Between Austin’s work assignments, our home base is the northwest suburbs of Chicago, Illinois. We still live in a hotel, but it’s an extended stay and we pull our toys and books out of storage and try to make the most of our time “in the office.” We can’t help but explore all that this area has to offer- Austin and I are both from out west, so there are so many new things to see and discover. Plus, staying in a hotel means we have to get out and give our rambunctious boys some room to roam!
At our hotel, Landon found a brochure for the Volo Auto Museum, in Volo, IL. There was even a coupon in the brochure, and Landon loves all things cars, so we had to check it out! Volo is a very small town close to the Wisconsin border. The auto museum started out as an antique mall, and then they started buying and selling classic cars. This place was not just a museum- there were cars available for purchase as well. The way the museum is set up, the parking lot is surrounded by buildings, so it can be difficult to figure out where to go first. Several of the buildings are full of antiques, and so we followed the signs for the restaurant and tickets for the museum. The entrance was on the other side of the kid’s playground area from the parking lot. The little restaurant and animatronic pirate show are right inside the door, and we followed the hallway around to the ticket booth. On our way, we saw the first famous car- a Batmobile! That’s when I knew we were in for a treat.
The first room past the ticket booth was full of Duesenbergs. I had never heard of these cars before our visit, but they were the fanciest, most expensive car money could buy in the 1920s. The cars at this museum were in mint condition and were the most beautiful cars I have ever seen. Confession: I don’t really care for cars, but these cars were awesome. There were only a few thousand of these cars ever made, and to have several of them in one showroom was so cool. They were huge! We entered the first theater room after admiring the Duesies to learn more about the history of the auto museum. Before we visited, I had no idea this museum was here, yet they collect famous movie and TV cars, cars from celebrities, and novelty vehicles. Along with large show rooms of cars for sale, they had several halls full of unique and interesting cars. They said that they have connections in Hollywood, and lend classic cars to movies like The Great Gatsby.
For being a huge car fan, Landon preferred to wander quickly through the showrooms- until we got to the military showroom. On the door, it does warn that there are loud noises and military scenes inside, but we were not prepared for the gunfire and shouting noises that greeted us when we stepped inside. Landon was pretty freaked out by the noise, and on some level, I think he felt like we were in a real battle! He wanted to be carried through the rooms- and quickly! There were scenes set up with real army vehicles and mannequin soldiers wearing different uniforms. They were carrying real weapons, and the soundtrack and lighting effects made it even more believable. There were scenes from WWII, Korea and Vietnam in one showroom. In the next showroom, cases full of eclectic military memorabilia were a nice break from the intense noise of the previous room.
Having just come from Vietnam, it was interesting to see some of the materials they had from the war, including manuals on how to survive in the Vietnamese jungle (good luck with that one!) and these “Ho Chi Min” sandals made out of tire rubber. The caption talked about how the North Vietnamese were so resourceful making shoes out of rubber, and I couldn’t help but think that the Vietnamese are still quite resourceful in recycling and reusing things for maximum benefit and use. I’m sure it was more pronounced during the war, but let’s just say it didn’t surprise me. The sandals even look pretty comfortable- kind of like Chaco’s!
In the war memorabilia room, they had a cockpit of an airplane from WWII and a History Channel documentary playing on a screen with some seats. All of a sudden, we couldn’t find Landon and there he was, glued to the documentary about a WWII pilot and how he won lots of dog fights (air battles) against all odds. It was not a very interesting documentary (I got bored pretty quickly) but Landon was enthralled with the whole thing- the story, the war, why they were fighting in the first place. Ever since then, he likes to play “dog fight,” recount this specific air battle in detail, and learn about WWII, Korean and Vietnam wars. It is hard to find age-appropriate library books about war for a four-year-old!
Next up, we checked out the showroom with famous cars from movies. Landon loved this race car, and the fact that he could sit in it, but was not as happy that when he sat down, he could not see out of the front windshield! There were cars from Terminator, Dukes of Hazzard, Fast and Furious 7, Scooby Doo, and many, many more. They had quite the collection!
There were also some novelty cars, like this piano car and a very long skinny guitar car. This place has made a habit of collecting anything and everything on wheels, and it seemed to me to be more like an organized antique mall than a distinguished museum. There were only placards for some vehicles, there were typos and inconsistencies across different cars, but this all added to the eclectic and small-town charm vibe that they had going on here.
Landon was ready to head out without checking out the rest of the showrooms when I convinced him to go in one more room. Luckily, it was the kid’s showroom, so he was re-energized and ready to finish up once we spent some time in here. He was so excited to see real-life Lightning McQueen and Mater! Many of the vehicles and large Disney displays they had were made for promoting the movies when they were first in theaters. The cars even talked to each other. At the entrance to the kid’s area is another short film and tons of coin operated vehicle rides (like the ones outside of the grocery store). What a great idea to give the kids a place to actually get into the cars after spending so much time just looking and not being able to touch at all. The best part? I didn’t even have to add coins to the vehicles for him to have a good time!
In the kid’s showroom, there were also several cars owned by famous celebrities, like Michael Jordan, Oprah, Princess Diana, Britney Spears, and Elvis. The signs above the cars explained when the celebrity used the car, and usually how the museum happened to come into possession of it.
We visited during the winter, when the grounds are closed due to concerns about slipping on ice. There were some airplanes on the grounds, as well as a submarine movie set and some trains. We checked out a fun showroom that depicted mobile homes throughout the ages, from wagons to stage coaches to the modern RVs. Each room in that exhibit had a narrator that would explain what life was like in that time period, and then we’d move on to the next room to learn about the RVs at a later time. With the audio, it even engaged Landon, and he enjoyed checking out the RVs.
After seeing all the showrooms on one side of the parking lot, we found out we still had one last showroom to check out on the bottom floor under the antique mall on the other side of the parking lot. This showroom was definitely older and less organized, but it was full of beautiful classic cars for sale. My favorite car in the whole place was this gorgeous Woodie. It had old bumper stickers with surf shops and Highway 101 and 1 on the side. I could just imagine it right at home at the beach in California, which feels like home for me as well.
Landon spent a few minutes playing outside on the playground, although it was pretty muddy and wet from the melting snow. There were fake animal lawn ornaments that really interested Owen- he ran for them as fast as he could when we let him out of the stroller. The crowd here was an interesting mix of families with car-loving kids and car collectors coming to make a purchase. It seemed that this was a road trip destination for people on road trips around the country as well. Volo Auto Museum was a little disorganized, but really charming. I’m glad we checked it out!