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Vehicles from four museums in Auburn

INTERNAL COMBUSTION
Auburn, Indiana

getaway-chicago logo Short on appearance or amenities and a little less than groovy, Auburn, Indiana isn’t a quintessential getaway-chicago destination. Dillinger didn’t stick up any banks, no religious communes, nobody’s cow started a fire and a tornado didn’t blow the place away. Auburn has, however, a distinguished collection of stuff (interesting, informative and important) housed in an assortment of museums. Of the 7+ in the vicinity of Auburn the Guys chose to visit 4 during two visits, The Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum, the National Automotive and Truck Museum of the United States (Natmus), the Kruse Automotive and Carriage Museum and the World War II Victory Museum.

auburn2Containing an eclectic collection of trucks and cars, Natmus (www.natmus.com) is located behind the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum and occupies what was an assembly plant for the Auburn Automobile Company. In addition to trucks ( many sorts and types), Natmus has a collection of vintage Hudsons, Nashs and Kaiser-Frasers (among numerous brand names), which brought back memories for the Guys. A show stopper for the Guys was the large and comprehensive collection of toy cars and trucks. Each guy had his favorite toy, car and truck and neither would concede the superiority of the other’s choice.

auburn3At the Kruse Automotive and Carriage Museum (www.kccmuseum.org) the tug-o-war continued. Alan was enamored of the Batmobiles and other TV-Movie related vehicles (Neil had no idea what Alan was getting off on) and Neil was drawn to the Concord Coaches, which Alan found to be hopelessly antique.

The main attractions in Auburn, are The Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum (www.acdmuseum.org) and the World War II Victory Museum (www.wwiivictory.org). The amazing cars in the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum make most contemporary cars look like something destined for the industrial design scrap heap. Back before the Great Depression and before the U.S. had to make nice with foreign oil interests (a gallon of gas cost pennies), rolling works of art with V-12 and V-16 engines were built (some weighing 5,000 to 6,000 pounds). auburn4Gasoline mileage stunk, but who cared? Each car in its respective class, the Auburn (Buick, Hudson, Oldsmobile), the Cord (Packard, Cadillac, Lincoln) and the Duesenberg (Rolls Royce, Hispano, Pierce Arrow) was unique and in many respects ahead of its competitors.

The Auburn was the successor to the Eckhart; a one cylinder internal combustion engine attached to a buggy and introduced in 1903. By 1912 the Eckhart had become the six cylinder Auburn but, by 1924 the Auburn Automobile Company had essentially run out of gas. Enter E.L. Cord, a Jazz Age sales genius and by the latter 20’s and early 30’s his Auburn, Cord and Duesenberg stable of cars were show stoppers. In auburn6addition to jazzing up the Auburn’s appearance and performance, Cord introduced the Cord roadster and coupe line of vehicles, perhaps the most dynamic looking cars prior to Edsel Ford’s Continentals. Acquired along with the Duesenberg brothers, the Duesenberg line rounded out the Auburn Cord family of vehicles. And despite the efforts of other luxury car builders, the Duesenberg was a car for its time. As a chauffeur driven luxury liner built for William Randolph Hearst and Marion Davies or a one-of-a-kind racy runabout for J.Paul Getty, the Duesenberg was magnificent and reeked of class. With the ghosts of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, the Guys had to agree: the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum is tops.

auburn7After a delightful lunch at Sandra D’s (not far from the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum), the Guys went over to WW II Victory Museum. Neither had any idea of what to expect, but they agreed: a visitor to this museum has to be a WW II Vet from the European Theater, someone old enough to remember all those movies extolling the virtues of our Allies (including the Red Army), a scholar of military equipment or just somebody hooked on World War II lore. Alan was sort of nonplused and Neil (who had seen all those movies) was receptive up to a point. The volume of discarded military equipment is overwhelming; stuff abandoned or captured as the Allies swept east toward Germany in 1944-’45. The Museum is packed with armored personnel carriers, self propelled guns, half tracks, anti-aircraft guns, tanks, artillery and trucks from the U.S., Germany, England, France and Poland. About 150 pieces in all.

Two things about the collection struck the Guys as being at odds with the supposed invincibility of the Wehrmacht and the ability of Germans to plan (or at least be neat). Having to rely heavily on captured equipment to make up for deficiencies, Germany was woefully ill prepared to start a World War. auburn9Secondly Germany failed (utterly) to unify its procurement of equipment, leading to a bewildering duplication of materiel (much in evidence) and ending the war protected only by cardboard and plywood in many cases. Way to go!

The Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum and the World War II Victory Museum are to some degree generational venues. Neither need not be. Both have a vast collections of irreplaceable artifacts; artifacts both beautiful and frightening, but nevertheless important to preserve and study. Anybody the least bit interested in the internal combustion engine will find all 4 museums (for varying reasons) interesting and informative. The Guys could call this destination An Internal Combustion Trip, but they won’t. Two “trips” may be required. September 2007

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