Flying certainly has its advantages. You can cross vast distances quickly, reaching your destination in only a few hours. In a few hours, you can reach destinations that would take the better part of a day to reach by car or train. However, flying also means that you miss out on the low road, the places not seen from 30,000 feet above the ground. This idea – that road travel can still be fun and adventurous – is the spirit behind this blog. Yes, driving is slower than flying and it can be more tiring. But it also allows you to explore the world and discover sights and attractions that you would otherwise never have an opportunity to visit. And so, on day two of our return journey from the Midwest, we set off for a destination that we would never have known existed if not for planning a driving route from Wisconsin to New Jersey.
Day two of our return journey would take us to the middle of Ohio, past Chicago, and through Indiana.
We set off from our hotel, nearing Chicago after only a few hours of driving. However, not everything went according to plan. On the drive to Wisconsin, we had used the I-294 beltway to avoid the worst of Chicago traffic. This time, I missed the I-294 exit and ended up driving through the heart of Chicago. Mercifully, traffic was manageable, and we made it through unscathed.
Perhaps one sticker would be enough? There was significant construction along I-90 in Chicago, and this was one of several signs plastered with warnings that Exit 511 was closed. Okay, we get the point!
Leaving Chicago, we crossed back into Indiana.
We left the interstate highway and detoured to Auburn, Indiana, for a cool spot: the National Auto & Truck Museum!
The museum is housed in several of the remaining buildings of the Auburn Automobile Company, which made cars here from 1900 – 1937. The lobby houses a display of over 4,000 die cast toy and model cars.
I found two Honda toy cars on display. Of course.
After perusing the toys, we moved to the classic cars on display. The cars are kept in what was the production floor and maintenance garages of the factory. A word of warning: the galleries are not heated, so dress warmly!
This car caught my wife’s eye: a 1964 Chevrolet Corvair. This rear-engined coupe was a popular car. My grandmother owned one, and often spoke of it as her favorite car. The car had a bad reputation for unsafe handling, as portrayed in consumer advocate Ralph Nader’s book Unsafe at Any Speed. Later research showed that the Corvair was as safe as any other car on the road at the time (via Wikipedia).
The heart of this wing of the collection are these classic Auburns. Originally a horse-drawn carriage company, Auburn Automobile produced attractive and well-engineered vehicles for over three decades.
So many whitewalls!
One wall is covered in Indiana license plates – one for every year from 1916 until the present.
We moved to another wing of the museum, this one with more modern vehicles, such as the Ford Capri and Volkswagen Beetle.
The museum also houses a significant collection of vintage gas pumps.
A car known to auto enthusiasts around the world, and now more well known to the general public thanks to the recent movie Ford V. Ferrari, the Shelby Cobra is a racing machine. American engineer Carroll Shelby shoehorned a Ford V8 engine into the lightweight AC Ace chassis. The result? A beast of a car.
This place is a car geek’s dream. This 1966 Dodge Charger features a 425-horsepower “Hemi” engine. It was designed to compete with cars like the Ford Mustang.
Speaking of power… this 1971 Dodge Challenger R/T is a former drag race car.
When you face tough terrain, sometimes you just need a truck. The Power Wagon, built by Dodge, was equipped with four-wheel drive. It was developed from trucks that Dodge built for the US Army during World War II.
And sometimes you just need a cab… for you and a dozen of your closest friends. This 1971 Checker Aerobus was one of almost 4,000 built.
And sometimes, you just need to hit 88 miles per hour and go back to the future. This DeLorean was in immaculate condition.
The museum also houses a very rare vehicle: the GM Futurliner. Built by General Motors in 1939, it was used in the Parade of Progress, a traveling exhibit that showed Americans the future of technology, demonstrating innovations like stereo sound, microwave ovens, jet engines, and televisions. The Parade ran from 1940 to 1941, and from 1952 to 1956.
I really appreciated this homage to one of my favorite animated films of all time. Doc Hudson, the hero of the Pixar classic Cars, had a prominent place in the museum.
The basement housed an exhibit on trucks, many of which dated to the earliest days of the automobile.
Ever hear of an “Oneida?” It was a truck manufacturer in Green Bay, Wisconsin in the early 20th century. Oneida is one of hundreds of American vehicle manufacturers that did not survive, and now exists only in history. Fun fact? Oneida produced one of the earliest electric-powered trucks, from 1920-1922.
We left the National Auto & Truck Museum and simply walked across the parking lot to our next destination: the Auburn Cord and Duesenberg Museum.
The museum is housed in Auburn Automobile’s headquarters. The first-floor showroom brims with Art Deco design.
Auburn Automobile produced the Cord line of cars in the 1930s. Among the innovations in these cars were front wheel drive and hidden headlights. At the end of the day, my wife asked me if I could have any car from the museum, which one would I want. This Cord 810 would be my choice, no question.
Another Cord. These are absolutely beautiful cars.
Auburn’s other luxury brand was Duesenberg. First established as a race car company, this American brand moved into the luxury car space, seeking to compete with Europe’s best car makers. The company, founded in St. Paul, Minnesota, would end production in Auburn in 1937. This car is the Dual-Cowl Phaeton, one of less than 500 ever made.
As much as I enjoy modern cars, there is no denying the absolute beauty of automobiles from the 1920s and 1930s. This Auburn 12 coupe was built in 1932.
The museum had several other classic cars, all of which were visually appealing. For instance, this 1954 Chevrolet Corvette was stunning in person.
Check out the odometer of this classic Dodge – it only has four digits! It would be a little tough to keep track of my Accord’s 145,000 miles on this display!
One cool thing about old cars – the lost art of the hood ornament! My wife suggested I make a collage of some of these cool works of art – good idea!
There was also a section of the museum dedicated to racing in Indiana. This 1925 Miller Junior 8 ran the Indianapolis 500 and finished second. It was a front-wheel drive race car, and its designed influenced the Cord line of cars.
Three well-known celebrities drove cars from Auburn. Babe Ruth owned an Auburn 8-88 roadster. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright drove a Cord L-29. And aviator Amelia Earhart owned a Cord L-29 Phaeton (pictured).
In the late 1970s, International Harvester, a brand best known for agricultural equipment and heavy trucks, built this Scout prototype, but decided not to bring it to market. What a shame – it would have made the ultimate RADwood car!
As we left, I took one last look around the showroom – why can’t car dealerships look like this anymore? I like my local Honda dealers, of course, but if the buildings were designed like this, I might never want to leave!
We took a series of backroads through Indiana until we passed a very nondescript state line sign: Welcome to Ohio!
On the way to our hotel, we stopped at The Garrison, a restaurant and bar in the historic downtown section of the city. This 122-year old building is the oldest free-standing structure in the town.
I had the smoked salmon wrap and my wife dined on an order of grilled shrimp with rice and mixed vegetables. The meal was enjoyable, and once refueled we headed back to our hotel to rest up before the last day of driving.
We returned to the Hampton Inn in Fremont, the same hotel we stayed at during our drive to Wisconsin. We went to bed early – the next day would involve not just driving 600 miles, but also visiting two more cool tourist attractions along the way. Stay tuned!
If you enjoy classic cars, learning about technological history, or just need to spend a few hours stretching your legs during a long drive, I would highly recommend these two museums. The National Automotive and Truck Museum is open daily from 9:00 am until 5:00 pm, and admission costs $10 for adults and $ for children ages 5-12, although do look for a Groupon online, as we were able to find a significant savings. The Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum is also open daily from 9:00 am until 5:00 pm, and admission costs $12.50 for adults, $7.50 for children ages 6-18, and there is also a family rate of $32 for parents and their children ages 18 and younger (which is something I have not seen at similar museums, so this could make a fun and affordable family outing).
The second day of our road adventure is in the books. Thanks for reading, and coming along on this return journey down the open road ahead!
‘Til next time.