I’ve always been mesmerized by highway signs and fascinated by the history of big highways. There’s also big nostalgia, because Dad loved highway driving and road trips. He was the sole driver on the Trans-Canada highway between Vancouver and Calgary or on US Interstate-5 to Bellingham and Seattle. How obvious is it then, that a deep yearning for open roads comes directly from my father.
The following is a part of day 8 (of 17) in our drive through the American Southwest.
We set out on a day trip from Santa Fe to Taos and Taos Pueblo, with a scenic drive on New Mexico highway NM-68, the “low road” or “river road” along the Rio Grande river between Española and Taos. With low light in the morning hour, we didn’t see it when we drove north to Taos. But on our mid-afternoon return on the low road, we found the Classical Gas Museum in the small town of Embudo. We pulled into an open sandy rocky patch, marvelling at the collection in front of rusting gas pumps and a wooden building resembling a historic gas station.
The Classical Car Museum is owned and run by Johnnie Meier who is a retired scientist and former employee at the nearby Los Alamos National Laboratory. His interest and collection grew to the point where he needed more space. Reading about the museum is one thing, but it’s no match for seeing in person his extensive collection of memorabilia, including whole and partial gas pumps, highway signage, oil cans, gas company signage, license plates, a model gas station, a working vintage Coca-Cola cooler, a classic car or two, an entire “pre-fab” diner building, and a mascot for a once thriving restaurant-chain. From within the building, it’s the glow which provides further fuel for interest, and once inside, the neon and warm illumination of symbols and signs combine for the inevitable “wow!” Altogether, it’s a broad mix of elements from mid 20th-century American history which is all about highway-driving and open-road nostalgia. There’s a saying about how someone’s junk is somebody else’s treasure, but the entire collection deserves careful cataloguing and a larger permanent building. A new museum would be fitting somewhere along the old US-66 highway. Santa Rosa, NM is a leading candidate, but other cities in the state are also possible.
For now, the museum is located next to highway NM-68 in Embudo; the coordinates are 36.209102 degrees North, 105.951658 degrees West. The museum sits on 0.81 hectare (2 acres) of Meier’s land, and the museum building is 93 square metres (1000 square feet) in size. There is no admission charge, though donations are most welcome, especially for the local animal shelter. You might want to call ahead (505-852-2995) to see if Meier is around in case the building is closed.
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