The Golden Age… Those Were the Days…
July 10, 2010
Closed July 2010
This is a terrible writing assignment. What should be a fun museum report is now a eulogy. Worse, I knew I’d be faced with this situation even before I visited the Golden Age of Trucking Museum – and I couldn’t do anything about it. Sigh.
Way back in May 2009 I received the following email from the museum’s Kathi Jones: “Hi Stephen! I read your article in the Waterbury Republican…come visit us at The Golden Age of Trucking Museum in Middlebury and be sure to bring your family! We do have special events so check out our web-site first or give us a call!”
In response, I thanked her for seeking me out and wrote (in part), “Don’t worry… I’ll get out there one of these days.” Flash forward to the summer of 2010 and the sudden (for me) news that the Golden Age of Trucking Museum was closing. And not just temporarily, but for ever and ever. Crap.
I only had a couple weeks to get out to Middlebury before they were slated to close – and despite Kathi’s earnest pleas, there was just no way I would be able to get an article up on CTMQ quickly enough to have any impact. So I tweeted and Facebooked and did what I could to alert the Connecticut museum community about this impending disaster: Another museum closing.
I was able to visit ten days before their final night and had the good fortune of having Damian (in his trucker garb) and Hoang (who unfortunately didn’t also wear her A shirt) along for the somewhat sad ride. Truth be told, at the time of my visit despite Kathi’s dire warnings, part of me didn’t really believe they’d close. In case you were still wondering: The Golden Age of Trucking Museum most certainly closed for good on July 20, 2010.
After visiting, Kathi wrote again, “Placing us on your web site would be a wonderful help! You never know who might see us and be able to help us! Thank you for your kind words, they are so encouraging and we are not giving up hope! I thank you again!!” She certainly is a nice woman. And I’m sorry I couldn’t be of any help, though I’m not sure anyone, short of a truck-lovin’ millionaire benefactor, could have done anything.
I don’t know the reasons behind the closure and I’m not one to speculate. The news clip notes that it was “due to the bad economy.” Since it was privately owned and operated and the building was bought in 1998, perhaps it was a victim of a toxic mortgage of some sort. Who knows… I just know it stinks.
Sigh. Cutting to the chase, the museum was impeccably clean, very well run and very professional. We had fun during our visit and were impressed with the attention to things like all the various areas and objects placed specifically for the toddler-set. Heck, they even had free iced tea and cookies in a little kitchenette area! I’ll say it again… Sigh.
Once inside, our first stop was the Founders Art Gallery. This is a nice idea… showcase local artists in what was probably a meeting room of some sort. I rather enjoyed a few of the paintings by Chris Osborne. I just learned that she’s a she… Not that that matters at all. I also saw photographic proof that a couple got married here and saw a 1937 Zenith Magic Eye Radio, which was the first radio with a TV jack in the back. You’ll note that the Founder’s Gallery is named after Dick and Fran Guerrera.
This museum was Dick’s dream which was carried out by his surviving wife Fran. The story of how this place came to be is a lovely one (making its demise all the more sad), so I’ll cut a paste a good chunk of it from the museum’s still-surviving website:
The Golden Age of Trucking Museum, Inc. was founded by Richard J. Guerrera in July of 1998. At that time, Mr. Guerrera was the owner of R.J. Guerrera, Inc., a liquid transportation trucking company with its headquarters located in Naugatuck, Connecticut. He founded the company in 1969, beginning with one truck and expanding his business to a fleet of over 120 trucks with terminals located in Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York and Florida. When his trucking business became successful, Mr. Guerrera began collecting and restoring antique trucks. During his ten or so years of collecting and restoring, Mr. Guerrera would take his vehicles to local and national truck shows and offer them for use in local parades. He served as President of The Motor Transportation Association of Connecticut and as a member of the Board of Directors of the Antique Truck Historical Society, a member of the Naugatuck Chamber of Commerce, and many more local and national organizations.
Richard Guerrera was known for his civic mindedness and commitment to the betterment of his community. He donated his time and funds to many local causes, such as, Howard Whittemore Memorial Library, Middlebury Public Library, University of Hartford, Naugatuck High School Athletic Field, Groton Submarine Base and many more too numerous to mention.
I know, the story’s just getting good. And it does get better, believe me. I was shocked to learn that this now-closed museum never even got to celebrate a 10th anniversary. It didn’t even make it to its eighth. Heck, Hoang and I will celebrate our eighth anniversary a mere few months from the moment I’m writing this. Don’t mean to rub it in.
I should note that in addition to losing a great museum, we’re also (at some point) going to lose an awesome museum website. As CTMQ readers know all too well, most museums spend little to no effort on their websites. And while the GAoT museum’s site shows some age, the content and pictures are excellent. So excellent, in fact, that I don’t really have to write much original content about the museum’s contents. Which is good, because I didn’t take any notes and I’m not exactly a truck expert.
The Golden Age of Trucking Museum was another way in which Mr. Guerrera wanted to give back to the community. With over twenty pristinely restored vehicles he wanted to have a place where the trucks could be “under one roof and enjoyed by all.” He had the antiques stored in barns and garages all over Connecticut and had not ever seen the trucks “all in one place”. In 1998, Richard Guerrera incorporated The Golden Age of Trucking Museum, Inc. as a non-profit organization with the mission statement…
To educate the public, and to preserve and exhibit the history of the American truck transportation with a special emphasis on the 1950’s Golden Age of Trucking.
He then set out to find a location for the museum. …. He bought the 16 acre parcel [in Middlebury] in July of 1998 and then began to get the proper town approval. Unfortunately, Mr. Guerrera was diagnosed with cancer soon after. As with every challenge he encountered, he continued on and looked to his wife, Frances, his family and trusted friends to help him continue his endeavor. The museum’s Board of Directors and Officers continued to meet and discuss plans and goals for the museum. As Mr. Guerrera became increasingly ill his family continued to care for him and let him know that the museum would become a reality. In June of 1999, five of the Guerrera antiques were driven to Southford Road. An ambulance transported an ailing Mr. Guerrera to the lot and the family held an un-official groundbreaking. A month later, Mr. Guerrera’s battle with cancer ended. He left this world knowing that his dream would be fulfilled. Frances Guerrera financed the 32,000 square foot facility that is now home to The Golden Age of Trucking Museum.
Sheesh. This is a tough one. The poor guy died before his dream was truly realized, then his wonderful wife carried it through (incredibly well, I should add) and then, well, you know what happened in 2010.
On September 23, 2002, a ribbon-cutting and reception was held to celebrate the opening of the museum… Since that sunny day in September, the museum has greeted guests from all over the country and the world…
Including me, Hoang and Damian. We passed by a few smaller displays and rooms, eager to hit the main area. Holy cow, this place is (ahem, was) huge. I guess that’s a no-brainer when it comes to truck museums, but I really wasn’t expecting the massive scale of this place. The very first thing we encountered was a completely random popsicle stick structure. Upon closer inspection, this was the Guinness World Record holder for popsicle stick structures. Made by one Stephen Guman, this thing is almost 400,000 sticks strong. here’s an old news piece on it. And no, I don’t know why Damian is channeling his inner Gene Simmons in his picture here.
The first vehicles we checked out weren’t trucks at all, but a small collection of antique and pristine cars. One was a beautiful 1936 Ford Roadster Deluxe. This car – and many other cars and trucks in the museum were actually donations and on loan to be stored there so that people like me could enjoy them. According to the museum’s website, “The collection of Guerrera trucks are on display at the museum permanently. Other vehicles are on loan to the museum for one year and are then rotated out so that the exhibits will be new and exciting.” On another page it says, “the Guerrera antiques will remain a part of the museum forever.” Forever is a relative term.
I spent the next half an hour perusing the trucks on display. There are (were) a LOT. Of course you don’t really care to know about each one and quite frankly, I’m in no mood to describe them. Especially since, y’know, you can’t go see them anymore or anything. I knew this place was impressive, but let’s hear from a guy who spends his life going to similarly themed museums: “It’s far from the largest auto museum I’ve been to, but it’s right up there in terms of dedication, similar to the Museum of Bus Transportation in Hershey, Pennsylvania. After all, where else would you see a Pierce-Arrow truck and a Fageol moving van under the same roof?”
He’s got me there. I have no idea. Of course, I have no idea what the heck a Fageol is either, but it sounds delicious. That same writer continued in another piece, “Upon entering the museum, a 1953 Fageol moving van dominates the space to your left. Painted in bright yellow with the original owner’s banner lettered across its flanks, the 26-foot van encompasses 1,250 cubic feet of space. Interestingly, a few surreys and carriages reside nearby, nestled in among towering Macks and Kenworths as though an Amish village got lost on the New York State Thruway.
A pair of Autocars reside in one corner: a 1974 DC9364 and a 1962 DC75T. The former once served as a 10-wheel dump truck for the town of Windsor, Connecticut, with its Cummins Super 250 927-cu.in. diesel engine. The latter accumulated about 98,000 miles on its Cummins NH220 engine during its 30-year working life hauling fuel oil and kerosene around Providence, Rhode Island.
Nearby sits a 1928 Pierce-Arrow five- to seven-ton dump truck on loan from Dennis Fleury on Long Island. The dump–one of 55 built, according to the Pierce-Arrow Society–originally served in New York City before a construction company put it in service for the next 40 years
I’m glad someone gave some detail on these behemoths. Let’s check out some pictures.
Quick – how old do you think the oldest truck in the museum is (was)? 1929? You’re right! It’s the 1929 Diamond T Model 550 and was completely restored by one Robert Sorensen, beginning in 1975. Powered by a 6-cylinder Hercules gasoline engine driving through a 4-speed transmission, the rear axle was a “floating” type, which required a periodic tightening and adjustment. This vehicle is very, very rare:
Here’s another truck with a cool story. Below is the 1963 Mack B61. It’s not rare and it’s not particularly special, but this was the truck was part of a transaction that Rich Guerrera made when buying a local company named Oil Transport. Guerrera never used it and ended up selling it at some point. Then in 1985, Guerrera saw it rotting and rusting in Waterbury somewhere and decided to purchase it again and restore the thing – which is exactly what he did. It was sort of the impetus to get this museum off the ground.
That Model T there is mostly made of oak. It reached a top speed of 22 mph. It’s old. You know what I need? Some giant tools…
Those tools were really super giant, but my lack of foresight resulted in my not giving any scale with that picture. As I said, I walked around the trucks for a good while and was really impressed with just how clean this place is (was). Seriously, you could have eaten off the floors and/or the truck hoods. The signs were very informative but not too wordy and there were a ton of little displays and random exhibits here and there. Heck, there was actually a trucker hat display:
There was a whole wall of “hot women on big trucks” pictures:
There were a million pictures of trucks being restored, snow-plow trucks and diagrams of the evolution of trucks. There was a huge diesel engine in cross-section. It was wonderful… But I kept getting distracted (in a good way) by how much the museum catered to little kids. Just when they get bored of their dads yapping about gear ratios (not this dad of course), there was an old timey fire truck to climb into. Or a set of fun little cars for them to ride around on. Hoang and I were super impressed with this small – but very appreciated – detail that we kept finding in every corner of the building.
Not to mention there is actually an entire area dedicated to little kids. It’s called Interactive Interstate and is (was) entirely hands-on. There are (were) computers, books, puzzles, games, blocks and all sorts of truck related stuff for kids. Damian LOVED it. And so did I, because it afforded me more time to peruse the massive collection. At this point you’re probably saying, “So really, how did this place close again?” It really is a mystery… and I’m barely halfway through the joint! Let’s check out some more via my terrible pictures…
Library Lane is (was) a comfortable reading area with many transportation related books, periodicals and magazines.
I’d prefer it to be called “Trucker’s News,” but that’s just me. Anyway, Look at that young woman on the cover… She really did run all the way across the country. Good for her!
You want more? You want random? Once we were done with the main showroom full of trucks and cars and all that good stuff, and once Damian was done in the little kids’ room, we adjourned to the kitchenette area to enjoy some juice and Fig Newtons. Note to Still-Open museums: Free juice and Fig Newtons are an awesome perk, unless it bankrupts your operation. There was a donation box there, but I felt kind of weird donating knowing that they be closing in a few days. I dropped in a couple bucks more as a thank you than a “hope this helps.”
Or, perhaps the person who did this needlepoint work could maybe get some lessons on how to make better circles:
After the snack, we mosied on over to Waramaug Way which has a Chris Craft and Higgins boat on display as well as fishing memorabilia and an extensive display of vanity license plates. It also has a random birch bark canoe. As if that weren’t enough, I’m not sure where we’d be without an extensive – and I mean EXTENSIVE collection of trucker inspired vinyl records.
I know you’re intrigued by that picture there. Cute woman, huh? She IS the truck drivers queen after all. For your listening pleasure, I submit to you, Truck Drivers Queen:
I had no idea there was a market for such things. It’s not as if truckers could ever play records in their trucks. I was way too interested in these records. But then I turned around and – HO-ly Crap! An entire large wall covered in vanity license plates! Now, I usually hate vanity plates and find them, well, vain. (You can see some of my favorites I’ve seen around the state here.) But this collection was mind-blowing. Here are a few of my favorites:
This entire collection is from one guy – Barin Erickson from Norwalk, CT. Amazing. Right next to the plates was a cut-away 1996 Volvo prototype truck cab. I could totally be a truck driver for a month or two. This thing was super comfortable.
There are (were) still a few more rooms to see, believe it or not. “Moving History”, a documentary about moving the Edaville Railroad from Carver, MA to Portland, ME is shown in Media on West Main. This room contained the theater area with the rather interesting documentary where a bunch of guys used antique trucks to move a bunch of stuff up to Maine, more or less just for fun. Of course the room contained all sorts of memorabilia and such. There was also a gift shop and another room that was old really old, probably really valuable collectibles. Lots of old metal truck toys and a bunch of popsicle creations for some reason too.
But most impressively, there was this:
The “First car registered in Connecticut!” The 1902 Merry Oldsmobile. Really? Wow, that’s amazing. I wonder where this car has ended up? I wonder if the folks behind the planned New England Auto Museum in Norwalk got their hands on it? I hope somewhere worthy did. In fact, I really hope “somewhere worthy” got everything in here that wasn’t part of a private collection.
It’s really a shame the Golden Age of Trucking Museum had to close. This place was great and really highlighted all that I love about CTMQ and the places I go: Singular passion and a focus on showcasing that passion. I don’t care what it is, if it’s done right, it’s awesome. And this place certainly was that. I’m only sorry that I didn’t visit much sooner before their demise so maybe this write-up would have gotten a few more people through their doors. I wish Mrs. Guerrera all the luck in the world and thank her deeply for all she did with her husband’s dream and vision.
I wonder if Hoang would “finish” CTMQ should I pass away before I finish. I can see her now at the Naugatuck Historical Society learning all about Naugahyde. No wonder I love her so much.