I was able to knock one thing off of my Lehigh Valley Bucket List this week and WOW was I impressed! I volunteered at the America On Wheels museum this week and while it’s pretty much in the middle of one of the crappiest areas of Allentown this place is amazing.
I have always heard that I would be impressed going here so I went in with high expectations and was still blown away. The exhibits and layout are amazing, Smithsonian-quality even. It was closed to the public, I was there to help take down Christmas decorations (mine still are not all put away at home-oops), so I was able to enjoy it almost all to myself. Planning to go back soon to get a better look as most of the lights were out to conserve energy while they were closed, so some of the rooms with less windows were a bit dark.
The current temporary exhibit is The British Invasion and it is only in town until the end of this month. I loved it-great selection of cars. Check out this beautiful Austin Healey:
Of course they also have tons of Mack Truck displays but you won’t see this driver until next Christmas:
And this place is so much more than Mack Trucks. In the back they have a classic garage exhibit and we even had to look twice to see if the mechanic inside was real or not (he wasn’t).
They also have an actual 50’s dinner, the Hubcap Cafe, inside the museum. I was told they bought all this stuff on EBAY from an old dinner that went out of business, they even have an old green Hamilton Beech milkshake machine. Unfortunately my picture came out too dark (I only had my iPhone on me) but check out the link above for a slide show from their website.
This place is a must see, even if your are not a die-hard car enthusiast. There is plenty of fun stuff for the kids as well, like pretending to drive a Mack Truck down a highway. They have an actual cab you sit in with a big screen simulator. Definitely worth the trip, even if you hate Allentown.
The building size is impressive and the side of the building that houses the corporate offices used to be the offices for the A&B Meat. It is great that they were able to preserve it because the architecture is quite remarkable for a meat-packing plant office.
Other surrounding buildings in the area were not so lucky. In a fenced in area next to the museum’s parking lot is the rubble from the Calo building that was recently demolished to make way for the Lehigh Landing Project which is expected to eventually house a hockey arena. I’m all for Hockey but knocking down some of these old brick buildings for what will probably be replaced with zero-character concrete and steel buildings doesn’t seem condusive to building a unique destination area. At least not to me. It just seems a shame that the brick building with its long stretch of arched windows could not have been incorporated into another structure the way the A&B building was.
There is also a mix of buildings in the area, some that are just plain ugly, others that need some serious TLC but have interesting features like old advertising painted on the exterior brick. If the nicer buildings could be cleaned up, even if not officially part of the Lehigh Landing area, it would help with the current “wow, this place is a dump” impression of the surrounding area.
Overall though, I am happy to some of the plans for the area come into place and it should be interesting to see how it develops over the next few years. But don’t wait until then to visit America On Wheels. They need the public’s support now.
Speaking of support, one quick note on Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. If you have off from work that day consider contacting your favorite non-profit and offering your services for at least part of the day. If you need help finding volunteer opportunities any time of the year here is a great resource: The Volunteer Center of the Lehigh Valley. There is a link to volunteer opportunities on MLK Day on the left side of the homepage.