By Susan Van Arsdale
Published May 27, 2021 in The Burg
The Wheels O’ Time in Dunlap is one of those hidden gems of Central Illinois. As you
drive by you think it might be a railroad museum because there is a huge, real train in its front yard. Visitors can explore the engine, the passenger cars and even a caboose!
However, once you get inside you can see that this museum is so much more. In the first
building (there are six buildings now) a 1927 Cadillac, one of three in the entire world, greets
you along with the Jumers’ car collection and many cars of local families who just store them there. Lucky for the museum!
Then you look up and see airplanes hung from the ceiling with more history. So it’s a
museum of travel. Well, yes, but it is more. There is an entire room filled with clocks. Upstairs is a barbershop, train models that run, a time line of telephones, a research library with typewriters that work, a historic golf display, and so much more.
Our tour guides, Bill and Bobbi Rice said, “The history of Peoria is here.” There is even a section about the river and models of steamboats.
One of my favorite displays was of tine army men in a glass case. There were over a
hundred of them. The man who donated the collection went to the dime store as a young boy and bought the “army man of the week,” and his collection grew. His family gave it to the museum.
The first building is amazing, but it doesn’t stop there. The second building is full of
firetrucks and bicycles, a sewing display a Christmas room and even a small Star Wars section.
Just outside the door is a walkway to the LeTourneau Steel House, built in the 1930’s. Laura, our new tour guide, said she loved the steel house. “It is so cute.” She was fortunate to get to help decorate it with time period pieces. Walls inside and out are made of steel. These “tiny houses” weren’t in production very long because of the war and the shortage of steel.
This museum began in 1977 when two men built the first building and began to restore
their Packards there. At first it was a private business, funded by stockholders. It actually opened to the public in 1983.
As it evolved, stockholders turned in their shares so the museum could become a not-for-profit organization. It is run by three part time employees and many volunteers who love the history that surrounds them.
Bill Rice worked at Caterpillar many years, and had lots of stories to tell about the pieces
of the museum and how they came to be there. One building is for tractors that have a Caterpillar history. One tractor, called the Best was built in 1924. The Best company and the Holt company merged and formed the original Caterpillar company. A few years after the museum opened a man walked through and said, “I have Holt tractor sitting out in my barn. Would you like to have it?” Of course the answer was yes. Now the two tractors sit side by side in the Wheels O’ Time museum, teaching visitors about the beginnings of Caterpillar.
That seems to be how the museum works. People visit, people donate and volunteer, and the museum grows. For example, the local Ford Motor Club has a fantastic display, The Heart of Illinois Fire Enthusiasts and Collector Club restored the firetrucks, another gentleman works on the airplanes, another group keeps up the farm displays. Many individuals and organizations
have had a part in building this museum. Rice said, “It all works together.”
There is something here for all ages. There are many interactive displays where kids can push buttons, type on the typewriters, guess answers, ride in pedal cars and learn a little bit of history. Adults can do the same, as they walk through and remember. It is all wheel chair accessible.
The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday from noon till 5:00 through October.
Take an afternoon to explore and then grab a pizza from Knuckles next door. I hear it’s the best.