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Small Talk: Embracing the past at American Treasure Tour Museum

Many kids have never seen a phone booth or typewriter. But they certainly do know about stuffed animals.

Children will certainly enjoy seeing and hearing about all three, and adults can relive the past, at the American Treasure Tour Museum in Oaks, Upper Providence Township, Montgomery County.

Ross Brakman is the director and curator and told me this week that he sees something new every day at work.

Both young and old kids will enjoy seeing Chuck E. Cheese at the American Treasure Tour Museum in Oaks. (BILL RETTEW/MEDIANEWS GROUP)
Both young and old kids will enjoy seeing Chuck E. Cheese at the American Treasure Tour Museum in Oaks. (BILL RETTEW/MEDIANEWS GROUP)

“If the kids don’t understand anything else, they understand the stuffed animals,” he said. “Part of the fun of being here is everything has a story and discovering the history of each item and the joy that it gives.”

The collection is mostly accessible by a tram ride, with narration. Displays are crowded and here there is almost too much to see. The museum sits on a 100,000-square-foot portion of the former BF Goodrich Tire Factory that was open from 1937 to 1986.

I particularly enjoyed the signs from my local history — especially the massive Gene’s Books sign from the old King of Prussia Mall.

American Treasure Tour Museum Director and Curator Ross Brakman. (BILL RETTEW/MEDIANEWS GROUP)
American Treasure Tour Museum Director andCurator Ross Brakman. (BILL RETTEW/MEDIANEWS GROUP)

The huge heads from Mardi Gras floats of Trump, Brittany Spears and Ted Kennedy might not quite fit together, but are fun.

You’ll also see larger-than-life representations of the Simpsons and Ronald McDonald.

I enjoyed seeing the animatronics, or electronic characters, that are sometimes unintentionally a little creepy. About 70 old cars dating from 1906-1992 are a kick, and half of the Lit Brothers Christmas Village is fun to roll past.

Nostalgia from recent history and the present at American Treasure Tour Museum. (BILL RETTEW/MEDIANEWS GROUP)
Nostalgia from recent history and the present at American Treasure Tour Museum. (BILL RETTEW/MEDIANEWS GROUP)

Many of a collection of thousands of record albums and movie posters lining the walls bring back great memories. Who could forget rotary phones and Raggedy Ann? Or R2D2?

Record players, radios and musical instruments are everywhere. Most automatic music machines on display still work.

Brakman enjoys viewing the tags for dogs that each depict one of the 50 states, and which are placed on a map of the U.S. Pennsylvania’s tag is appropriately a keystone.

Remember Gene's Books? (BILL RETTEW/MEDIANEWS GROUP)
Remember Gene’s Books? (BILL RETTEW/MEDIANEWS GROUP)

Brakman also likes seeing a replica of a movie prop from “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

He also told me that the displays are always different — with so many nooks and crannies — that tourgoers will see something new and different every time they ride.

Ginny and Jerry Frey were the founders and the man who gathers much of the stuff prefers to stay anonymous, so as to not take away from the collection.

R2D2 and American Treasure Tour Museum Director and Curator Ross Brakman. (BILL RETTEW/MEDIANEWS GROUP)
R2D2 and American Treasure Tour Museum Director and Curator Ross Brakman. (BILL RETTEW/MEDIANEWS GROUP)

Brakman simply refers to him as the Collector.

“He is a very private guy — very modest,” Brakman said. “He is not somebody you would recognize if you saw him.”

The collector even regularly and anonymously takes public tram tours with his family.

Lot's of old radios at the American Treasure Tour Museum in Oaks. (BILL RETTEW/MEDIANEWS GROUP)
Lot’s of old radios at the American Treasure Tour Museum in Oaks. (BILL RETTEW/MEDIANEWS GROUP)

Brakman said that the collector wants to establish a collection of happy memories. He started out collecting hot rods.

“There is no place here for anything too serious,” Brakman said. “He hates the idea of a stuffy museum.

“Part of the goal is to make it fun. There is something here for everybody. There is something everybody can connect with, regardless of age.

“It’s his obsession. I appreciate that.”

Humor, however slight, is a part of the tour. Monty Python fans will enjoy seeing a penguin atop a TV.

The collector still gathers stuff. Many displayed items are donated, while some the collector actively pursues like the nickelodeons. The collector also goes to auctions, estate sales and shops for antiques.

The tram weaves and snakes through the crowded aisles. I asked how exhibits are not run over and was told that the cars follow each other.

“It is an experience to get an electric train through the building,” Brakman said.

There are two trams and each holds 26 passengers.

I asked about dusting and was told it’s a never ending job. Brakman particularly dislikes when stuffed animals go bad.

“They get dirty,” he said. “That’s why I hate a dirty bear.

“They’re hard to clean.”

Experts regularly service the collection. Specialists fix the trams, the animatronics, the lighting and the nickelodeons.

Collectors find each other like employee Nick Curio did.

Curio drives the tram and after getting off the ride immediately applied for a job. He said he has a “fraction of a fraction of this collection” at home.

The clock is ticking and you might be getting old when you see stuff in a museum from your childhood and beyond. There is nothing here from the pyramids or Civil War.

It’s fun to relive the “recent” past. Nostalgia is cool. Go take the tour; you’ll be awash with emotions. See you there.

The American Treasure Tour Museum is open Fridays through Sundays from  10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tours run at 10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 1:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. Group tours can be arranged any day of the week.

Reservations are encouraged but not required. For more information, go to www.AmericanTreasureTour.com or call 866-970-8687.

The museum is located at One American Treasure Way, Oaks, in the 422 Business Center.

Bill Rettew is a weekly columnist and Chester County resident. He is not a big duster. The best way to contact him is at brettew@dailylocal.com


Source: Berkshire mont

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