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Museum of Trucks & Time
In Middlebury a museum celebrates the transportation industry with galleries full of gleamingly restored big rigs - Macks, Studebakers, Dodge and Diamond vehicles - along with interactive children's exhibits, a reading room, special events, and even a "Truck of the Month."
It's called the Golden Age of Trucking Museum, but it might as well be called the museum of love, because this is a love story - about a man's passion for trucks, his love for a woman and their kids, and how his family fulfilled his dream after he was gone.
The airplane-hanger-sized museum was the brainchild of Dick Guerrera, who had loved trucks since he was a boy and grew up to run a successful trucking business. Along the way he also fell in love with Fran, then a thirty-year-old woman with five small children. For their honeymoon - well, you guessed it.
"We flew to California and we drove a Peterbilt back because he had to have a Peterbilt," Fran smiles as she remembers. "Because no one else had one on the East Coast."
Dick and Fran had one more child together, and they all grew to embrace his first love, spending family vacations on trips that always seemed to include a stop at a junkyard. "He would always say, `It'll just be a minute,' and we knew that was trouble," says his daughter Kathi Jones, with a gleam in her eye. "We would be there for a few hours. Now when I look back on it, how lucky we were - it was wonderful."
When his kids were mostly raised and his transport business was doing well, Dick began indulging his passion for vintage vehicles. Fran says he just couldn't pass by a tired old workhorse. "He would start seeing older trucks on the side of the road in disarray and that bothered him terribly! He just couldn't stand that. So he bought one that he had owned once and sold to someone else and then saw in disrepair on the side of the road. He bought it back and restored it, and that was the beginning."
Eventually Dick's collection grew to more than sixty rigs, mostly from the 1950s through the 1970s according to his pal and fellow "truck nut" Bob Manchester. "To us, the people who like diesel engines, the sound and the mystique and the power of them, the 1950s were truly the start of the golden age of trucking."
But Dick would not live to see the museum he had long imagines. Gravely ill with colon cancer, he did make it to one milestone. "It was Father's Day, and we all gathered here on the property he had purchased for the museum, and we brought him here in the ambulance," Fran says warmly. "We took him out of the ambulance and my son John took the shovel and we broke ground for his museum."
Not long after, Dick Guerrera passed away, and Fran decided on a fitting final tribute. "Jokingly, he would say, `When I die I want you to pro me up in one of the trucks.' We did the next best thing. We carried him to his resting place in the big orange truck you see over there."
And then his family built this museum. "It was my dad's dream," Kathi says, "so we just followed through on it because that's what he wanted. And because he wanted it, we wanted it."
Fran swears Dick's spirit permeates this place. "I buried Dick on our thirtieth wedding anniversary," she says. "We were together thirty years and I'll tell you, it was quite a ride. It really was."
Remember the days before Waterbury's Brass Mill Center mall, when the site at the junction of Route 8 and 84 was jammed with crumbling remnants of the Brass City's biggest industries? Sixty-five of those buildings were torn down, but one was saved. Once the executive offices of Scoville Manufacturing, it's now the Timexpo Museum, recalling the era when Waterbury's brass and clock-making industries merged and made Connecticut the leading clock-making region in the country.
Museum curator Carl Rosa grew up here and remembers those old factories. "Timex is a descendant of those companies, and the last American watch company headquartered in the U.S. We are tenants in a historic building, and we wanted to preserve its integrity while turning it into a top-flight museum." Timex's lab, accounting, and corporate offices are still in Middlebury.
The exhibit emphasizes the rich horological tradition of the Naugatuck Valley, where in the 1880s clockmakers, using brass inner workings, produced some of the most elaborate and now collectible clocks ever made. There are mantel and alarm clocks, hanging and grandfather clocks, boudoir and novelty clocks, calendar and carriage clocks. Carl searched far and wide, buying up the clocks made by Timex's ancestor, the Waterbury Clock Company.
Once a week or so you'll find Arthur Torrence here, repairing those fine old clocks. Now retired and a volunteer at the museum, Arthur loves the painstaking work and talking to visitors. "It's always been my hobby," he says. "I've been working on clocks since I was a kid. Most of them come in here in pretty bad condition." Before the brass mills turned out the making for metal inner workings of clocks, they were made from wood. "Actually, they kept time pretty well,' Arthur says. There are about thirteen hundred clocks in the collection. So far Arthur and other volunteers have refurbished about 40 percent of them.
"We're about as much a part of Waterbury's history as you can get and about as much a part of industrial history as you can get in the last two hundred years," says Louis Galie, the president of Timexpo. Interactive exhibits at the museum allow kids to design their own watches from cardboard, while their grandparents reminisce about the "torture tests" that John Cameron Swayze put Timex watches through - the one that "take a licking and keep on ticking."
If you wonder about the colossal statue outside, it's a replica of those created in places like Polynesia and Easter Island. Why is it here? Timex owners supported the explorations of Norwegian Thor Heyerdahl. In 1947 he traveled five thousand miles in a woven reed raft called Kon Tiki to try to prove that ancient man moved from one continent to the next using the ocean's currents as highways. Once floor of the museum is dedicated to Heyerdahl's controversial theories.
From the travels of early man, to the history of Connecticut's manufacturing heyday, to the timepieces of tomorrow (watches that download information from your computer or contain, store, and play two hours of your favorite music) - you'll find it all at the Timexpo Museum, a place that keeps on ticking through all the showers a summer in Connecticut might bring.
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