Driving America will offer a brand-new opportunity for kids to pretend they’re auto mechanics. And what better place for this to occur than inside the service bay of the Texaco station—a space that’s been closed to the public since this historic building was brought to Henry Ford Museum in 1987?
Inside this newly-opened space, kids will be able to change tires and mufflers, check fluids and filters, and use a creeper to glide under a ¾-scale, 1960s-era car. Our Education team has made sure that these activities are safe, easy to understand, and age-appropriate.
But the curators got a different assignment: create the atmosphere of an auto garage from the 1960s era using real artifacts. We are, after all, a history museum. We pride ourselves on authenticity. And we wanted to include real objects that adults could relate to and talk about with kids who had never heard of things like rust-proofing.
But how to go about creating that atmosphere?
We looked at old pictures of service bay interiors (there weren’t many). We shared our memories (or those of our husbands or fathers) of old auto garage interiors. We considered what was available from our own collection and what could be acquired through outside sources. (The designation “NOS” on eBay turned out to be a goldmine to the world of “new old stock” auto accessories.)
Just furnishing the space as a look-in would have been easy, but the ultimate challenge was that people would be entering this space, potentially touching and interacting with these items. So we determined that some things would be placed low and would invite touching (like the hubcaps), while rarer items, like the license plates, would be placed higher up.
It’s sometimes hard for us literal-minded curators to think about how to furnish a space that’s “just pretend”…but that’s what we tried to do here.
Do you have any memories of old full-service stations like our Texaco one, or remember hearing details of them from your parents or grandparents? Share them in the comments section below – and be sure to check out the Texaco Service Bay when “Driving America” opens this Sunday, January 29!
Donna Braden, Curator of Public Life, is always looking forward to her next unusual assignment.