This past Saturday, Nov. 2, the Boyertown Museum of Historic Vehicles unveiled its newest exhibit: a Sunoco gas station. This station has been refurbished to look like it would have in 1921.
Numerous volunteers worked hard over the past few months to restore the station to make it look as accurate as possible and to add to the theme of the museum for this ribbon cutting event. The museum itself contains dozens of automobiles of various makes and models built during the first half of the 20th century. All of the automobiles and wagons on display at the museum were manufactured either in Boyertown or in neighboring cities.
The gas station itself was not very large, compared to today’s stations. Now, a typical Wawa or Turkey Hill station will have eight to twelve gas pumps, where this on only had two. This exhibit also sheds light on the difference between gasoline prices from 1921 versus what they are today. The price listed on this exhibit for a gallon of gasoline is 17 cents while the average price for a gallon of gasoline today is about $3.30.
Another interesting facet about the exhibit was what was inside the station itself. In the back right corner, a small wood burning stove sat which would have been used to heat the station during the winter. A reconstructed display counter featuring tire valve cores, among other items for sale, demonstrated what could be found inside the station. All these elements help visitors feel like they are standing in a Sunoco gas station nearly 90 years ago (it should be noted too that at this point in time, Sunoco was known as the Sun Oil Company).
Although this particular Saturday was special because of the ribbon cutting to commence the new exhibit, the museum has much more to offer in terms of local history. Arguably one of Boyertown’s greatest contributions to the country, the Boyertown Auto Body Works manufactured many of the automobiles on display at the museum. Before the company made truck bodies, however, it made carriages. Once automobiles became a more popular mode of transportation for people, the Boyertown Carriage Works, as it was known back then, switched from making carriages to cars. At the beginning of the 20th century, it produced many of the cars and trucks on the road all across the country.
One of the first truck bodies the company built was Ford’s Model “T” Touring, one of the most iconic cars in American history. The Model T was manufactured because it was easy to make and easily affordable, making it highly sought after. In fact, by 1915 two out of every three cars on the road was a Ford. There is a particular Model T on display at the museum from 1915 which was the first of its kind to boast electric lights which ran off of energy from the motor, a relatively unheard of function for an automobile at the time.
The Model T is not the only Ford the museum has on display. It also displays a truck which was used as a mobile butcher station, traveling from home to home to make grocery shopping more convenient. The Ford truck on display, manufactured in 1936, mainly sold meats, however other produce items were available upon request.
Another valuable piece of American history the museum houses is an international United States Marine Corps ambulance, made in 1942. The one on display in the museum is one of two reported still in existence. The vehicle was used in World War II by the marines in the Pacific Theatre. Most of the other ambulances were left there or abandoned in the waters of the Pacific Ocean.
The Boyertown Museum of Historical Vehicles also hosts an exhibit honoring one of the areas more prominent citizens, Charles Duryea. Although his company went bankrupt, there are several restored Duryea model cars on display which were manufactured during the early 1900s. Duryea’s manufacturing plant was originally located in Reading, PA, but was moved to Philadelphia after he suffered some financial setbacks. Interestingly enough, when he operated out of Reading, he made sure all the cars he manufactured were test driven before they could go to the showroom. Duryea Drive, in Reading, was the road he used to test his automobiles. At this time, test driving every car that came off the line was almost unheard of, but Duryea wanted to certify that his cars would work. Interestingly enough he had his daughter, Rhea, test drive the cars for him. Rhea learned to drive at 15 and was one of the youngest women to learn how to drive at the time.
There is a lot to learn and observe at the Boyertown Museum of Historic Vehicles, beyond the local history. Dozens of classic automobiles, a few motorcycles, and even wagons which are remnants of the Boyertown Carriage Works are on display for visitors to observe. It is a place for people of all ages to come and enjoy, especially for those with a passion for automobiles and history.