NORWICH – It’s a car lover’s paradise about a four-hour drive from Buffalo.
There’s the black vehicle that is the right size, shape and vintage to be drawn by a horse. But it’s clearly one of those horseless carriage thingamajigs. The sign says it is an 1899 Leggett, made in Syracuse, and the only known surviving Leggett. And that it has a 1908 Oldsmobile engine, so not all of it survived.
There’s the three-wheeled thing that looks like an overgrown tricycle with a stick rather than a wheel for steering. The sign says it’s a 1901 Knox Gasoline Runabout, and if you fill its six-gallon tank, you can travel 180 miles before you have to refuel.
Want something more luxurious? Try the big blue monster, with four doors, running boards to stand on and an expensive aura. It’s a 1924 Stanley Steamer. It was too expensive to survive. It cost almost $4,000, compared to, say, a Model T Ford at about $500. Also, as the name suggests, it ran on steam, and gasoline offered too many advantages.
They are just three of more than 160 cars and trucks at the Northeast Classic Car Museum in Norwich, almost directly south of Utica by about an hour. Also part of the exhibits are some old gasoline pumps, airplane engines and mannequins wearing vintage clothing. Everything is lovingly restored. Everything shines, as if in a movie designed to show the glamour of the past.
Most of the cars aren’t owned by the museum but are on loan from private owners.
You are, however, allowed to sit in and have friends take photographs of you in two of the cars, a 1928 Ford Model T and a 1933 Franklin Olympic.
Many of the vehicles are in running shape and are sometimes taken on the road to go to shows or parades.
You can’t rent any of the cars, but you can rent the museum, just in case you’re looking for an unusual place to hold a party. Or a wedding. Or a graduation.
There’s 80,000 square feet here, so plan to spend up to two hours touring the facility.
Take some time to study the 1918 White Mountain Bus, which despite its name, is black and yellow and green. It was made by the White brothers – Rollin, Windsor and Walter – in Cleveland.
It looked very familiar to me, but I had to read the sign near it before my memory was clear enough for a full recall. I no doubt saw it in an old movie set out West where the White buses were commonly used as tour buses. Today, refurbished models are still in use in Yellowstone National Park.
The 1931 Packard, we’re told, catered to the country club set, and included a small door behind the back seat door that opened for a place just large enough to hold a set of golf clubs. The one in the museum is red and white with a spare tire on the side, and looks expensive enough to be owned by folks who belonged to very exclusive country clubs. The listed factory price was $2,425.
And what can you say about a 1936 Pierce-Arrow Country Club Roadster? The long yellow one in the museum looks like it’s going fast when it’s just sitting there. The sign says what is well-known: “This car, loved by its usual distinguished clientele, also became a favorite of rum runners, who appreciated its quiet and reliability.”
Not all the interesting vehicles are that old. Take, for example, the 1965 Divco delivery van. The one in the museum was used to deliver milk for Staley’s Dairy in DeRuyter, and bears the firm’s motto: “You can whip our cream but you can’t beat our milk!” Drivers in this model had to almost stand up, allowing them to get in and out of the vehicle more quickly (and presumably make more money for the owner).
But when it comes to cars and trucks, old can be interesting. Look at the 1908 Franklin one-ton truck. Red and yellow, it looks something like a fire truck, but was designed for deliveries. The one in the museum has a canvas awning above the otherwise open-air driver’s seat.
A small plate under the seat says it operates on a Selden patented engine. All manufacturers using internal combustion engines had to pay a royalty to George Selden. Up until 1911 when upstart Henry Ford, appealing a case he and four others had already lost, got a court to invalidate Selden’s patent.
But you have to see these beauties. You have to walk among them. You have to feel the regret that you’re not allowed to run your fingertips across them. It’s as fine a collection of beautiful cars as you’re likely to see anywhere.
If you go
Northeast Classic Car Museum, 24 Rexford St., Norwich. Info: (607) 334-2886, classiccarmuseum.org
Hours: Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed on Christmas, Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.
Admission: $9 adults, $4 ages 6 to 18; under 6 are admitted free.
Directions: Take I-90 to Utica, switch to I-790, then to Route 12 south.
Follow 12 to Norwich. At the second traffic light, turn left on Route 23, Rexford Street. The museum is on the right.
There are shorter routes that require many more turns, but if you trust your GPS, you might want to try one. If you’re making a multiday trip, keep in mind that Norwich is 43 miles from Cooperstown and the Baseball Hall of Fame.