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Chuck's Big Adventure in Indiana: Auto museums, Sechler’s Pickles

Auburn, Indiana, is home to three iconic automobile museums.

AUBURN, Indiana — Indiana is full of incredible places waiting to be explored, so Chuck's latest Big Adventure has him checking out great destinations close to home!

Early Ford V-8 Foundation Museum

Driving on the fast-paced section of I-69 near Auburn, it would be very easy to miss the Early Ford V-8 Foundation Museum. To miss this though, would be a shame because this museum is one of Indiana's best kept secrets.

The museum is very specific: It features Fords with V-8 engines from 1932-1953, and these cars are very different. They are big, with bold features and strong driving power, and they are also unforgettable.

To walk through the different sections of the museum is to not only go back in time but also to a place that will never exist again. These cars bring back a majestic style in an era when car brands were truly different.

There are three phases to the museum. Those phases house the beautiful cars, a replica dealership and a service garage. 

Most visitors see these cars and feel a need to preserve them. For the museum staff to do that means getting young people involved.

Nate Fluke is excited about teaching the value of these cars to a new generation. 

"By 2023, we will have a youth program going full steam. If we don't get the youth involved, these cars are not going to matter to anybody in 20 years," Fluke said. "If we don't get them interested in the cars and get them to see the uniqueness of every one of these cars ... it's not the same as the Ford Focuses that are out there. They only made so many of these. A lot of this stuff was done by hand. It was not all automated. Once you start explaining it to these kids, they get it really quick of how difficult it was and the effort that was put in to manufacture."

The museum really encourages families with children to come for the prior stated reasons, but also because kids can see things they will never see on the road. 

The cars here are sleek and shiny, and each one has a different story. Style makes these cars unique, but from 1932-1953, Ford used the popular flathead engines, and that's the commonality of these cars. 

Visitors can see the garage area where these huge autos are fixed but also go back to 1936 and experience what it was like to buy a car at a dealership at that time.

Credit: WTHR
The Early Ford V-8 Foundation Museum displays cars from 1932-1953 with bold features and strong driving power.

Speaking of 1936, the collection of 1936 Ford sedans, including a rare one made of stainless steel, is on display, and it is jaw-dropping.

Donated by Joe Floyd, the stainless-steel car is one of a collection but is easily the most photographed in the museum. It is a rare look and a once-in-a-lifetime experience to check out this car.

"I think there's only four left. There were six in 1936 punched out. The thing with a stainless-steel car is they destroyed the dyes when they were done. They just couldn't punch that many of them," Fluke said. "The whole car is stainless except for the frame ... As you can see, even the insides of the doors were stained."

Count on spending a good bit of time at the Early Ford V-8 Foundation Museum. The staff will answer questions, you can take all the pictures you'd like and you'll enjoy seeing the largest collection of these Fords anywhere.

It's a great way to see history, have dialogue and fall in love with this wonderful part of Indiana automotive history.

Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum

For luxury car lovers, Auburn, Indiana, is a slice of heaven. Thousands of visitors from around the world visit this DeKalb County town every year to take a trip back nearly 100 years. For decades, the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum has displayed the rare cars that defined luxury automobiles.

Walking into the museum is a breathtaking experience. There are more than 120 cars that go back as far as 1894 inside the immaculate display areas on two floors. This destination tourist spot has the most extensive collections of Indiana-made Auburn, Cord and Duesenberg automobiles in the world. The museum is in the same building where engineers, executives and line workers produced — by hand — some of the most beautiful cars ever made.

"I call us an automotive 'Mecca.' This is kind of our automotive church," said Brandon Anderson, the museum's executive director. "This is the original international headquarters of the Auburn automobile company, opened up in 1930, and one of the greatest examples of Art Deco architecture in the Midwest."

Every person visiting will have a different car that is their favorite, but one car in particular is so rare, that is a fan favorite and a must-see.

"It just means so much, the history behind it, what it represents and its connection to the museum. So, this is the first-ever passenger-built Duesenberg sold to the public," Anderson said. "There were two prototype vehicles prior to this one, but this was the first one that was sold. It was sold to a Mr. Samuel Northrup Castle, who was part of a missionary family and sugar cooperative group in Hawaii. He ordered this Duesenberg Straight 8 first with the straight 8 engine. He had the bender body company of Ohio create the body that he penned himself. Mr. Castle was 7 feet tall and over 300 pounds."

Credit: WTHR
Chuck's favorite car at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum was a 1937 Cord 812.

My favorite car is a beautiful, white luxury Cord car that looks like it came from "The Great Gatsby" era. The 1937 Cord 812 is in pristine condition with luxurious features most cars don't even have now.

"These cars are very unique, and that's something that we tell throughout the museum, that in the small town of Auburn, Indiana, with the Auburn automobile company, there were a lot of technological firsts, innovative- and design-firsts — they all happened here," Anderson said. "For example with the Cord 810 and 812, this is the first car in history to have hidden headlights. There are two separate cranks that you crank open those headlights. You also notice the elimination of the front grille here, rather, they decided to do what's called more of a coffin nose design, and that's where the airflow would go through the car."

The museum has different programs and events for every taste, but the heart of its purpose is the beautiful cars and how Indiana was producing the most expensive, exclusive automobiles in the nation.

National Automotive & Truck Museum

In the back of the Auburn Cord Duesenberg facility is the beautiful National Automotive & Truck Museum. The showrooms are huge. It has 80,000 square feet and 190 beautiful and rare trucks and cars.

A youth program brings young people into the facility to learn how to fix and appreciate these vehicles. 

The building houses a potpourri of vehicles, including prototype cars and trucks, muscle cars, vintage gas and oil pumps, and rare finds that may leave you questioning what you are really seeing.

For me, the star of the show was the rare GM Futurliner. More bus than train, more truck than car, the Futurliner is one of only 12 made.

Don Monosmith is a volunteer who is the expert on the 1936 vehicle. 

"It was kind of inspired by the World’s Fair [Columbian Exposition] in Chicago, and they saw that people were so hungry to learn about technology that they thought, 'Let's put the World Fair on the road,'" Monosmith said. "Each one would feature something that GM did, like home appliances, you know, 'the kitchen of tomorrow,' a jet engine because they built jet engines, cars, trucks, locomotives, all things they’re promoting [with] GM being ahead of everybody else in technology."

Monosmith drives the Futurliner to special events around the country, where visitors can see and touch it. What a treat to see this futuristic vehicle, as modern-looking now as it was 80 years ago.

Auburn is a celebration of cars, family-friendly activities throughout the year and exhibits that span the test of time. What an adventure!

Sechler’s Pickles

Independent businesses in Indiana are rarer now as opposed to 50 years ago. To exist — especially in the food arena — it takes resilience, confidence and loyal customers.

The folks at Sechler’s Pickles have been perfecting the art of making a great pickle for more than a century. The small factory in St. Joe, Indiana, employs a couple dozen people who have perfected their craft and have served generations of families.

We visited on a cold, wintry day, and despite the chill, crews were hard at work with gherkins, hamburger dills and several other varieties being processed and put in jars.

We visited two workers in the bitter cold outside who were curing the pickles, then, went inside, where the sweetening, rinsing, cutting, and jarring took place. It was an impressive operation and one the factory — through its change in ownerships — has perfected.

And for many, it’s truly a family affair. Sechler’s President Max Troyer said, “We’ve got husbands and wives that have worked here 30 years. We’ve got multi-generational fathers and daughters that work there. And a lot of high school kids over the years, summer jobs, a lot of high schoolers have worked here or college students," said Max Troyer, president of Sechler's Pickles. "There is a lot of family and a lot of connections with the community."

The pickle business is competitive, and Sechler's, with their distribution network, online presence, and factory store is hanging in there. Now that people will be going outside once spring comes, the business expects to see orders go up as people want to properly dress their hamburgers and hot dogs.

There are over 50 — that's right, 50 — different Sechler’s products to choose from: some sweet, some sour and some hot. 

If you can't make the drive to St. Joe to check out the store, all of their products are available online, and since they are shipped in state, the pickles can get to your door very quickly.

I was so impressed by the hard work of the people and the quality of the product. I would have never thought pickle-making was an adventure, but it truly was a wonderful experience and another reason why our state is so great.

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