That was late September, maybe early October of 2017. I was in the throes of catching up on blog posts, creating products, writing – or trying to – a book about my 2016 photo project, plus working overtime at my ‘day’ job. Who had time for a day trip?
“But you’ve got to!” he protested. “It’s got your favorite car!”
That got my attention. A real, true, 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona on display?
Say what? What’s the point of going to a place where I can’t take pictures? Still, with the lure of my dream car…
I’ve had a fascination with the 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona for ages. The look of the high wing and nose cone say to me classic beauty. Speed. Freedom. It’s a stand-alone symbol of a day when muscle cars ruled, firing the imaginations of those who appreciated fine vehicles with clean lines and powerful engines.
Yes, I know about the SuperBird. (That’s my brother’s favorite car, right after the late sixties Mustang and early seventies Chevy Nova.) Number one, the SuperBird wasn’t the first car in history with the nose cone and wing; number two, it’s not the first car in history to break the 200-mph speed barrier; number three, it just doesn’t look as sleek and classy to my eyes as the Daytona. The SuperBird is an imitation of the true king of the aero cars. Plus, there were only 503 Daytonas built, as opposed to the 1935 of the 1970 SuperBird…
Yes, I’m kind of a muscle car geek. So what?
Well, what with one thing and another, we didn’t get out to Elmer’s until early October 2018. And by then both the Daytona and the SuperBird had been gone for a few weeks, sold to a private collector.
(Mourn, wail, howl! 304 original miles, still with the same tires it had been sold with on, and I missed the opportunity to see my very first favorite car ever with my own eyes! AUGHHHHH!!)
But it was still worth the trip.
So what’s the story?
Fountain City is a small town along Highway 35, the Great River Road. Standing tall behind the houses and shops nestled at the riverside below, Eagle Bluff towers an impressive 550 feet above the water and offers a stunning view of the valley. Signs help guide a traveler to the country roads leading to Elmer’s museum. Without those signs, it’s a tricky find, even with smartphone maps to help.
As you drive up the curvy road leading to what looks like a farmyard, you see vehicle graveyards to either side, roped off with clear signs warning against accidental intrusion. Elmer’s is also a salvage yard – which, apparently, is how his impressive collection got its start. An attendant greets you as the gravel becomes paved, takes admission, directs parking, advises what buildings have what attractions…
Because it’s not just a classic car museum. Elmer’s has a full shed and barn dedicated to toys, too!
And of course the attendant relays the rules: No photos or videos of anything inside the buildings, including the summer kitchen; photos of the exteriors are allowed, and photos of the view are encouraged.
Because once you take your attention off the attendant, that’s actually the first thing that draws your eye. The vista of the river valley opens up just past a finely-mowed lawn. Impressive as it was, though, I couldn’t help but imagine how magnificent it would be once the trees had developed their full fall color.
Once we tore our eyes away from the view, Ted, Ivan, and I decided to start with the farthest shed and work our way back.
Each building has its own conversational person willing to answer questions and share stories. In the first, Rusty told me the story of the Daytona – piece by piece, he had built the flatbed truck that transported the classic to its new home. He also said that Elmer started the salvage yard back in the early sixties, and began collecting shortly after that.
I’m still not sure what determined what cars and other items Elmer collected, but I wonder if it had to do with the 1958 Biscayne. He owned the car when he met his future wife; they went on their first date together with that car. He sold it later, but then found and bought it back. And he and his wife went out to celebrate both their 25th and 50th anniversaries in the car.
Of course, it’s not just cars in the sheds. There are vintage pedal cars, bicycles, classic motorcycles, and racing memorabilia – like the original cool suit worn by Marvin Panch, as well as his 1972 Honda 600!
And then, of course, you get to the toys. Elmer has every single Cracker Jack toy ever issued. He has Tonka toys still in their original boxes, an entire wall of Grayhound buses, a person could spend hours walking the aisles and reminiscing about childhood toys we played with… like the three of us did!
Elmer’s Auto and Toy Museum
W903 Elmers Road, Fountain City, WI 54629
9:00 – 5:00 on two weekends per month during the summer – see their website for the specific weekends.
Adults (age 18-64) $10.00; Seniors (65 +) $8.00; Students (ages 6-17) $5.00; and anyone younger than six is free!
Phone, 608-687-7221; email, firstname.lastname@example.org