When I visited the Forney Museum of Transportation yesterday, the opening day for the Phenomenal Ford Falcon exhibition, I took an eight-year-old boy with me because no one is tougher to keep entertained. Upon leaving he turned to me and said, "That place was so awesome. First, from the outside, it looked all small. But then you got in there and ka-boom! A huge amount of awesomeness."
I was lucky enough to go on a guided tour with Forney director Christof Kheim, so as we walked through the enormous warehouse of transportation marvels, he explained some of the history and background to me. (Contain your jealousy -- my guided tour comes at the expense of a career promising no money, little prospects and probable failure. What can I say? I'll take my perks where I can get them. Also, you can call and set up a group tour.)
Kheim explained that the Forney museum was started by JD Forney, who invented the first instant-heat soldering iron. The history is actually pretty complex, but the basic jist is that Forney often traded farm welding equipment for old cars farmers had lying around. Before you knew it, Forney had a collection.
Today, after relocating from it's original place at the Denver Tramway Powerhouse (the REI building), the Forney museum has a collection of antique bicycles, including a model of the first bicycle, a collection of vintage Honda motorcycles, a collection of Indian motorcycles, an assortment of antique cars, amphibious cars, one car that can go on land, sea, and in air (like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, except made out of plywood) and, most recently, a couple of travelling three-month long exhibitions, like the Ford Falcons (to be followed by vintage Mercedez Benzes). Plus, a bunch of awesome trains, including one of the original Big Boy steam locomotives. Here are just a few of the many things one can learn about (there are helpful plaques and posters everywhere to aid in a tour without Kheim):
1963 Ford Falcon, Futura Convertable
Forget going green. Cars should look like this again
There are many beautiful cars in the Ford Falcon exhibit -- including a ranchero pickup, a van and a station wagon, but this 1963 model is the only car in the exhibit in original condition. " A lot of these cars are not stock," Kheim explained. "They are modified. Most have the wrong wheels or paint on them. They're beautiful, but this model is entirely unrestored." Wright Brothers wax figures
Stare into Orville's eyes and learn the secrets of the universe. If you dare...
One of the things most people mention when they talk about the Forney is the wax sculptures. There's one of Mark Twain and Huck Finn, one of Buffalo Bill, various sculptures of women, dressed in vintage clothing. "Rachael Forney [JD Forney's wife] collected the vintage clothing," Kheim said. "She would even dress all the passengers, when they would go out on rides, in the period clothing from when the car was built." Kheim also said that he sometimes has to let kids know that the figures are not real--specifically these figures, the Wright Brothers. "The last building had no climate control at all, so a lot of the figures aren't very "pretty" anymore," notes Kheim. Perhaps not, but they still lend a uniqueness to the museum as a whole. Cable cars
Denver's first MallRide.
According to Kheim, this cable car is the last known surviving cable car from the olden times, when cable cars used to run up 15th street. This model is from 1888. Motorcycles
This motorcycle is older than your grandmother.
The only thing I know about Indian motorcycles is that Anthony Hopkins starred in a movie about one and that, at the time it was first made, it was way better than a Harley. The history of the bike is of course, much more intricate, and this model is the oldest in the collection at the Forney -- a 1913. Guess the car
Westword's best guess: the world's first Smart Car
Kheim won't tell me what car this is, because he thinks I will tell all of you. He's right of course, so if you go to the museum, guess what model you think this crushed-up block of metal is yourself. According to Kheim, the headlights and fender are a dead giveaway. Don't guess '95 Geo though -- I know for a fact that's not correct. Trains
Trains are awesome, and the Big Boy (pictured above) may be the most well-known train at the Forney. The locomotive, the largest steam engine ever built, was donated by Union Pacific and is one of only eight that remain today. Wacky innovations
Not a jet engine.
The cylinder attached to the car is an air conditioner. How crazy is that? The air conditioner is just one of many small marvels at the Forney, displayed in or around the vehicles.
This snow plow goes on the front of a steam engine and helps the engine to push through snow. The snow plow is one of many train-related curiosities, including a crane, an antique railroad bell and restored dining carts.
"We try and change out the cars every six to nine months," Kheim said as we exited the museum. "We host parties and events -- we try and be more than just a museum." Even if it were, the trip is certainly worth the time.
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Forney Transportation Museum, open Mon-Fri 10:00-4:00, 4303 Brighton Blvd., www.forneymuseum.org