Saturday May 4th, our two month trip begins! We will be on the road until the end of June.
For the first leg of our East Coast trip our principal objective today was to make it to the Miracle of America Museum just south of Polson, MT. We left Pasco at 10am knowing it would take 5 1/2 hours to drive there and a 1/2 hour stop for lunch (we had to stop for some pho at our favorite place in Coeur D’ Alene, ID). Doing the math, we realized we’d arrive at the museum at 4pm, which gave us an hour to look around it before it closed at 5pm. Simple math, yes? . . . Wrong.
The first sign of trouble occurred as we crossed into Montana from Idaho on I-90. I was driving when I spotted a sign that informed us we were Entering Mountain Time Zone. Oh crap! I forgot all about the time change. A quick review of the math meant that we’d arrive at 5pm, just as it closed.
However, there was a caveat. The website indicated that the museum stayed open until 8pm during the summer, but never defined what days were considered summer days. So, as we descended out of the pass towards Missoula, Ann gave the museum a call at 3:30pm and it went like this:
Ann: Hi, how late are you open tonight?
Museum: Depends. Where are you now?
Ann (shocked): We are approaching St. Regis, Montana.
Museum: Ok, I’ll keep the museum open for you. I have some paperwork to do anyway.
With that simple phone call, Gil Mangels volunteered to keep his museum open so we could look around the place all by ourselves! I called at 4:40 to update him and say we wouldn’t be there until 5:15. He said that wouldn’t be a problem.
We finally arrived at 5:20pm, just as the last remaining visitor left. We walked inside and there was Gil ready to take our money ($5 each – BARGAIN!) and explain where everything was. We thanked him for staying open and said we didn’t want to use too much of his time. He said just take your time.
We weren’t there five minutes before we knew we had a problem. There was so much cool stuff to look at that we couldn’t move ourselves along fast enough. Gil and his late wife have done a wonderful job of creating a feast for the eyes. Ann and i were giddy school kids pointing things out to each other, reading stuff, and having a blast. We were there forty five minutes and still hadn’t made it through a 1/4 of the complex yet.
We didn’t want to impost on Gil, so we chose to go to plan B: See the jeeps real quickly, photograph them, and then return later this summer so we could spend all day looking around the place.
Before we left, we got a chance to spend some time talking with Gil. When we explained about eWillys, Gil explained he grew up on a nearby farm and his parents had an old flattie, but he couldn’t remember the model. He said they did everything with it.
Gil belongs to the Military Vehicle Preservation Association and he restored the M-38 below that he proudly displays in one of the rooms. It’s a very nice restoration. It was featured in the MVPA and GIl was kind enough to copy the article for me, but I haven’t had time to go through it yet.
In addition to the M-38, there are two more M-38A1s, a Slat Grille MB, and a M-151, a Mule, and a Jeepster for visitors to see. There is a Pedal Jeep in the toy section, a few hot wheel-like jeep toys. I also spotted several posters, cards and brochures in the war-related areas.
The Miracle of American museum is a gem. It reminded me of my experience to House on the Rock in Wisconsin, where each corner was a feast for the eyes. But, unlike HOR, there’s a better educational and museum experience. I can see why it’s been called the Smithsonian of the west. There is enough wonder — cool stuff, historic stuff, and odd ball stuff — to keep a whole family entertained. Military buffs, car buffs, farm buffs, motorcycle buffs, history buffs (how about a whole shed of old washing machines?) will love this place. It is worth the trip, especially since you get to talk to the guy who made it happen.
Here’s a bunch of pictures we took: