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LeMay Car Museum clicks with "Route 66"

Life on the road comes alive in Tacoma

Families got their kicks driving old Route 66. Photo credit: Joan Brown

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Whether you have kids, house guests or nostalgia, now is the perfect time to gather up the gang and head for the exhibit, "Route 66: Dream of the Mother Road," at LeMay - America's Car Museum (ACM) in Tacoma. For almost 60 years, America got its kicks on Route 66, and you will, too.

Until it was replaced by the new federal highway system in 1985, US 66 was one of the most famous roads in America. This great diagonal 2,448-mile-long highway ran across three time zones, from Chicago to Los Angeles by way of Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.

A wall map at the beginning of the exhibit begins the visitor's journey, just as plotting the route on a car trip still does for many of us. No MapQuest in those days! You'll see vintage maps and brochures of the times as well. Along with the scenic panoramas of the countryside, there are informational panels, display doors to open, and QR codes for those who want to learn even more. Visitors can also share their experiences with #greetings from ACM on social media.

A changing display of 11 different cars from the 1920s through the 1960s lines one wall of the exhibit. There's a 1922 Ford Model T Touring Car, 1931 Plymouth PA Roadster, 1946 Ford Super Deluxe Convertible, 1954 Pontiac Chieftain Deluxe 8 Station Wagon and a 1953 Corvette Convertible. My favorites were the station wagons from the times when our military family was making its way from one new home to another.

On the opposite wall, computer-generated wraps of roadside attractions take you past teepee-shaped motels, reptile farms, diners, Indian trading posts, frozen custard stands, non-stop advertisements and old-fashioned gas stations, all of which fascinated tourists sufficiently in the day to at least delay the inevitable, "Are We There Yet?" question. Chief Curator Scot Keller recalls how eager he was as a young boy to have a pair of Indian moccasins from one of those trading posts, a treasured souvenir the family finally agreed to let him have.

>>> Vintage gas pumps from the ACM's Museum's "Route 66" exhibit. Photo by Joan Brown

Keller was just as eager when he was designing the "Mother Road" exhibit and noticed a 1956 Ford Thunderbird parked in Gig Harbor that would be great for display. He immediately went up to the owner and asked, "Can I borrow your car?" Just as immediately, the owner said, "Sure."

Next he contacted a man who restores vintage gas pumps to ask, "May I borrow your gas pumps?" And visitors are enjoying the fruits of all this borrowing by being able to see so many of the real things first hand.

A stop at the Family Zone in the museum is enough to make you want to be a little kid again. Who wouldn't want to step onto the running board and climb into a 1923 Dodge, older than a Model T, where you can not only blow a horn that really works but rev up a motor that makes real engine sounds as you begin your imagined drive to Mount Rainier.

Next, the whole family can learn how cars work by exploring a chassis with exposed parts.  Kids can also test their skills with a simulated drive behind the wheel of a car. Last, but not least, kids of all ages can race pinewood cars on a track and experiment with the science of speed.

Wrapping up your visit, be sure not to miss the current (extended through Memorial Day) display of vintage Volkswagens, "VeeDub: Bohemian Beauties," Germany's version of the affordable transportation that Henry Ford had brought to America in his Model T. Not only are all the variations of the VW displayed, from the Beetle to the Karmann Ghia, but if you tire of looking at campers, jeeps, buses, or race cars and want one last "kick," just take another fun walk through the history and geography of a significant part of the last century, a slice of iconic Americana as it was shaped by the automobile on Route 66.

LeMay - America's Car Museum

Directions: From I-5,take Exit 133 I-705/City Center to East 26th Street/Tacoma Dome. Museum is at 2702 E. D St., Tacoma.

Hours: Daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Admission: Adult (Age 13-64) - $14; Senior (Age 65) Student/Military - $12; Youth (Age 5-12) - $8; Child: (under 5) and members - free; Groups: Adult groups (10 or more) - $10; School groups (10 or more) - $5

Discounts: AAA members and State Farm policyholders and employees: 10%

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