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cars museum travel

The Early Ford V-8 Foundation Museum

One of Auburn, Indiana’s great car museums is the Early Ford V-8 Foundation Museum. This museum was my third and final car museum stop of the day, having already been to the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum and the National Automotive and Truck Museum back in town. It is dedicated to Ford Flathead V-8s and the vehicles that were powered by them. It is incredibly well set up; its displays are far beyond what is often seen at a typical car museum. Being a car museum in Auburn, Indiana means there is stiff competition, however, The Early Ford V-8 Foundation Museum holds its own. Early Ford V-8 Foundation Museum is located just outside of Auburn, on the other side of the expressway that hosts the Auburn Fall Classic Collector Car Auction. Part of the building itself is made to look like a set of gears and is a replica of the “Ford Rotunda” used at the 1933 Worlds’ Fair. The Ford Rotunda was a gear-shaped building that held the Ford exhibit at the World’s Fair. On the inside of it, there stood a giant globe showcasing Ford factories and resources around the world. It is not far from RM Auctions, which hosts the famous collector car auction in Auburn.

    The Cars

The beginning of the Museum features some of the many cars powered by the flathead V-8 through the years. They even have a cutaway engine on display. Although it is a slight deviation from the V-8, there is also an impressive Lincoln V-12 on display. What surprised me about the Flathead Ford V-8s was just how long they were made. I had always associated them with the 1930s, but they were used in Fords in the U.S. from 1932 until 1953. For perspective, that is the year the Chevy Corvette debuted, and just two years out from the Ford Thunderbird. Although well before the Flathead V-8, there is even a 1904 Ford Model B there. One of the most elegant cars on display is undoubtedly the burgundy V-12-powered 1937 Lincoln Zephyr coupe.

The 1936 Ford Dealership.

A large section of the Museum is dedicated to a replica of a 1936 Ford dealership, complete with every model of car (and pickup) that Ford offered in 1936. A fact that shocked me was that in 1936 the only engine available in Fords was the Flathead V-8. It speaks to how well it was designed, providing both performance and economy, with fuel economy being critical to potential buyers as the depression dragged on. There is even a stainless steel 1936 Ford there. It was the result of a collaboration between Ford and Allegheny Steel. The car was one of several stainless steel concept Fords made over the years. There is a striking contrast between the classic 30s body style and the shine of stainless steel. Unlike the famous stainless steel sports car the DeLorean, the body of the Ford has a chrome-like shine to it. For one year of cars there is a lot of variety, such as the woodie station wagon and the delivery van. To top it all off, there is a period-correct cash register.

The Speed Shop

On the other side of the building is The Speed Shop. It includes a replica of a vintage Indy Car complete with a seat for a riding mechanic (once required for the Indianapolis 500), a hot rod, an early stock car, and some other unique vehicles. There is even a Turbine-powered Ford tractor. There is a large selection of period-correct aftermarket parts for Flatheads and high-performance Flatheads on display. Since so many Flathead V-8s were made, it naturally found its way into hot rods and race cars, which meant there was a strong demand for performance parts.

The Experience

Although The Early Ford V-8 Foundation Museum is one of several car museums in Auburn, Indiana. It takes its narrow focus and does it incredibly well, from showroom stock on one end to heavy-specialized race cars on the other end. It does not take long to get through, but it is easy to be drawn in, especially at The Speed Shop. It leaves you with an appreciation for the longevity of and how widespread the Flathead V-8 was, from passenger cars to race cars. It is a name synonymous with V-8s, well before the 426 Hemi or the 350 Chevy Small-block. The Flathead V-8 no doubt influenced engines and helped shape the American car culture for years to come. You can check out their website at fordv8foundation.org. You can check out my blogs about two other great car museums here: Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum and the National Automotive and Truck Museum. Have you been to the Museum, or know a car museum or event I should go to next? Let me know in the comments!

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Museum

It is hard to understate the impact the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and its signature race: The Indianapolis 500, has had on Indiana. It has ingrained itself into Indiana culture as no other event has. For over 100 years, it has held a wide range of events, from hot air balloon races to the iconic Indianapolis […]

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travel

Elvis Presley’s Graceland

Earlier this year, on my way back to Louisiana, I got a chance to stop at Graceland, the fabled home of Elvis Presley. Located in Memphis, Tennessee, it has inspired more than one hit song and has been a tourist attraction for around 40 years. The area around it was a lot more remote when it was built in the ’30s. Not only have businesses like restaurants grown up around Graceland, but a neighborhood has as well.

The front of Elvis' Graceland, as viewed from the side.
The front of Graceland, still decorated for Christmas.

After getting my ticket and being handed my iPad and earphones that I would use for the tour across the street, I rode the shuttle through the gates and up the massive, circular driveway. The house itself rests on a hill, adding to its mystic. The front of the house has elegant Roman columns. If you thought the driveway looked like it would make a good go-kart track, you aren’t alone. The iPad (with parts of the tour narrated by John Stamos) told us that Elvis used it as such. The house itself is good-sized, especially for the time period it was built, but the rooms themselves are more average-sized. The decoration of the rooms can only be described as extravagant. I went in January, so the front yard and house were still decorated for Christmas. The entrance was lined on both sides with Christmas trees. One of the rooms in the house had a beautiful white Christmas tree, which was very trendy during the 1970s. The dining room looked as if it was set for a Christmas dinner, the table was adorned with plates, and another Christmas tree sat at the far end. The tree was covered in ornaments and draped in tinsel. It had a stocking that read “Elvis.” The 2nd floor is off-limits, out of respect for Elvis and his family’s privacy. The first floor is where he received guests. The tour takes you through gorgeous rooms and into the very finished basement complete with three TVs, and eventually through the legendary jungle room. Like its namesake, the Jungle Room features large amounts of green, both on the ground and ceiling, plus plenty of plants. It is even mentioned by name in the hit song “Walking in Memphis.” In the large, hilly backyard horses graze, the same as when Elvis lived there. The last part of the tour is the small cemetery where Elvis and his parents are buried. It was very beautiful and peaceful. It is fitting that a celebrity who was so accessible to his fans, signing countless autographs, would have hundreds of thousands of visitors to his final resting place decades after his passing. After getting on the bus back to the visitor’s center, I felt like I knew Elvis, like he had me over to his house.

Graceland's dining room table, set for a Christmas dinner, complete with a Christmas tree.
The Dining room, set for a Christmas dinner.

The whole Graceland attraction is massive, besides the house itself. There is a huge museum that goes beyond Elvis, a bar, a steakhouse, an ice cream shop and, a concert arena that frequently plays host to big-name acts. There is a lot to see and do just across the street. Many of Elvis’ cars, boats, motorcycles, and planes are on display as well. The cars alone take up multiple rooms. The planes were impressive to walk through, although you need to buy a separate ticket for it. I had never been in an airplane quite like his 1958 Convair 880 jet. It was interesting to be in an airliner-sized plane that was so personalized. There are many other displays about Elvis, including a detailed exhibit about his time in the military. There was a fascinating display about Sun Records, the groundbreaking record company Elvis was signed to early in his career. The Elvis satellite radio channel also broadcasts from Graceland. There was also an exhibit about celebrities who had been inspired by Elvis and features their clothes or costumes. The extensive list included, among others, Johnny Cash, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and the band KISS. There is a lot to see and do, and it is definitely worth checking out, especially for fans of Elvis.

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French Lick, Indiana or Bust: My Odyssey through the Heart of the American Heartland.

 If you’re not from Indiana, or the Midwest, or America, or even if you are from Indiana, you could be forgiven if you think that a motorcycle road trip set entirely in Indiana would be boring. In my early 20’s I undertook a series of increasingly long motorcycle road trips with my father cumulating with one that took us to the banks of the winding Ohio River. We were able to peer across the river to Kentucky.
I was still on my first street bike then. A 1984 Honda Sabre that I had gotten in high school. It was advanced for the era, with dual front disc brakes, a liquid-cooled V-4, a 5-speed with overdrive, and shaft drive. It even had a gear indicator. The engine size had been reduced from 750cc of the previous year to 700. I didn’t have saddlebags for it, but I was able to tie down an overnight bag to the passenger seat. My father has a 2006 Harley Davidson Soft Tail Deluxe; it looks like it rode out of the 1950s complete with white walls. He did the heavy lifting with the luggage.
We left out of our small hometown on the Southernmost tip of what is known as Northwest Indiana. A grouping of increasingly big towns and cities that lead to Chicago. Leaving out of Lowell, Indiana, we headed south on US 41, famously mentioned in the Allman Brothers song Ramblin’ Man. This part of US 41 is rural. A few small towns dot the road, but it’s mostly farm fields and bits of what used to be a mighty forest. By the evening, we arrived at the city of Terre Haute, where we spent the night, roughly 135 miles away. Leaving out early in the morning, our trip was much the same as it had been, rural farmland with light traffic. That is until we saw the plane. Crop dusters are an amazing sight to behold. Their necessary yet acrobatic flying conjures up images of old-time barnstormers. Flying low enough to make sure whatever the hell pesticide it is they are spraying gets on the crops and pulls up quick enough to dodge telephone wires. The plane we saw was a crop duster, and it was coming in hot. We both wear full-face helmets; my father, looking behind him, noticed I had my visor down. He did the same. Cutting from right to left across my field of vision, the pilot pulled up as he closed the mechanism that releases the pesticide. It wasn’t exact as both of us, and our bikes were hit. I can honestly say without exaggeration that I have been crop dusted, probably one of a handful of people in all of history who can say the same. When we came to the next stoplight, we discussed what had happened. We then headed to a carwash in Washington, Indiana, for our bikes and ourselves. We hosed off our jackets, helmets, and motorcycles. That left only one question, what was it that sprayed us? Calling poison control wouldn’t help as there are so many things it could be. We needed to go to the source. We needed to find a crop-duster. That’s where Mom came in. We called home and let her know what happened. We later learned that my mom had gotten ahold of a crop duster, he paused the conversation saying he had to make a turn… in his plane. Turns out what we had been sprayed by wasn’t anything to be alarmed by. It was a short ride that day, only about 70 miles, just as well, given our distraction. After checking in to our hotel and dropping off our luggage, we headed to one of my favorite restaurants: Pizza Hut!
Our third day brought about a radical change in terrain. Gone were the long highways and vast expanses of farmland. Enter the Hoosier National Forrest. We were met with winding roads and massive elevation changes that wound through the deep forest. No fields in sight, as if by magic when we left the woods, we were greeted by another radical change in scenery: French Link, Indiana. French Lick does not look like it belongs in Indiana, surrounded by hills and forests on all sides. It even has a casino. Its sort of a resort town. It’s probably been called the French Rivera or the Los Vegas of Indiana at some point. We stopped off at the Indiana Railway Museum, which is outdoors. They had a steam locomotive, some train cars, and a handcart. They even offer train rides. We then headed to the West Barden Springs Hotel. Like many things in French Lick, the West Barden Springs Hotel does not look like it belongs in Indiana. It looks like a colorful castle mixed with a circus tent. We rode down the long brick driveway that lead to it, then we went into the massive dome that made up a large part of the building. In the outer circle, there were a variety of shops, including, interestingly enough, a Harley Davidson gift shop with a classic Harley on display.
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The author with his 1984 Honda Sabre at the West Barden Springs Hotel.
After leaving French Lick, we headed south, back into the countryside to Santa Clause, Indiana, a town famous for its Santa Claus themed amusement park. We then headed to the small border town of Tell City that is set against the winding Ohio River that marks the southern border of Indiana with Kentucky. We rode through the small town to the floodwall on the outskirts of town, following a road that runs on the other side. From there, we were able to see to the banks and hills that represented the start of Kentucky. From there we rode east tracing the Ohio River, on what is known as the Ohio River Scenic Byway. It’s a two-lane road. Hills and woods to our left. Passing a lock in the river. Turning inland, we rode up a steep hill to a lookout nestled in a forest that overlooks locks of the Ohio River known as Eagle’s Bluff. From there, peering over the trees on the hill, you get an amazing view of the locks, as well as the distant, forest cloaked hills in Kentucky. We then rode north to Bloomington, home of Indiana University.
From there, we headed northwest, hitting a light, steady rain, we stopped to put on our rain gear.  We eventually rejoined the path we took down in back north up Route 41. On our way back we stopped in New Port, a small city, known for its annual antique car hill climb. We rode up the hill that leads out of town that makes up the course, a line in the road painted to indicate the finish. Just as we did coming down, we passed just West of West Lafayette. Best known for being the home of Purdue University. Overall, we put on over 800 miles on our bikes. Both bikes did great with no mechanical problems. I’m looking forward to going on more and longer trips with my dad.