“America on Wheels” might seem to be reaching a bit far for a museum that doesn’t cover at least several acres, but for a well-presented collection occupying considerably less square footage, it’s still a worthwhile visit.
The theme for America on Wheels, located on a bank of the Lehigh River in Allentown, Pennsylvania, has a strong flavor of the Keystone State in motoring history. Along with several distinctly local displays, including a local hot rod club jacket from the Fifties, the museum covers wider topics, from a history of hybrid vehilces to a Suzuki dirt bike suspended in flight, complete with rider. The current featured display is “Wonderful Woodies of Years Gone By.”
The museum doesn’t own any of the exhibited items, so they’re mostly if not all from Pennsylvania owners, particularly from the Lehigh Valley area around Allentown. This doesn’t take away anything from America on Wheels, however, and in fact is part of its charm. The museum is well-organized, and with many cars displayed in diorramas accented with mannequins in appropriate garb.
An unusual part of the museum is a workshop with an actual restoration in progress on display. Alas, no one was working during our visit, but we did get to see the shop. America on Wheels also has its own diner, the Hubcap Cafe, but it’s only open on weekends.
America on Wheels is closed on Mondays, but summer hours (April through December) are 10am-5pm, except on Sundays, when the museum opens at noon. General admission is $8. Senior admission is $6, with students getting in for $4.
America on Wheels—the building actually a former meatpacking plant—is located at 5 N. Front Street, Allentown, Pennsylvania. It’s in the middle of a town with peculiar traffic patterns. Use GPS navigation if you have it. For more information, visit http://www.americaonwheels.org.
One of the museum’s most interesting exhibits is the Nadig. According to the exhibit, the Nadig would be America’s oldest gasoline powered vehicle, antedating the Duryea brother’s Motorwagon of 1895. According to the exhibit at America on Wheels, “Henry and Philip Nadig, operaors of an Allentown machine shop, began experimenting with a one-cylinder gasoline engine small enough to power a carriage. By 1891, Henry had created a working automobile, which he test drove around town and from Allentown from Coopersburg–a distance of about nine miles.” Henry’s sons rebuilt the vehicle two years later with a two-cylinder engine, but development apparently didn’t go beyond that. The display’s chassis has the two-cylinder engine still in place.
The 1895 Electrobat IV was the roadworthy electric vehicle developed by Morris and Salom, makers of electric streetcars. Weighing only 900 lbs, it had a range of about 25 miles at 20 to 25 miles per hour, and one like the Electrobat IV in the America on Wheels display of alternative fuel vehicles competed in the 1895 Chicago Times-Herald automobile race. Although it didn’t have the range to finish the race, it received a gold medal for “the best showing in official tests,” with an absence of noise, smoke and odor. The company was awarded Philadelphia’s prestigious Scot medal in 1897 for “inventors who have contributed to the comfort welfare and hapiness of mankind.” Lender: Frank McDonald
Buick’s 1942 Series 40 Estate Wagon was part of the temporary exhibit of woodies, the special stationwagons and sedans with sides that were real wood and not just vinyl. With the onset of World War II and the switch to production of war materiel (such as the Buick Hellcat), production was limited to only 326, of which only three survive today. Loaner: Allentown Classic Motor Cars
This 1927 Mack Model AB dump truck is one of a series of Macks made from 1914 to 1946, during which 51613 were made and fitted with various bodies for different applications, from agricultural to light construction, or like this truck, delivering ice, wood and coal. The trucks, which were made in Allentown, could be configured from 1 1/2-ton to 2 1/2 tons. Loaner: Gary A. Mahan