What is the building that sets not too far off I-69 near The National Military History Center and Auctions America? I grabbed my suitcase one snowy day, took off my blinders, and headed to check it out as a hometown tourist.
I discovered the building is home to the Early Ford V-8 Foundation which is a non-profit, educational organization dedicated to “Preserving 1932 – 1953 Early Ford V-8 History.” So what’s inside? Let’s head in!
I’m warmly greeted by Josh Conrad, the Collections Coordinator of the Museum. He leads me into the one large room that is serving as the Foundation’s Museum. Josh explains that this building is Phase I of the Museum complex. Phase II will be a replica of the famous Ford Rotunda of Dearborn, Michigan, and a 1930’s Ford Dealership. The foundation recently purchased an additional 11+ acres
One of the first things I notice is a very large window banner hanging on the far wall. It’s of a man and a boy, but the text is backwards! Of course! It’s a Dad and his son looking in the window of a Ford dealership, and from inside, the text would be backwards! It’s colorful, big enough to notice from across the room and in fantastic condition. What a great piece of nostalgia to preserve.
On display are some real beauties: ’33, ’34 and ’35 Ford sedans; a ’46 Mercury Coupe; a sharp ’49 Ford Wrecker truck; a bright yellow 1941 Ford School Bus; a 1939 Ford Firestone 5th wheel truck that looks like it just came in from a run; a 1950 Ford Tractor, fully restored; even a 1941 Ford fire truck.
In another section is a display of several automobile engines. They look like you could start them up with the push of a button! They tell me that most of them are Ford Flathead V-8 engines from the 30s to the 50s. Some are what they call “cut-a-way” displays, where parts of the metal are cut away to reveal what’s inside. Ford used this method to educate the public on how their mechanical assemblies are build. There are other cut-aways displayed, such as a rear axle assembly and a transmission. One of the engines actually “runs” by an electric motor that turns it so you can see how the various parts work together. I’m learning a lot just by walking through this area! I can imagine young boys and girls being fascinated by all this machinery. And speaking of youngsters, the Foundation offers a Student Membership for just $10 a year!
Wow, what’s that item way up near the ceiling with what appears to be an airplane propeller on it? Turns out it’s a Ford Flathead engine up on a tall stand with indeed an airplane propeller. I’m told it’s an actual Ford V-8 powered wind machine used to fight damaging frost in orchards. I see tons of garage equipment used to service these old Fords; lots of tools, diagnostic equipment, testers of all kinds. I was startled for a moment to see a “mechanic” laying under a 1940 Mercury chassis, checking it out… looked so real!
The place is full of large, bright, working Ford neon signs; a huge 14 foot “Ford” sign that came from a dealership in Connecticut; scores of banners; and even the original sign that greeted folks to the Rotunda in Dearborn. It was one of only a few items that survived the devastating fire that destroyed the Rotunda in 1962. The Foundation bought it a few years ago and painstakingly restored it to its original beauty, and uses it for what it was intended: to inform visitors of activities.
I find this museum to be very interesting and to my surprise not just full of vehicles but they try to exhibit all aspects of motoring, from the tools and signage, to original literature and Ford training filmstrips which were transferred to DVD so anyone can come in and view the same films that Ford employees did so many years ago. But, they are running out of room and are looking forward to Phase II to make room for more Fords and memorabilia to preserve.
What a great stop! Thanks to Josh Conrad for the tour and Frank Scheidt for assistance in the writing of this blog. With the Traveling Suitcase in hand I “packed” in some more knowledge of a great Museum… one of many in DeKalb County. Plan a trip to see for yourself.
To learn more about The Early Ford V-8 Foundation: hours, admission cost, how to become a member and more visit http://www.fordv8foundation.org/