Some of my favorite touring destinations are museums. For those who are lifelong learners, there’s nothing quite like stopping into an institution that is dedicated to preserving a particular set of knowledge and gleaning everything you can from it. I’ve probably learned almost as much about the history of the United States from stopping at museums as I have from books and documentaries.
Some museums are better laid out or maintained than others, but all almost all of them that I have visited have a common energy from staff and volunteers that are passionate about their museum’s topic and mission.
National Corvette Museum
Location: Bowling Green, Ky.
The National Corvette Museum is simply awesome. Situated on a hill across State Route 446 from the General Motors Corvette plant, this museum tells the story of how the iconic Chevrolet Corvette model has evolved from the 1950s to present. For any sports car aficionado, seeing so many classic and neo-classic sports cars in one location is a one-of-a-kind experience. There’s also a part of the exhibit that’s about the sinkhole that caused part of the museum’s floor to collapse, swallowing several historic Corvettes in the process. Some of the cars have been restored after being excavated out of the rubble, while several are on display in their damaged, barely recognizable condition.
The museum is easy to access from I-65 and is a great stop on trips to places like Barber Motorsports Park, Circuit of the Americas and more.
AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame
Location: Pickerington, Ohio
The mission of the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame is to preserve the legacy of motorcycling in America, and its exhibit does a great job at accomplishing that mission. The two-story museum–located on the American Motorcyclist Association campus and housed in the former executive offices of the Physician’s Insurance Company of Ohio–has a variety of motorcycles and memorabilia from a wide range of motorcycle riding and racing disciplines. The exhibit also pays homage to the advocates that have helped protect motorcyclists’ rights and recounts the struggles motorcyclists have endured to keep public lands open, maintain access to public roads and parks and battle excessive motorcycle sound without ill-fated government intrusion. There’s a gallery where visitors can look through the names of the Hall of Fame’s inductees, as well as an exhibit about the most recent Hall of Fame Class.
The Hall of Fame’s location in Central Ohio makes it easy to access on a tour heading to the norther east coast. The AMA campus is located adjacent to Interstate 70 on the east side of the Columbus metro, and it’s just a short trip on I-270 to get there if your tour follows I-71.
AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame photos by Jen Muecke, downloaded from the AMA’s Smugmug Gallery
The Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum
Location: Birmingham, Ala.
This place is a must-stop for everyone, not just motorcyclists. The Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum is easily the largest motorcycle museum in the United States, and is worth seeing for its largess let alone the impressive collection of thousands of motorcycles on display. The collection spans more than 100 years of motorcycling history, and the museum is constructed with a large spiral walkway at its center. Floors branch off from the walkway and are organized by time period or topic. There’s also a sizable collection of Lotus race cars and spectacular views of the Barber Motorsports Park track, which was constructed along with the museum. The grounds of Barber are immaculately manicured and adorned in artwork, including the large metal spider near Turn 5 of the road course. This is a great place to stop on your way Daytona Bike Week, and there’s a big vintage motorcycle festival at the museum each fall.
Johnny Cash Museum
Location: Nashville, Tenn.
In addition to all the places to eat and things to see in Nashville, Tenn., the Johnny Cash Museum is a downtown gem. The museum tells the story of Cash’s legendary musical career, sheds light on his life off-stage and has lots of Cash memorabilia. The highlight of my visit was the last artifact I saw: what I call the “liar’s chair.” It’s the chair Cash sat in while recording the music video for his cover of Trent Reznor’s “Hurt.” The music video was very moving for me, and to see the chair in person was unreal.
National Packard Museum
Location: Warren, Ohio
This small but well-put-together museum about the Packard brand can be found on the northwest side of Warren, Ohio. I’m a little biased on this one, since I did my internship for my second master’s degree there. The permanent exhibit includes more than a dozen Packard cars from a variety of eras, as well as artifacts and a detailed history of how Packard’s electrical division grew into the modern Delphi corporation. While the Packard car factory was located in Detroit, Warren was the home of the factory in the 1900s and was where the Packard brothers grew up. And the museum is not devoid of two-wheeled artifacts, at least not all year long. One of its rotating exhibits is an annual motorcycle exhibit that goes up in January and is taken down about Memorial Day weekend.
Iowa 80 Trucking Museum
Location: Walcott, Iowa (near Davenport)
Located next to the iconic truck stop (which will be discussed in a future article), the Iowa 80 Trucking Museum tells the story of how trucking got its start in the United States and grew to the powerhouse industry it is today. The museum boasts an impressive collection of commercial trucks ranging from early 1900s lorries through modern-day big rigs. The timeline that’s presented near the museum entrance helps orient visitors to the evolution of trucking before they start looking at artifacts, and each truck on display has an information board with the truck’s specs. It was amazing to see how much trucks have evolved in terms of engine size and horsepower over the decades. Best of all, this museum is free of change to visit (donations are accepted and highly recommended).
It makes a great stop on any cross-country trip on I-80.