Monday, May 25, 2015

AACA Museum Visit, Hershey, PA, May 25, 2015

A short time after returning from our trip from Alberta, I turned the Corvette direction south and headed to Alexandria, Virginia, 934 kms away, to visit my friends Ralph and Kim.  The goal was to participate in the Cycling Double Header Weekend, in Southwestern Virginia, a popular--and difficult--pair of rides I had done four times before, beginning in 2003, and which is always held during the US Memorial Day Weekend.  I was impressed with the luggage capabilities of the Corvette Coupe: it was easy to fit in the racing bike frame and wheels, my big tool box, and my luggage and still everything fit under the cargo cover!  Very practical.

Once in Alexandria, we switched to Ralph's Honda Pilot and loaded up with our bikes and gear headed even further south.  First stop was in Staunton, Virginia, 245 kms down I-81, and the Frontier Culture Museum, which is a showcase bringing together historic farmsteads of the Shenandoah Valley.  One of the cabins actually had been built by a direct ancestor of Ralph whose family had come from Germany in the 19th Century.  It had been relocated from it original position in Raphine and lovingly restored.  It was very enjoyable to tour this and speak with the docent, who was most impressed about Ralph's connections.

the Bowman House

The Bowman with house
We continued down I-81 and 182 kms later we were checked into our hotel in Blacksburg, Virginia, where we caught up with our friend Donald from Florida.  The next morning we went to our first ride of the weekend in Radford and had an enjoyable day doing the Wilderness Road Ride, although I had a flat tire even before we left the parking lot.  Our Sunday ride, the Mountains of Misery, was not so much fun for me as I simply was not in the condition I had been in before to do a 200 km ride with massive climbing.  It was a very long day in the saddle but that night I enjoyed a comfortable bed at the lovely Hotel Roanoke as we prepared to return to Alexandria.

Pale Canadian in the Southland
Once back in Alexandria I reloaded the Corvette, bid adieu to my friends and headed into Pennsylvania with a planned stop at Hershey to visit the AACA Museum there.  This was a 2 1/2 cruise north on US-15N, about 230 kms of easy driving on a very pleasant road.  Having cycled often in the Frederick, Maryland area it was quite familiar to me.  The GPS brought me with no difficulty to the museum, which is housed in an impressive building on the outskirts of Hershey, a town noted for its vintage car events as much as for its chocolate.  At least in collector car circles!

The Hershey Kissmobile: where else would one expect to find it?
The museum, which oddly enough appears to be completely separate from the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) itself, an organization that was founded in 1935 to preserve vintage motor vehicles and provide education about them.  The museum has a permanent collection of over 150 cars, buses, trucks and motorcycles and offers changing exhibitions each year.

On entering the museum, the first display I came to was an exhibition by noted automobile photographer Michaeal Furman, whose book "Automotive Jewellery" is dedicated to radiator mascots and insignia.  I have several of his books and this one is another stunner, 

Voisin ornamentation

The famous Hispano-Suiza stork

There are a whole series of interesting things to look at in the museum, and I was particularly appreciative of the Brass Era cars that are very much featured.  Perhaps my favourite group was the Alphabet Car collection assembled by Mr. Larry Porter.  Everyone knows the Ford Model T but this collection included a Model 1903 Model A, a 1904 Model B, a 1905 Model C, a 1906 Model F, a 1906 Model N, a 1907 Model R, a 1908  Model K, a 1908 Model S and a 1909 Model T!  In spite of my fondness for Model Ts, I was very much taken with the Model K, one of only 10 known to exist. It sold for $2800 new, making it a very expensive car, competing with Packards and Cadillacs.  The Model T, on the other hand, sold for less than $900 when it went into production with regular price decreases of the next 16 years and was the only thing Ford built then.

Ford Alphabet Cars

1908 Ford Model K Touring Car

1910 Otto Roadster
 There were so many car manufacturers in the United States in the industry's infancy, I constantly come across ones I have never heard of.  Here, for example, is an Otto and the museum has this to say about it:
 "Otto Gas Engine Works was a leading engine manufacturer when it turned to building automobiles in 1910. The experiment lasted for 3 years with the company building a limited number of automobiles in a variety of body styles. The Otto was purchased new by members of the donor’s family in Philadelphia. It remained in the family for a century until its 2010 donation to the Museum. The Otto Roadster is often referred to as the “poor man’s Mercer,” in reference to the sporty looks and spirited performance it shared with the more expensive, much-desired gentleman’s roadster."

Having arrived in a Corvette, I was of course interested to see what Chevrolets might be featured and was delighted to see this 1914 Baby Grand, one of the cars that really got the company going.

1925 Stearns-Knight Five Passenger Sports Sedan

1928 Pierce-Arrow Model 36 Sedan
An entire wing of the museum is devoted to the life and works of Preston Tucker, whose attempt to build a family car in 1948 to compete with the Big Three was the subject of a lavish movie.  the collection was assembled by David Cammack and is quite amazing.  In addition to a number of the very rare Tucker cars (only 50 were built, all prototypes as Tucker never got into series manufacturing), there are displays covering the technology employed in the car, accessories, sales organization, and Preston Tucker's accomplishments prior to the Tucker 48.  I have the feeling that Tucker was more promoter than engineer and seriously miscalculated the challenges of financing and building cars in mass production but it is a fascinating story nonetheless.

There were so many things to see that the time went very quickly.  There was a nice guide who noticed my Pratt & Whitney sweatshirt (he had worked at the company in Connecticut) and more or less gave me a personal tour of the Tucker exhibit--I was one of the few visitors present on this Memorial Day, strangely.  There was a also a special exhibition on the subject of station wagons, including a Cadillac Sedan de Ville that was modified by a supplier to GM and available through dealerships back in the day.

Another attraction was the diner exhibit, a favourite theme of US car museums.  Flo's Diner is an artifact of the 1950s, with juke boxes on the counter and prices from another era, such as "Hamburger Steak: $1.20."

Hood Ornament display
 The AACA Museum is a place that every car enthusiast should visit, covering as it does cars from 1895 to the present day, with an emphasis on US-made vehicles.  They even have Betty White's Cadillac Seville!

Taking leave of the museum in my own American-made car, I returned to I-18 and the 7 hour drive back home, another great trip concluded.

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