Preserving the past, present and future

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When the America on Wheels transportation museum opens in ’07, it will house more than a collection of old cars and trucks. Of course, since it will be located in Allentown, Pa., home of Mack Trucks, one rightly would surmise that Mack had considerable input into the idea.

In fact, it was Jack Curcio, Mack’s former CEO, who kept his predecessor’s dream of a museum alive through many years of financial sourcing, site selection and changes in local political leadership. And the company will be represented well when the museum opens.

At a groundbreaking ceremony in late April, Mack President & CEO Paul Vikner announced the loan of seven vintage vehicles from the company’s collection to the museum. Those gems include: a 1910 Brockway motorized wagon; a 1911 Mack Junior chassis; a 1918 Mack AC fire truck; a 1922 Mack AB dump truck; a 1927 Mack AC cab and chassis; a 1957 Mack B-61 tractor; and a 1978 Mack F-785T tractor.

Moreover, Vikner announced that Mack will move its own museum offices and archives into the AOW facility, including parts and service information on all of its vehicles, going back to the early 1900s. But he stressed that while Mack will be a big part of the museum, the scope is much broader. “AOW will not be just a Mack museum,” he said, “It will address the whole impact over-the-road transportation has had on life in America.”

Indeed, other displays in the 43,000-square-foot facility will include everything from race cars and motorcycles to education exhibits focusing on service, alternative fuels and propulsion systems, including hybrid and fuel-cell-powered vehicle development. There also will be a theater, classrooms, a research library, an outdoor safety education area and space for changing exhibits.

The estimated cost of the project is $15.6 million, of which $12. 4 million already has been secured from public, private and government sources, including $5.4 million through TEA 21. Also, the American Truck Foundation has pledged $3 million toward an endowment fund, and everything from benches to video kiosks can be sponsored by individuals and companies for appropriate recognition.

Timing for the project couldn’t have been better, as local officials recently had decided to turn the neglected, waterfront Lehigh Landing museum-site area into a cultural and entertainment center. The museum now will be its cornerstone.

Personally, I’ll be glad to see Allentown – which is about an hour from my office – revitalized. But more importantly, I’ll be happy to have another source of truck facts and history available to the public. If it helps people realize how crucial trucks are to the quality of life they’ve come to expect, America on Wheels will be a bargain – whatever it costs.