Holy cornhuskers Batman – this must be Nebraska

Museum of American Speed

Jessie James gang Funeral Hearse

Museum of American Speed

Dale Zimmerman with Black Rose

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In Lincoln, Nebraska, we visited the Smith Collection Museum of American Speed. Some of us were kinda “ho hum . . . great, another car museum.” But when we got there, we were wowed.

The museum was founded in 1992 by “Speedy” Bill Smith and his wife, Joyce. It’s dedicated to preserving, interpreting and displaying physical items significant to road racing. The museum encompasses over 135,000 feet on three levels all chalk full of specialty cars and auto memorabilia.

“The vast collection results from the Smiths’ personal involvement in racing and hot rodding for more than six decades, and their lifelong passion for collecting and preserving historic automotive artifacts,” according to the website.

We met the son, Carson Smith. He said his dad started the collection when he was a kid. He was enthralled by engine technology, noting that the engines of the day were not worth their weight tomorrow.

Smith spent millions of hours  “turning over rocks” and chasing countless leads to assemble a collection of this magnitude.

Only about one-third of this massive collection is on display, including a  stunning array of history-making cars, engines, parts, toys and memorabilia. There are countless rare and one-of-a-kind items, such as the world’s oldest peddle car (from 1891) plus over 600 lunch boxes – all presented in beautiful displays and dioramas that make you feel like you’ve stepped into the past!

(Photo left is Dan under the original sign from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.)

The weird car beside up top is the actual funeral hearse of Bob Younger of the Jesse James gang

Each member of the family collected their own chosen memorabilia – the son collected lunch boxes, the wife collected cookie jars. And there were other collections of movie posters, toys of all sizes and dimensions and anything at all car-related.

I had the pleasure of seeing the one and only Black Rose (besides my own) that I’m likely ever to see. There were only 11 of that colour made. Even met the owner, Dale Zimmerman, but he said I’d have to wait in a long line to buy it – and that’s only if he ever decided to sell.

On the road again:

We also visited the Arch Pioneer Museum in Kearney, Nebraska.

It’s amazing how you can live next door to someone your whole life and not really know much about them until one day you go inside their bathroom and look in the medicine cabinet. That’s how I felt when we stopped at the Arch. Although I’d visited the U.S. countless times, lived on the border and been saturated by American TV and movies, I never really “got it” until I came to this place.

The museum is a gi-normous arch that spans over the freeway and was built as a testament to the largest volunteer migration of people in history – the hundreds of thousands who ventured across the American plains to the west seeking a better life.

The museum shows their tenacity, endurance, grief and struggles in ways few stories have related it before. Kearney is the geographical centre of the United States and some guy raised millions to create this fabulous museum.

Driving through the desolate State of Wyoming, Nebraska is a bit of a relief. Definitely greener. And yes, they have miles and miles of corn, dotted periodically with green belts of soybeans.

(When I say Belt, I’m also talking Bible Belt – signage on the highway declaring God’s love and how one should get oneself saved before Jesus comes – they’re everywhere. And three out of four radio stations are Christian.)

At Lincoln we met up with the caravan from Northern California, Colorado, Nevada and Iowa as well as the Nebraska bunch. Now must be about 500 or 600 cars.

The local club held a party for us all at the Railyard – a refurbished downtown area (kind of like Gastown in Vancouver). We got together with some Spokane friends and had dinner at a Cajun restaurant. Dan had a plate that included alligator. I had catfish and a Bloody Mary made with bacon-infused vodka. (!?)  It was so spicy, however, I couldn’t drink it. Not something I’d order again, but was worth the experience.

After the Museum of American Speed, we carried on into Missouri.