During a short visit to Allentown, PA, in September, I visited America on Wheels. Forrest, one of the several volunteer docents, gave me a guided tour of this large automotive museum. I didn’t know that Allentown was the home of Mack Trucks. Forrest had worked at Mack for 36 years in a variety of roles but was a spray painter for massive trucks. When the museum opened in April 2008, Forrest decided he would “volunteer when I find something I want to do.” The ad for the museum appeared, and he has been there since the museum opened ten years ago.
Originally planned as a Mack Truck museum, the museum opened in April 2008 to honor the history of automotive history in America.
Mack Truck built trucks for 100 years in Allentown. Mack was the first motorized vehicle in the United States was built in Allentown. For years there was a Bulldog show held once a year a tribute to the mascot of Mack Trucks.
There are two massive floors of this twenty-three thousand foot automotive exhibit, from bicycles to motorcycles and Mac Trucks to luxury automobiles. Many of the cars exhibited have been loaned to the museum for display by local private owners and some have been donated to the museum.
Some seventy-five automotive exhibits are displayed at American On Wheels. Walking in the front door, you are greeted with many vintage “wheels,” from a replica of the Ferris Bueller’s day off Ferrari to a Segway.
A 1950 Harley Motorcycle, a 1944, convertible and a 1933 Hub mobile and Suzuki motorcycle are just some of the wheels that whetted my appetite to see more.
An interesting collection of purses with an automotive flare was quite unusual. Some purses were constructed of the materials used in cars, including wood and Lucite. Many designs mimic the shapes found in an automobile.
I saw a Mack fire truck that was built in 1918 was used until the 1970s.
Richard, another docent, walked me through an exhibit of automobiles that featured a local connection, a 1904 Ford that was one of the first licensed to drive on streets in Allentown.
I learned that is was the carriage companies that developed the first gas-powered carriages. One of the first gas-powered vehicles driven in America was the 1889 Nadig Gas Powered carriage that was built in Allentown.
The depot hack was used at the train station in Allentown would later develop into the Station wagon.
The electric car exhibit explained that electric cars had been around since 1908. By 1922 women didn’t want to crank a car, so an electric version was made for women by Detroit electric. The batteries were located in the front and back
The vehicle got eighty miles on a charge with a top speed of twenty miles an hour. They even had a battery charger that would be installed at the house. The cost was $2,795 plus $400 for the charger. Henry Ford’s wife drove one.
The Hybrid car theme continued with a Prius and exhibit on hydrogen-fueled vehicles. Allentown has two buses that are fueled by hydrogen.
A large display of Indian motorcycles from 1913. It was a popular bike, and over thirty-two thousand were made in one year. By 1972, Harley Davidson had made that many.
A large display of a garage explained where cars are repaired. An important thing to know because how often do you look under the hood of your car?
Toward the rear of the museum was a massive Mack dump truck. This is what Mack is known for and what Mack made the most of trucks for commercial construction.
Just across the street from the museum is the restoration area. They will do restorations for anyone, not just the museum
Two more galleries were upstairs. One a simulated restoration shop where you can see all the steps necessary to completes a paint job on chaises. Here I found an unusual display of a leather-covered hearse.
The Nicolia Bulgari luxury car exhibit was finishing its run, so we were lucky to see these extraordinary vehicles. This was a small exhibit of some 8 or 10 luxury cars of the existing 150 car collection. These automobiles are from an era when no expense was spared. Massive engines designed to propel these luxuries on wheels down the highway. The pristine cars harken back to a bygone era of elegance. The hood ornaments were dazzling
From a 1947 Oldsmobile, a 1933 16 cylinder LeBaron, and 1951 DeSoto all had roadster models
The rock and roll, car-themed diner, serves as a function space for the museum. All the fixtures were purchased from a Rexall drug store in Lyons, IN complete with the jukebox and phone booth. It harkens back to a similar time when we wanted to ‘rock around the clock”.
If you have any interested in wheeled vehicles then this museum is for you. You will also learn about the history of transportation as well as the history of Allentown.