work fundraising and giving small and large donations to the Chamber; in the meantime, the Chamber was looking to purchase an old house that was owned by Mr. and Mrs. Paul Sigman of Aerial Acres. The house which was owned by the Sigmans was built in 1930s and was located at the old Baker mine before the Sigmans purchased the home (which was still on the moving blocks) when the Baker mine was dismantled and cleared out.

Ten local businessmen donated $100 each to purchase the Sigman home for the Chamber for $1,000; after purchasing the future museum, the building arrived in Boron on May 24, 1978; the next day an official groundbreaking and dedication ceremony took place.

According to a newspaper article from the Enterprise dated March 17, 1977, Twenty Mule Team Museum committee president Betty Dyson announced that they now have the deed to the property on Twenty Mule Team Road; it was also during this time that Boron Garden Club president Janet Eyre sketched a design as to what the Twenty Mule Team Museum should look like when completed and presented her sketch to the Chamber of Commerce for approval. According to an Enterprise newspaper article dated March 31, 1977, on March 22, six members of the Twenty Mule Team Museum committee met with U.S. Borax Employee Relations Manager Ed Ward and presented him with a packet of information that indicated how much had been accomplished toward obtaining the museum for the community of Boron. The committee also requested assistance from U.S. Borax in acquiring the building to house the museum items. Mr. Ward informed the committee members that he would assure Tom Cromwell, who was Vice President and General Manager of U.S. Borax at the time, that the museum project was a broad-based community effort; he also said that Cromwell would need to take the museum packet to the Los Angeles office to see if some funding from U.S. Borax would be available.

In mid-December 1977, Mr. Cromwell presented a check for $10,000 to Dan Galbreath, who was the vice president of the Boron Chamber of Commerce at the time. When asked by Mr. Galbreath if U.S. Borax would like to have reports on the museum progress, Mr. Cromwell responded by saying, “We donated the money with no strings attached, we hope it is used effectively and efficiently.”

One month after the arrival of the building, a kickoff party and potluck were held on June 24, 1978, at the future site of the Boron Museum. In preparation for the first work party, members of the Boron Hospital Auxiliary, the Outbackers and the Boron Garden Club along with CGC Incorporated made plans for a potluck lunch to be served free to workers on that day; many of the community merchants offered assistance in the first work party by helping to provide the main course as well as serving food and soft drinks.

Volunteers from Boron, North Edwards and the surrounding area came to help dig the foundation for the building that Boron had waited so long for. A second work party was held the following Tuesday and another work party was scheduled for July 1, 1978.

As work continued at the museum site, fundraisers continued to be held throughout the community and on December 19, 1979 according to an East Kern Key story, $1,365 was raised during a museum benefit.

Boron community members continued to volunteer their time throughout the course of several years laying the groundwork in order to complete the Twenty Mule Team Museum. As work continued on the grounds and the museum building, historical displays poured in from all over; one of the displays that was donated was the railroad depot, which was donated by the Santa Fe Railroad Company.

According to the Santa Fe Railroad Company, the depot has been a landmark in the Boron area since 1905; the depot was first used at Kramer Junction (at the Johannesburg-Randsburg spur) then moved to Boron in 1941 when Boron was called Amargo.

Other displays include old mining equipment and materials from U.S. Borax, solar panels from KJC Solar, memorabilia from the late Pancho Barnes, early equipment used by businesses and settlers in Boron as well as items donated from Santa Fe Railroad. A Borax Soap sign was also donated to the museum all the way from London, England, and is said to be the oldest exhibit in the museum, dating back to 1886.

Finally, after years of hard work, dedication, and several fundraisers, the Twenty Mule Team Museum held its Grand Opening and Ribbon Cutting officially opening the museum on Aug. 4, 1984; nearly everyone from Boron and the surrounding communities came out for the groundbreaking event. Donations for displays continue to pour into the museum after all these years; signifying an ever-growing demand for attraction and tourism in a little community of Boron and dedication to preserve its history.

Today, the Twenty Mule Team Museum stands as remembrance of those who worked hard and fought for something that they truly believed in; most of the volunteers who were involved with the project are no longer with us but the museum is a constant reminder of their hard work and dedication; they proved that by standing together, a community can turn a dream into a reality.