Calgary museum instills childlike wonder with its classic cars and relics of a bygone era
Stunningly restored cars of every colour. Gleaming gas pumps. Glowing, neon oil signs from a simpler and more romantic era.
A visitor to massive Heritage Park on the south side of this Alberta city arrives expecting to find costumed folks baking cookies in an old-style oven or wizened blacksmiths with beards as bushy as an NHL player in June leaning over an open fire.
Instead, he finds not only a cool train, a lake with a steamboat and restored homes in a country village, but something called Gasoline Alley, where a guy like me, who thought he’d given up his love of automobiles, walks in and grins like a kid given his first red Hot Wheels Corvette.
The place is gobsmackingly beautiful; alive with pulsating neon and wild colours. I was particularly taken with a couple old cars of a make I wasn’t familiar with: a 1932 baby blue Auburn just screamed out “snazzy” — or maybe it was “gangster.” Either way, it got my attention; as did a bright orange 1931 Cord L-29 convertible with a long, rakish hood and whitewall tires so shiny you could use the reflection to comb your hair. It’s been restored to look like architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s car.
Other models and makes left a non-expert on vintage cars stumped: a red and black “Little” and a 1915 “Locomobile,” one of several rare automobiles and trucks on display. Other one-of-a-kind vehicles include a 1912 Benz Gaggenau Truck decorated as a Shell Oil gas tanker and a cool 1928 Auburn pickup truck in Maple Leaf blue; apparently the only one of its kind in the world.
Local businessman Ron Carey, who did, you know, reasonably well in the oil and mining business and was an avid car collector, donated 67 vehicles to Heritage Park. He also passed along dozens of spectacular gas pumps, giving Gasoline Alley what’s said to be the largest collection of restored pumps in the world.
You’ll find towering pumps as tall as Shaquille O’Neal with names such as White Rose or Tri-Star Red Hat. Not to mention sleek, retro signs from the likes of Black Cat, Polly (complete with a glowing neon parrot that Jimmy Buffett would just adore) and Frontier, which had the slogan “Rarin’ to go.”
Guests can check out a pretend drive-in theatre, explore a 1930s service station and learn the rules of the road while cruising on a tricycle (sorry, kids only).
The Carey collection (including vehicles, gas pumps, signs, and oil and gas memorabilia) is valued at more than $5 million.
Better still, you’ll feel like a millions bucks just touring the place.
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