Studebaker National Museum
Rooster and I rolled out of bed early on a Saturday morning to go on the Studebaker National Museum adventure. We headed for South Bend, Indiana to look at some antique cars. #Studebaker #cars #Abraham Lincoln #Oliver House #Muffet Movie #history
The city of South Bend, Indiana, houses a unique piece of automobile history. The Studebaker Museum consists of three floors of antique cars manufactured in the area. In the History Museum across the lobby, a person will find the story of St. Joseph County told in seven rooms filled with dioramas and artifacts from the past.
The Oliver House part of the Studebaker National Museum
The Oliver House is a Romanesque Queen Ann mansion located at the back of the Museum property. J.D. Oliver built this 38-room home between the years 1895-1896. His father, James Oliver, developed a sand-casting method to rapidly chill molten iron in his Indiana foundry.
This process made plow blades thicker and more durable than other farm equipment produced at the time. The Studebaker family sold a lot of cars, and the Oliver clan became wealthy manufacturing plows.
This tiny block in the once-mighty industrial city is an enjoyable place to spend a Saturday afternoon exploring the past. Rooster and I picked South Bend as our adventure destination when we woke up in the mood to look at antique automobiles.
Our trip to the Studebaker National Museum
We drove past snow-covered fields on our trip north. Rooster blasted the car heater. The weather turned cold. We passed one of our favorite breakfast destinations in favor of finding a new place to catch a morning meal when we travel north. This quest proved to be the biggest challenge of the day. We drove past the Dutch Café but didn’t stop. Traveling down the road to Rochester, Indiana where we searched for our next great breakfast place.
The main drag of the city was filled with trendy new shops, which weren’t there the last time we visited. There were two eateries on Main Street, which advertised online they served breakfast. We stopped at Jarrety’s Place first. Rooster and I were too late to get bacon and eggs. They were serving the lunch crowd by the time we walked through the door.
We drove down the street to Evergreen and got the same story before we decided to make the trip to Plymouth and see if we’d have better luck in fulfilling our lust for breakfast. To make a long story short, Rooster and I had to settle for lunch.
Discovered the Oliver House closed at the Studebaker National Museum
The Studebaker Nation Museum’s parking lot was full by the time we arrived. We walked up to the desk and paid our fee to visit both sides of the building. The tours for the Oliver house were already booked. We wouldn’t have the pleasure of walking through the unique home on this visit.
It was disappointing, but it will give us a reason to make another journey to South Bend. We walked through the gift shop and found ourselves in a section of the museum dedicated to the early years of the Studebaker brothers plying their metalworking skills to the manufacturing of wagons, buggies, carriages, and horse harnesses. The Studebaker family emigrated from Solinger, Germany, in 1736, bringing their artisanship with them to the New World.
Lincoln’s Coach at the Studebaker National Museum
Studebaker buggies and coaches were the favorite rides for American Presidents during the 1800s. The Studebaker Museum displays a morbid piece of history. Lincoln and his wife rode to Ford’s theatre to attend the play Our American Cousin in a Studebaker coach the night John Wilkes Booth shot him in the back of the head. The brothers officially went from buggy and wagon making to manufacturing horseless carriages in 1902 with an electric car. In 1904, the company came out with a gasoline-powered vehicle. We were able to see both of these models as we walked through this floor of the museum.
Rooster and I wandered among the amazing glitzy old automobiles with perfect paint jobs and not a speck of dust. The vehicles used in cross-country road challenges impressed me the most. A driver would travel from the east coast to the west coast in one long odyssey of gravel roads and dust. Interstates didn’t exist when these trips were made. The person attempting the venture wouldn’t find a Howard Johnsons or McDonald’s during the drive.
Antique cars at the Studebaker National Museum
They would be lucky to encounter a gas station where they could purchase petrol. Without a place to find food, fuel, or sleep, a person on one of these adventures would encounter several obstacles. The American road trip was born with these contests. We are people born with a degree of wanderlust. It’s in our blood to explore what’s waiting for us over the next hill. If our immigrant ancestors weren’t motivated by a lust for adventure, they would have been content to remain in their homeland.
Rooster and I moved to the basement, where we discovered Studebaker vehicles used by fire departments, the postal service, and for military use. We even found a working car used in the movie industry.
The Muffat Movie car at The Studebaker National Museum
During the filming of The Muffat Movie, an old Bullet Nose Studebaker Commander painted with psychedelic colors hit the road with Fozzie Bear behind the wheel. He set out on a cross-country trip with his friend Kermit the Frog. Neither one of these fictional characters could pass a test to obtain a driver’s license, even in the state of California. A steering wheel system built in the trunk of the car allowed a human to take control of the vehicle, essentially becoming a genuine back seat driver. The movie made it appear even stuffed animals enjoy a road trip.
Studebaker’s final days
The last floor we toured told the story of Studebaker’s final days. The company merged with Packard in 1954 after it suffered financial hardship. It was almost impossible for this small car company to compete with the big three automakers. A labor strike in 1963 and insufficient sales forced the South Bend plant to stop production in December of that year. There was an attempt to revive the struggling company in 1965 under the brand name “Avanti II.” The plan failed.
The last Studebaker rolled off the assembly line in Ontario, Canada, March 17, 1966. This section of the museum told a sad story. This company failed despite the fact they produced sleek and stylish vehicles during this time in its history. Studebaker made a valiant attempt to survive, but the company couldn’t keep its head above water. The area I found most interesting was the design studio. Some of the original drawings of car models hung on easels in this part of the exhibit. Trucks used to race on the Arizona Salt Flat time trials were also displayed.
The rest of The Studebaker National Museum
Rooster and I strolled across the lobby, entering the St. Joseph County history section of the museum. The Voyagers Gallery consisted of seven rooms with dioramas and interactive displays. These exhibits told the story of the area from prehistory when the valley was at the bottom of the Paleozoic Sea through the industrialization of the region in the 1900s.
We ambled down a hallway and encountered equipment made by the Bendix Corporation for the Apollo Space Program. There was an exhibit honoring The All-American Girls Baseball League. The League existed from 1943 to 1954, with over 600 women participating in teams across the mid-west. The movie A League of Their Own is loosely based on the history of this sport for women. There was also an exciting display featuring the history of African American people living in the area.
The afternoon we spent at the History Museum was informative and fun. We learned a lot about the Studebaker family and the early history of the automobile. When I thought about the Studebaker car before our trip today, I conjured up a picture of a relic from the past.
My thought process was sort of on the same plain as the old wringer washing machine or a record player, complete with vinyl forty-fives or albums. I forget how beautiful the cars were when they rolled off the assembly line. Strolling past these marvelous machines was a blast to the past. A reminder of the craftsmanship of another time.
Who is Molly Shea?
Molly Shea is an accomplished fictional short story writer from Indiana, who writes short stories and novels about a fictional town called Tecumseh. To read more of her short stories and adventures click here.
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