Day Trips

The Terrill Antique Car Museum in De Leon makes up for its small size with some of the most unique specimens of automotive history

Day Trips
Photo by Gerald E. McLeod

The Terrill Antique Car Museum in De Leon more than makes up for its small size with some of the most unique specimens of automotive history.

"Everything we have is pretty unusual," Feltz Terrill Jr. says with a laugh. "We like the oddball stuff." He and his father started restoring old cars in the 1970s. The museum includes 11 of their pre-World War II cars but does not include the half-dozen other cars they own from the late Forties to the early Seventies.

The father-and-son team started restoring old cars just for the fun of it. When they couldn't find a part they needed, they headed to their machine shop and made it. Pretty soon they were manufacturing and repairing old parts for other antique-car collectors. "We only do stuff that is hard to find," Terrill says. Fuel pumps for Buicks, Packards, Pontiacs, and other old non-mainstream collectible cars are a lot of their business.

In 2004, the local economic development board approached the Terrills about putting their collection of old cars on display. The museum may not have put De Leon on the map, but it is a good reason to visit the farming community 12 miles west of Dublin and 28 miles south of I-20.

In the museum is a 1925 Ford Model T Touring Car, the first car that Terrill restored. "My uncle and aunt used to date in that car when they were in high school," Terrill says. You wouldn't know it from looking at the shiny black Ford now, but it was once sitting behind a barn buried to its axles in the West Texas sand.

"It is still my favorite car to drive," he says. He recently took it on a 100-mile tour of the area and didn't have a lick of trouble with it.

Of the cars in the show, the 1901 Coffin Steam Carriage is the most unique. It was built by Howard Earle Coffin while he was in school and was the only one made. Coffin went on to become head engineer for the Hudson Motor Co. "My daddy was looking to buy a Stanley Steamer when he found the Coffin," Terrill says. The car, which still runs, had spent 34 years in the Henry Ford Museum before passing into private hands.

At one time steam cars were thought to be the wave of the future, Terrill says. The problem is that they are not terribly efficient. The Coffin uses Coleman lantern fuel (white gas) to heat the water, but it takes 30 minutes to build up a head of steam. Even at their best, the Stanley Steamers of the 1920s were difficult to operate. "It was really too complicated for the average driver," Terrill says.

One of the prettiest and newest cars in the collection is a bright-red 1941 Packard Special. "We got that one in crates," Terrill says. A hobbyist had taken it apart before he realized that he was in over his head. Usually it takes the Terrills two to three years to restore a car, but five years of work went into the Packard.

One of the Terrills' most unusual cars is the red Crow-Elkhart Leaf Roadster. Built in 1917 in Elkhart, Ind., it was the sporty car of the day. Sitting next to it is a 1927 Star Roadster Model M built by the Durant Motor Co. William Durant was president of General Motors until he left in a huff. At one time his company offered five different popular models. "They were pretty good cars," Terrill says.

Terrill Antique Car Museum is on the north side of De Leon at 500 N. Texas St. The museum opens Tuesday through Saturday, 10am to noon and 1 to 5pm, and on Sunday, 1 to 4pm. For information, call 254/893-3773, the Chamber of Commerce at 254/893-2083, or go to De Leon is a small farming community known for its peanuts, peaches, and melons. Each year the town holds the Peach and Melon Festival during the first week of August. Chances are good that you will see one of Terrill's cars in the parade.

853rd in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of "Day Trips" 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.

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Terrill Antique Car Museum, Feltz Terrill Jr., Ford Model T Touring Car, Crow-Elkhart Leaf Roadster, Coffin Steam Carriage

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