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Summer 2005 • Volume 11, Issue 3

Wheels O’Time runs full steam ahead

by Karen Crowley Metzinger MA ’97

Picture an era when roads were dotted with old Ford Model T’s, factory-fresh Studebakers, and other vehicles that today’s general public classifies as “classic.” For those yearning for a bit of nostalgia, more than a dozen Bradley alums have joined forces to preserve and exhibit cars, Caterpillar tractors, Avery agriculture equipment, and other timeless machines and memories at the Wheels O’Time Museum in Peoria.

Gary Bragg

Gary Bragg ’58, one of the founders of Wheels O’Time, credits his love of old Packard cars with the initial concept of the museum. “Co-founder John Parks and I collected Packard automobiles, but our collection grew too large. We needed a place to put the Packards, and at the same time we had the idea of sharing them with other people. We decided we were going to build a bigger building, and people liked the idea. One day at church, one of our members wrote us a check to start it. We couldn’t turn him down.”

The museum’s physical plant consists of three buildings; the first contains about 25 vintage automobiles such as two Peoria-assembled Glides, a Model-T, and the Packards. Featured at the entrance of the museum is a freshly restored 1950 Chevy, Bragg’s first car, and his mode of transportation to Bradley for four years. Also housed in the building is a full-scale Fokker triplane, steam engines, an antique kitchen, an old-fashioned barbershop with a singing quartet, antique clocks, musical devices, and model trains. Adorning the walls of the building are two hand-painted murals depicting early travel and the history of the Peoria area. The second building displays farm equipment, restored tractors, household appliances from the turn-of-the-century and early equipment from “Big Yellow,” Caterpillar. The third and most historic building is a replica of an early 20th century firehouse. Inside the building rests a 3⁄4 scale of Lindbergh’s “Spirit of St. Louis” airplane used in the first trans-Atlantic crossing as well as more vehicles including fire trucks.Items on display can be touched, creating an exciting “live” atmosphere.

“We look at ourselves as a museum of the 20th century,” notes Bragg. “We specialize in Peoria-area manufactured items, but we like to display anything that will relate to people and the things they use that were manufactured, as opposed to natural history. We’re pretty eclectic and hands-on.”

The museum is open May through October, Wednesday through Sunday, 12 to 5 p.m. Knowledgeable volunteers, including several dedicated Bradley alums, have been instrumental in constructing exhibits and hosting tours through the interactive displays and extensive grounds. “We like to entertain as well as educate the young and the young at heart. We provide a great place to socialize for like-minded people,” Bragg said.” We have built a place to share our hobbies, collections, and artifacts with the public while creating an appreciation for the past.”

For more information, visit the museum’s Web site at wheelsotime.org or call 309-243-9020.

Wheels O'time group photo

Several Bradley alumni are involved in the Wheels ’O Time Museum. Shown to the left of the 1933 Packard Twelve are first row, Ralph Coletta ’43 and Bobbie Cation Rice ’68; second row, Leonard Hunsader MEA ’75, Dean Zoss ’66, and Bob McIntyre ’50. Shown in the group at right are Gwen Walser Bateman ’60, Harvey Varness ’65 MA ’68, Bob Peyer ’63, Gary Bragg ’58, Jim Bateman ’53, and Jack Seaman ’58. Not pictured are Dickson Young MA ’59, Michael Pickell ’90, and Andy Trent ’84.

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