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Nature Index
(My hiking and camping adventures in Northern California.)

Culture Index
(NorCal cities, highways, restaurants, museums, architecture, historic attractions, vintage neon signs, roadside attractions, etc.)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Sacramento Auto Museum/Towe Auto Museum/Towe Ford Museum

20080624 Sacramento's Auto Museum

I grew up in Montana, and when my sister went off to college in Washington, I got to take the trip between Billings and Tacoma at least twice a year. There were certain tourist stops that I saw advertised each time, and finally persuaded my mother to stop at, like the Silver Dollar Bar in Idaho.

Towe's Ford that he drove from Uruguay to Circle, MT

Another of these was the Towe Ford Museum and the old Montana state prison site in Deer Lodge. So it was strange to me when I moved to the Sacramento area to read about problems at the Towe Ford Museum in Sacramento. Why would there be another one here?

20080624 Lincoln Highway
Lincoln Highway Exhibit

It turns out that there just wasn't enough tourist traffic along I-90 in Western Montana, and the Montana Historical Society couldn't afford to maintain and display the collection. After two years of negotiations, the California Vehicle Federation received the collection of antique Fords on September 27, 1986 to display in Sacramento.

20080624 MID / CAL
Route 66 Exhibit

But in 1997, the IRS took possession of the fleet, in lieu of back taxes owed by Towe's business, and auctioned off the cars on September 13 of that year. Some of the people who bought the Fords loaned them back to the museum for display, and the leaders of the museum sought vehicle donations and loans of all types, and thus it became the Towe Auto Museum, rather than the Towe Ford Museum.

20070302 1954 Kaiser Darrin
1954 Kaiser Darrin

At a talk and slideshow I attended last winter at the museum, we were told that since there is no longer any association with the Towe family, the name of the museum would be changing, and they would have a contest to rename it. I believe it just says "Automotive History Museum" on the sign now, but their website is still under the name Towe Auto Museum.

20040814 Art Cars @ Sacramento Auto Museum
Car from the Art Cars Exhibit

They also announced that they had lost the lease on the warehouse where the cars are displayed, and were looking for a new site. I'm hopeful that a new location will mean a turn in fortunes for the museum. The present location is isolated and obscure, and does not draw in any people who weren't already determined to visit the place. It also lacks air conditioning, and the swamp coolers are no match for the extreme heat of a Sacramento summer afternoon. Each time I have visited, the museum has been mostly empty, sometimes even with lights turned off in sections. A docent there once told me that they relied on movie nights and special events to get by, because there were so few paid admissions.

Fifth Avenue Trolley

Which is a shame, because it is a fine museum, and they get some interesting vehicles on loan. They also display more than just automobiles, like the horse-drawn trolley pictured above, a room full of auto parts and machines used in auto repair shops, old toy cars, and, my favorite, vintage neon signs.


I also enjoy the lifeless expressions of mannequins in museums.

20080624 The Cover of My Romance Novel (Unwritten)

(Sources: Sacramento Bee and Towe Auto Museum website.)


Anonymous said...

On Sunday, September 21, 2008 The Towe Auto Museum and the Sacramento Art Deco Society present a lecture by guest speaker, Ernie Hartley, celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the Model T. The lecture is in conjunction with the Museum’s “Mr. Ford’s Legendary Model T: Car of the Century,” exhibit, celebrating the historical, technological and legendary importance of the Model T Ford.

Great Post!

Auto Lawyer said...

Wow, I've never seen anything quite like that Kaiser Darrin. Amazing!

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