Forklifts, Ratchet Straps, Prayer: How America’s Quirkiest Car Museum Changes Out Exhibits When Some Of The Vehicles Don’t Run

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Here at Lane Motor Museum (where I work as the education director), we have too many cars and not enough space to display them all. Our main exhibit floor can only hold about 150 cars, but we have almost 550 cars in the collection at the time of this writing.

So we rotate the big exhibits on an annual basis. This does one of two things: it keeps the exhibits fresh for returning visitors (which is a great marketing tool) and it allows cars that would normally be tucked away in the basement storage area to see the spotlight.

We get asked often: How do you change exhibits at the museum? Well, here’s an inside look.

We’re closed to the public on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, which gives us time to move cars in and out of the building without visitors around. This is helpful, as we have pretty strict pedestrian safety rules, like “no running over guests with the museum cars.”

Our building is a former bread bakery, and during renovation, before the museum was open in 2003, the loading dock for the bread delivery trucks was turned into a ramp, and a large roll-up door was added. The cars can come on and off the floor pretty easily.

The following four exhibits were changed out over the last month. Let’s start with the installation of our celebration of the Fantastic Fiat 500.

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Previously, this area held our Radwood exhibit, highlighting the best of our 1980s and 90s cars.

First, of course, Radwood had to be taken out. It was 14 cars and three motorcycles. We were without a curator this past winter, so Jeff Lane offered to do the exhibit planning. Here’s is Jeff’s very analog exhibit layout for Fiat.

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To start, you fill in the far corner of the museum floor.

Here are Gabriel and James, our collection technicians. They are responsible for light mechanic work, including getting the cars clean, fueled, and ready for car shows, displays, or just transport. These two are vital to the museum’s mission.

Most of the cars in the collection run and drive, but some just can’t get started for various reason. This little Polski Fiat Bis (That’s the water cooled one from the late 1980s) would not start, so it had to be towed in and pushed into place.

Each of our cars have a display sign next to them. The text is printed on legal size paper, and slide in and out of the plastic sign. The bases are made of flywheels and camshafts…this looks cool, and provides a bit of weight so the sign doesn’t fall over. I go through and edit each sign’s text to make sure it makes sense and that it works with our new exhibit.

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We usually arrange the cars chronologically. The 1936 Fiat 500A Topolino is the first car you’ll see when entering the exhibit.

Time to vacuum each car’s

Here we are vacuuming each car’s interiors and doing some last minute detailing.

The following week, it was time to switch out two exhibits for one. The “Staff Selects” exhibit and the “Oil and Water amphibious cars” exhibit were both taken out. In their place went “Open and Shut: A Diverse Display of Doors.” The museum’s collection has many cars with interesting closures; among those cars is this 1994 Hobbycar Passport, with its four parallel-opening, double-pivot doors:

This is a good example of how we tow a vehicle. This old John Deere tractor is basically our tugboat, pulling and pushing cars that do not run. The Peugeot engine in this low production 1990s French “mobile office” does not run well. Yes, we can fix it, but since it is going on display, why put time and effort into something that will just sit static for a year? Next year, it will get some mechanical attention once it leaves the floor (at least that’s the plan).

This is the view from cockpit of the Von Dutch Rocket Car, which runs, but is just easier to pull around. Technically, it has NO doors. James pulls with the tractor, I steer:

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Above are more examples of different doors and hinges. The grey and blue car is the 1945 Surlesmobile, replete with electrically-powered, retractable, hide-away doors. Don Surles was stationed in occupied Japan at the end of World War II, and had this concept turned into reality by the Tokyo Bus Works. The story of the Surlesmobile can be found here.

The Renault next to it is the Avantime that Jason has driven before, in another website’s video, and features a “double-kinematic” hinge system, which maximizes the opening space without swinging the door into the car parked next to you.

Ta-dah! We have an exhibit:

Next up, changing out our propeller-driven exhibit, “Wingless Wonders,” to our prototypes-and-one-offs exhibit, “One of One.”

Before:

While I missed getting shots of these propeller-driven vehicles coming off the floor (it apparently didn’t take long), there was one complicated move: getting this WWII-era, propeller-driven Tatra-on-skis out to the garage. You know, a normal Wednesday at the Lane.

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We put the Tatra on skates, which is another tool we use for non-running cars or cars with locked brakes.

Here’s “One of One” in place:

And finally, undoing the Stacked exhibit. Here is the before:

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Yes, that’s a Tatra T-815 rollback below a Citroën Tissier rollback, below a 1934 Goliath Atlas pickup, below a Subaru Sambar pickup, with an ACOMA Mini Comtesse in its bed. Here’s a video on how we constructed this behemoth:

Concerned about balance, James and Gabriel knew they couldn’t undo the cars the same way they went together, so the two got our trusty forklift (also an invaluable tool for a car museum), and picked the top two cars off of the Goliath first.

How to do this without damaging the backbone frame of the Goliath?

Ratchet straps and a forklift, baby! Have a look:

Whew! In the museum world, that’s called a “buttcocks-clencher.”

The Citroën Tissier is going to chill on the back of the Tatra out in the garage for a bit, like a baby whale swimming atop its mother out to the deep ocean.

 And finally, in Stacked’s place we have a flight of Renaults, from the Le Car to the R5 Turbo 2.

This is the condensed version; exhibit planning takes months of work to get the look and fit right, plus it takes time to make sure all the information is as factual as possible. It’s a real production, with many moving parts. It’s not as easy as just getting the toys out of the toy box.

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45 Responses

  1. A couple of things I love about this place is the lack of ropes, and abundant natural light. You can really spend time admiring, and learning about vehicles that few on this side of the pond even know exist, let alone are there to see up close and personal.
    Having the Lane Museum in my back yard is a privilege. Thank you for doing what you do.

  2. I am sorry got to say this museum doesn’t really seem to have its act together from this article. If you can’t display 75% of your cars and some of these cars are big holes of suck get rid of them. Not to me because I just found out what museum quality means. Even with rotation that many stored cars is a waste, display crap hide the quality. I mean what are you paying for storage for 400 cars? This is why museums fail. Sure keep enough to rotate the exhibits but the Yugo, Pinto, Beetle, displays are crap. Sure Beetle best seller but who hasn’t seen one? Hey how about a F150 or white delivery van display. Or a museum of tidy whites? Or a brick museum? You don’t need a display of very common items.

    1. There is several museums of bricks just in the UK (https://thebrickworksmuseum.org, https://swheritage.org.uk/schools/visit/brick-and-tile-museum/), so I’m sure there’s several more around the world.
      We also have; the Derwent Pencil Museum, ‘Teapot Island’ in Kent, the Lawnmower Museum in Southport and the National Wool Museum in Wales among many others, so maybe us Brits just like our quirky museums more than other places.

      Oh, and of course there’s a VW Beetle museum in Austria, I wonder what it is about the F150 that no one has made it the centrepiece of a museum?

    2. I’d like to see a brick museum, historic paving bricks from the factories around the country, building bricks from sandstone to clay to terracotta, the various types and reasons for why one brick is different from another. Not for everyone, sure, but life without bricks would be very different from both a modern and historical perspective.

    3. We’ll you must be around all this stuff all the time talking like that. Even what some think is mundane, can be worth going to look at. I wouldn’t mind looking over a Yugo, I havnt seen one in a good 30 years. And the constant changes in line up would definitely hook me into going more often, hats of to them!

    4. Bravo. This is probably the dumbest hot take I’ll read all day. Either that or you forgot the /s for sarcasm.

      “This is a behind scenes look at how our museum changes out displays.”
      Random dude on the internet “Your museum sucks and you don’t know what you’re doing”

    5. There can be a lot of interest in seemingly prosaic, “boring” items. I for one think a display of various F-150s or delivery vans could be quite interesting. With vehicles the “boring” workaday cars are often not very collectible so even examples with high production can become uncommon relatively quickly. Nonetheless, they are still worth commemoration.

      In a different field the Isett Heritage Museum near Huntingdon PA is a perfect example of celebrating the ordinary. What may seem at first glance like a bunch of not even yard sale worthy junk is actually a fascinating collection of ordinary household items, arranged so you can see how household technology changed and advanced over time. Appliances, utensils, fax machines, telephones, typewriters, etc. All ordinary, but when you put them all together you see how things have changed over the years and we can share the impact of technology with younger generations.

      Here at Autopian I hope we can celebrate more humble vehicles. From a personal level I really enjoyed being at the Jaguar club show a couple of years back with my ’88 XJ6. Best in show was the obvious, beautiful, Pebble Beach-worthy SS100 and that’s fine but I had the only XJ40 factory code model at the meet. It may be the red-headed stepchild of the XJ lineup, but isn’t my car also a valid part of Jaguar history? Put another way, the commonplace car will never be the centerpiece of a collection but it can be part of a retrospective or more complete collection. Like most I’m not sure I’d visit a Mustang museum where the best car they have is a Mustang II, but no place that claimed to be such a museum would be complete without something like a ’74 Ghia in powder blue with a landau roof just to show the unvarnished history of the model.

    6. Do you understand how museums work? In order to continue to attract customers, you need to come up with different exhibits. Pretty much every museum will significantly rotate what is on display in order to attract repeat visitors and those who may not have been interested in what was previously displayed. I don’t know many museums that can display 75% of their collection at any time. Even with some fixed exhibits, they need to ensure they can keep things fresh in their other exhibits.
      Beyond that, the idea is to educate and inform. Sure, most people have seen a Beetle, but have they been shown the differences in generations? And an F150 display would probably be a great choice. They have certainly changed over time in various ways. Exhibits expanding knowledge of things we take for granted are fantastic.

    7. A good museum display doesn’t just show an old thing, it tells a story. A Beetle, a Pinto, a Yugo, all have a story to tell, and they’re going to be a physical part of the story that the museum is telling.

      Also, just because you know something doesn’t mean everybody else does.

    8. 1). We don’t pay for storage, they are housed in our basement of a building which we already own.
      2) I’m confused by the “Yugo, Pinto, Beetle displays are crap” since we only have the Beetle on display.
      3) Common items to Europeans, maybe, but we are mainly “speaking” to an American audience, who have never or rarely seen a 2CV or an NSU Prinz, etc. Common, everyday are more our mission than exotic sports cars.
      4) We do sometimes display the “quality”, but that is why we rotate. We simply can’t show everything at once.
      5) Currently, we are trying to reduce the number of cars that we have. We have accumulated over 500 cars because we would like to conserve or protect cars that would otherwise be thrown away.

      1. Most of us here appreciate that you conserve and protect those cars and create these displays. Further, thank you for sharing the behind-the-scenes info and giving us the chance to see a little bit of your museum virtually. If I ever find myself in the area, I’ll definitely come in and take a look!

  3. Closest auto museum to me in in Tallahassee Florida. It’s pretty cool, nothing there really leaks my interest other than a real Tucker they have. I can literally stand for hours looking at it, knowing it’s story makes it a wonder and magnificent to me. Everything else looks like everything I see at cars shows all the time. Your museum looks like it has alot of unique vehicles and an awesome place to go. Maybe one day I’ll make it, sure looks like I’d enjoy it.

  4. Great stuff.

    I had to check — the plates of this Fiat 126 BIS are legit, and the vehicle in question was legally prowling Polish roads until at least 2016. I;m glad that it ended up in a museum instead of in a crusher 🙂

  5. That place looks fantastic. So far away from me here in Wa. state though.
    If any of you are ever in the Seattle area and want to spend the day ogling strange cars you have got to check out LeMay at Marymount. Washington’s largest car collection. They even have classes where you learn to drive a Model T, and then drive one!

  6. WHY!? Why did you have to start the article with all my favorite FIATs??? i.e. the 500 and 126 and all its iterations? Now you are making me incredibly sad that I am way the heck up here in Nova Scotia…. 🙁

    Wish I lived closer as I’d LOVE to visit, and working there would be my dream job! I have a BA with an Advanced Major in History (Minor in English), a BEd. degree, I’ve worked in a museum for several years, currently sit on the Board of one, I’m a teacher and I love cars, especially the weirder and quirkier ones! Lane would be like heaven for me!!!

    I envy you people…

    1. Nashville is just like Nova Scotia, except hotter, no lighthouses and crappier, more expensive seafood.
      plus Nashville has MAGA-hat wearing Trumpers who still have ‘Trump 2020’ signs in their yards, bet you don’t get many of those in NS.
      But the music scene is great and you can carry a gun without a permit.
      Other than that….

    1. Pretty often. Like all jobs, it’s not all peaches and cream, but the good far outweighs the bad. I’ll do an article sometime on what I do as a museum educator. For example, I had a whole 3rd grade class here this morning, and nothing is more rewarding to me than passing on my love of these weirdo cars to a new generation.

  7. That looks very similar to have a car storage/museum worked near me. If you elected to have your car on the museum floor, you got a discount on storage.

    For the cars that didn’t run or were asked not to be started, they had a WWII era Jeep with tires on the bumpers and a tow strap. Put that thing in low gear and it could move nearly anything.

    1. Yes, a common concern. During the week, we will check a section at a time to ensure the tires are inflated properly, and we are working on a systematic way to make sure each car gets driven or at least rolled forward every once in a while to avoid flat spots. But, many of the cars will develop them no what. If its a very old tire, we will support the car on jack stands.

  8. I love a museum that’s just as interesting behind the scenes as its public facing exhibits are! If I’m ever in the neighborhood, I’ll definitely pay a visit to the Lane. In fact, I may have to make a special trip to Tennessee just to visit the museum!

      1. Apparently one needs to be willing to sign in to the Gram to follow the link, FYI.

        A question that has been kicking around in my head and is applicable to your interests. Has anyone incorporated stepper motors into a crawler setup yet?

        1. Thanks! I’ll post a Twitter link also. Just really wanted to drop in a gif, but no can do… yet.

          As far as the stepper motors are concerned, it’s an interesting concept in theory. I’m not sure if you’re suggesting that they power wheels or robotic arms – or in this case legs.

          The ultimate off-roader (that a human can pilot) is a donkey or a mule. Plain and simple. Hyundai has put out some super interesting concept “cars” that basically use legs instead of wheels to navigate tricky terrain. They also bought Boston Dynamics (the company that created the super creepy but also charming headless dog bots), so I think they’re actually serious about heading in that direction eventually. It will be interesting to watch.

          I’m definitely not an engineer, but I imagine that Hyundai’s future all-terrain-conquering car legs would probably use stepper motors. So… I think you’re onto something there.

          https://www.hyundai.com/content/dam/hyundai/ww/en/images/brand/02-technology-with-a-human-heart/brand-elevate-stg-m.jpg

          1. I was thinking wheels, but the legged offroaders are also interesting.

            In my mind a portal axle setup with an independent motor per wheel would yield great possibilities. Want to lock one wheel on a boulder while the other three pivot the car around it by going at a different speed for each wheel? No problem! Just call up that program and the degrees to rotate.

    1. We don’t have any farm vehicles, just an old Stickney Hit n’ Miss engine. The Tennessee Agricultural Museum here in Nashville has several farm vehicles on display, though, and they are not too far from us!

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