USA mechanic Danny Otis shows Arthur and Terry Hattermann of Bartonville,
Ill., the engine of a Franklin coach. The father and son are restoring
an old Ford and stopped at the museum while traveling from their
lake home at Camdenton. Unlike many other car museums visitors to
the Rolla museum are free to wander around Memoryville's restoration
Car museums are one roadside
attraction that appeal to some people and not to others. Many antique
car enthusiasts thrill at seeing row after row of historic automobiles.
Others would rather see the old cars revving back to life. One Missouri
museum offers something for everyone.
The top floor of Memoryville
USA, a rambling, four-story complex just north of Rolla, offers
the usual static displays of automobiles. There sits early 20th-century
buggies, luxurious coaches by Rolls Royce and Bentley, examples of long-lost
marques like Stutz, LaSalle and Pierce Arrow and even celebrity-owned
cars, including Paul Harveys Nash and a white Cadillac convertible
owned by Donna Douglas, who played Elly Mae on TVs The Beverly
But theres nothing
static about what waits at the end of a self-guided tour of the museum.
Wind your way down the stairs and through two more floors of exhibits
and youll find men bringing old cars back to life. Although the
door to the shop is marked Employees only, during the workweek
visitors are welcome to enter, wander around and observe.
The cars upstairs are
just museum pieces, artifacts. Here theyre living, breathing machines,
or at least in the process, says Charles Meeks of Pittsburg, Kans.,
who toured the museum recently. For me theres a lot more
life in this than just looking at a car sitting still.
cars await the restoration process in Memoryville's warehouse.
Theres no shortage
of activity at Memoryville USA, one of the premiere automobile restorers
in the United States. The business, which employs 18 people, attracts
clients from all over America and even overseas.
At one time years ago
we declared ourselves to be the largest in the United States. Anymore
thats probably surpassed. Its hard to tell, says Steve
Carney, who oversees the shop founded by his father, George Carney,
in the early 1970s.
However it ranks in the world
of antique autos its clear the Rolla shop attracts plenty of work.
At any given time dozens of cars sit in various stages of restoration
in Memoryvilles baffling maze of workshops.
Through good times
and bad weve always kept busy, says Steve. Right now
were bombarded. Were at least six months behind on work.
shop is a beehive of activity. A master woodworker rebuilds the coachwork
body of a 1928 Buick, while in the next room a nearly identical 28
Pontiac sees the final stages of reassembly. One 1920s Franklin receives
minor engine maintenance while the bare frame of another Franklin sits
two cars away on blocks. Like worker ants bringing home the stores,
mechanics continuously stop by with meticulously refurbished parts to
add to the careful arrangement of components forming alongside and underneath
Memoryville's master woodworker, rebuilds the body of a 1928 Buick.
The son of the original owner is having the car restored as a birthday
present for his mother.
A pair of legs emerges from
below a 62 Corvette as a mechanic makes final adjustments to the
classic show car, which has been lovingly restored to showroom originality.
Meanwhile other workers update a 1950s Plymouth with modern air conditioning.
The diversity of automobiles
and the variety of work performed is typical of this shop, which offers
virtually any service a car nut requires.
Some people want a
ground-up restoration. Thats when we take the whole car apart
into a million pieces and build it from the ground up, Steve says.
Some people come in and they just may have an itemized list of
work to do. Some people do part of the work themselves and we do part
of it, back and forth.
Seeing all this work performed
makes the Memoryville USA museum tour a must-stop for car enthusiasts
I know quite a bit
about cars but theres things I dont know about. The metalwork
for example, the upholstery work, the woodwork, says Meeks who
made a special stop at the museum while traveling to St. Louis. Ive
never seen any of that done. Its neat for me to be able to watch
somebody who actually knows what theyre doing.
receiving a complete restoration are stripped down to their chassis
craftsmen work recalls his own mechanical efforts, he says.
My first car was a
29 Model A, Meeks, 57, says. I was just a kid in high
school. I worked on it and didnt know what I was doing and broke
things. Ever since then Ive thought it would be neat to have a
car that was old and yet all new and operates like it should.
Surprisingly, this enthusiasm
for old cars was not always common.
was a time when you couldnt hardly give these things away,
says George Carney, who launched Memoryville USA. Nobody wanted
Long before opening the shop
George bought old cars for next to nothing and restored them. Some he
hauled out of fields. Others he found stored in barns. One such car
had been used in a Chicago bank robbery and was partly disassembled
and stashed behind a stack of lumber.
I was crazy about old
cars. It gets in your blood or something, he says.
Carney and his son Steve have restored hundreds of antique cars
since Memoryville USA opened.
Despite his interest in cars
George didnt set out to make his living from them. His father
was a prominent Phelps County businessman who owned hotels and theaters,
started a bank and was once mayor of Rolla. George followed in the family
business and operated the Pennant Hotel, which stood at the Highway
63/Interstate 44 exchange next to where Memoryville USA now lures visitors
with an enormous Autos of Yesteryear sign.
But George kept his hands
greasy, restoring cars in the basement of the hotel. As his collection
grew he dreamed of starting a museum. In 1970 he sold the hotel and
launched his restoration business. Naturally, he placed his personal
collection of old cars on display in a first floor museum. He also recreated
turn-of-the-century Rolla with displays of antique storefronts, including
artifacts from his grandfathers general store and his fathers
El Caney Hotel.
As interesting as the museum
is, its clear that the restoration shop is the center of the business.
Because each job is so different
neither Carney is willing to say what a typical restoration costs but
its common for a complete restoration to total $20,000 to $40,000
or more. And Memoryville doesnt provide estimates anyway. Customers
pay by the month $32 per hour plus materials and receive
a detailed description of work performed, a parts list and a set of
photographs documenting a projects progress.
USA in Rolla is best known as a car museum but visitors can also
tour the facilitys restoration shop.
Everybody just loves
the photographs, Steve says. Most people will turn them
into a scrapbook.
The Carneys both members of Intercounty Electric Cooperative
are also reluctant to say how many cars they restore each year.
Its not for reasons of secrecy, though. Its just too hard
to pin down.
There will be some
months that none go out. Then all of a sudden well have two or
three, Steve says. It just depends on what were doing
A show-quality, ground-up
restoration typically takes the longest, often two years or more. Occasionally,
less involved jobs draw out even longer if the client is only able to
pay a set amount each month or asks Steve to set the job aside for a
Often, Steve says, customers
bring cars that hold a special meaning. Like the 38 Nash that
Paul Harveys wife, Angel, was driving when the couple first met,
these cars bring back memories. The 28 Buick in the wood shop
is being restored for the son of the woman who bought the car new. He
hopes to present it to her on her 95th birthday.
of the many parts storage rooms at Memoryville USA is filled to
the brim with antique car wheels.
Theres a sentimental
reason why people restore most of these cars. Mom and Pop got
married in it. I went to school in one like that,
Steve says, recalling some of the reasons clients offer for restoring
a car. Its a physical thing that reminds them of a certain
time in their life.
Not surprisingly, as the
years march on the notion of what constitutes a classic car has evolved.
Cars that were rolling off the showroom floor when the shop first opened
are now coming in for restoration.
When I was a kid it
was all the older cars, the teens, 20s, 30s, some 40s.
Now were getting a lot of 50s, 60s and a little bit
of 70s, Steve says. It hit me not too long along ago
that here we are restoring a muscle car that you could have bought for
a few hundred dollars when I was 16 and didnt think it would be
worth that much.
Still, Steve says, he and
his father prefer the older cars.
Every time I see a
Model T I wilt, George says. I love Model Ts. They were
made to last back then.
While the Memoryville
USA museum is open every day, those interested in touring the shop should
visit Monday through Friday. For more information call (573) 364-1810.
1929 Franklin is just one of many classic cars visitors will find
behind the giant "Autos of Yesteryear" sign on Highway
63 in Rolla.