At the Great Race Automotive Hall of Fame in Granbury the show cars are more than museum pieces. Each car has been restored to running order and has participated in the Great American Race. The 11 cars and one motorcycle in the exhibit chronicle the early years of the great American love affair with the automobile.
The most unusual car in the collection is a 1914 Finley, Robertson and Porter (FRP) racing car. The company built only five prototypes of the car before concentrating on building car chassis, says Keith Fleshman, manager of the Hall of Fame. The FRP on display is the only one left.
Another unique car in the collection is a 1902 Moores racing car. The two-seat, wood body sports car set the land speed record of 77mph in 1903. Other cars in the exhibit include a Packard, Rolls Royce, Buick and a 1913 Model T Ford in mint condition. Pictured is an all-original 1927 Chrysler convertible with a rumble seat.
Fleshman's favorite car in the show is a 1940 Packard with a backseat that offers enough room for his 6'3" frame. The car was driven by its original owner until 1960 and has had only two other owners. When the car joined the Great Race from Mexico City to Ottawa in 1995, all three owners were there to cheer its departure.
As you walk into the museum on the north side of the courthouse square in Granbury, the first automobile you see is a 1924 Ford Depot Hack. The two-story bus was built by Ford specifically to deliver passengers and packages to and from the train stations. This was the beginning of autos built especially for taxi service. The bus evolved into the station wagon. The museum is also getting a 1930 model that looks the same, except it has chrome and brass trim, Fleshman says.
The Depot Hack is an illustration of Henry Ford's innovations. Ford put more than a million cars on the road by keeping the price low. He accomplished the feat by using interchangeable parts and the assembly line, but also by reducing waste. Parts were shipped to the assembly plants in wooden crates that were built to exact specifications. The crates were then used as floor boards and side walls of the trucks and buses like the Depot Hack.
The spirit of the early days of automotive history is kept alive by collectors and hobbyists around the world, many of whom compete in the Great American Race. Begun in 1983, the Great American Race is a cross country (usually coast to coast) time trial with contestants vying for more than $250,000 in prizes.
Cars more than 50 years old are eligible to compete in the controlled speed and endurance race. Each day the contestants start a new race covering an explicit route hoping to maintain an exact speed. They are scored by each second that they are early or late at check points along the course.
In 1997, the course included Austin and Granbury for the grand opening of the Hall of Fame (which actually opened to the public in August 1996). Admission to the car museum is free and is supported by donations, gift shop sales, and sponsors. A 10-minute audio tape tells the history behind each of the cars that are loaned to the exhibit on a rotating basis. The next round of antique autos will be brought into the museum in August 1998.
The Great Race Hall of Fame is in the middle of the block across the street from the Hood County Courthouse in Granbury. The museum is open Friday 10am-5pm, Saturday 10am-6pm, and Sunday noon-5pm.
The Great American Race happens every June and tries to end on July 4, but dates and the course are determined by corporate sponsors, Fleshman says. For information on the race, see their website at http://www.greatrace.com. The Great Race of Texas, a smaller version of the Great American Race, is scheduled for the backroads outside of Granbury on Apr. 17-19, 1998.
Granbury was chosen as the site for the Hall of Fame because of its historical and tourist significance. Just 35 miles southwest of Fort Worth, the scenic town is on the shores of a small lake in the Brazos River Valley. In recent years the town square has seen a resurgence of unique shops and restaurants opening. A thriving bed and breakfast industry operates in town and in the nearby hills. For more information, call the Chamber of Commerce at 800/950-2212 or check them out at http://www.texasusa.com/granbury/.
Coming up this weekend...
La Gran Posada de San Antonio begins at 6pm in Milam Park, winds through downtown with stops at historic sites, and ends at San Fernando Cathedral with caroling and children's fiesta, Dec. 19. 210/227-1297.
Las Posadas is a Mexican celebration of Mary and Joseph's search for shelter followed by a feast in Blanco, Dec. 19. 830/833-5101.
Christmas Tree Lighting at LBJ Ranch in Stonewall includes Christmas activities and tours of the ranch, Dec. 21. 830/644-2252.
Lockhart Opry presents a firehouse band and local performers for an eveing of fun, Dec. 23. 512/601-2154.
Explore the Amazon with Fort Worth Zoo curator Rick Hudson aboard a riverboat for eight days beginning Feb. 21. Cost is $1,999 and includes transportation from Miami. 800/966-6539 or http://www.greentracks.com.
Driving tours in Columbus are as easy as tuning your AM radio and parking in front of historic houses and museum. For a map, go to the Stafford Opera House or call 409/732-8385.