America On Wheels Museum - Allentown, Pennsylvania
America On Wheels Museum
By John Heilig
Combine an 1889 car that may well be one of the first manufactured in Pennsylvania with a Curved Dash Oldsmobile and a 2007 Global Electric Motorcar, throw in a couple of bicycles and race cars, and you have an idea of the range of vehicles on display at the recently opened America On Wheels Museum in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
America On Wheels Museum, which opened April 12, 2008, is built on the site of the former A&B Packing Company, which, simply put, had pigs enter the building on one end and dog food exit the building on the other end. During its first summer, the museum held a pig roast, in honor of the museum's former transient residents.
The South Gallery, for example, has seven Mack trucks, from a 1911 Mack Junior to a 2008 Mack Granite tractor. Then, at the other end of the size scale, the gallery has six bicycles, from a classic child’s trike to a racing tour bicycle.
The gallery also has a recreation of an independent repair garage, complete with mannequin “mechanics” working on a 1948 Chevrolet Convertible.
An homage to racing includes a Roger Penske Dodge driven by Ryan Newman, Al Unser’s 1986 Hertz Indy Car, a 1967 McLaren M1C Can-Am car, a racing lawn mower and a “rocket” barstool. More conventional vehicles in the gallery include a 1910 Merkel, a 1914 Excelsior, and a 2008 Dodge Ram pickup.
In the North Gallery are classic cars as well as a vision of what we may be driving in the future. There’s the 1899 Nadig, for example. This vehicle was built by Henry Nadig of Allentown. It has a “double opposed hydrocarbon engine” and a two-speed belt transmission with chain drive. The two speeds were forward with no reverse gear.
Nadig wrote a poem about his car, which is also displayed.
I did not claim that I am fine
I was built in Eighty Nine
But claimed that I had come to stay
Though many horses ran away.
So many times I was condemned
The reason that I caused delay
No living soul could me prevent
Had all the horses run away.
The Nadig, donated by David Bausch of Allentown, predates the Duryea, although it was “condemned” by the public and forced off the Allentown roads. Only one was built, and the one on exhibit is a replica.
True classics in this gallery, besides the Nadig, include the Curved Dash Olds, a 1908 Stanley Steamer and a 1903 Holley.
What’s the future of the automobile? Compare the above cars with a 1974 Citi Car, the GEM, an Ego cycle or a 2008 Toyota Prius Hybrid.
On the second floor is the Special Exhibit Gallery. At the museum’s opening, the exhibit was muscle cars, ranging from a 1969 427 COPO Camaro to a 1970 440 six pack Plymouth Superbird to a 1967 Mercury Comet 427 tri-power.
Museum exhibit designer Richard King of MGA Partners used background photographs and paintings to illustrate the era. For example, the Camaro and the Comet are posed in front of the Ritz Barbecue, an Allentown Fairgrounds landmark for fifty years. The Super Bird is posed in front of oversized LP record album covers of Bobby Vinton and the Beach Boys, while the Oldsmobile 4-4-2 has an Elvis LP cover in the background.
After the muscle cars go home, the new exhibit will be circle track race cars, from midgets to sprint cars.
In the lobby is an eclectic mix of vehicles to whet your appetite for what is to come. For the kids, there’s an “America On Wheels Photo Op,” where they can sit in an actual race car/go kart that competed in the Lehigh Valley Mini Grand Prix.
In a grouping a re a racing bicycle, a red Chevrolet Corvette, a street motorcycle and a Mack Junior truck, all with cleverly posed mannequins. And just to let you know what manufacturer is featured, there’s a chrome Mack bulldog that once stood in front of the Mack Museum to greet you.
Deeper into the lobby is a history of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which was the first highway that led to the creation of the Interstate Highway system that presently crisscrosses America. Visitors can gain a greater knowledge of the artery that links the major hubs of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
America on Wheels t the present time has a small, but growing library. Due to be included is the wealth of historical information and photographs on Mack Trucks.
America on Wheels is located at 8 North Front Street in Allentown, PA. For further information call 610-432-4200 or visit the museum's web site at www.americaonwheels.org.
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