The last quarter of 2021 has been (and continues to be) packed with activities and events here at the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum.
A Century of the American Motorcycle
Our Year of the Motorcycle program launched on August 19 with the opening of the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum exhibit, A Century of the American Motorcycle. This outstanding display of around thirty five select machines from the Barber collection embody the very finest in American motorcycle technology and design from 1905 to the present. The exhibit has been a great success, generating much media coverage, and of all surveyed guests visiting the Cleveland History Center, around seventy percent cited the Century exhibit as their primary interest.
‘Year of the Motorcycle Opening’ photo Lowbrow Customs
Top: Mods vs Rockers ‘Mods Scooter’ Photo by John Lutsch Bottom: Mods vs Rockers ‘Mods vs Rockers friendly faceoff’ Photo by John Lutsch
August 28 saw the Crawford ‘Invaded’ by a group of local bikers celebrating a ‘Mods vs Rockers’ tribute to classic British motorcycling, where owners of scooters faced off against traditional large-displacement motorcycles with a display of their machines and a tour of the Century exhibit. Of course, it was all good-natured rivalry, but their gathering served as a reminder of the very real confrontations created when ‘Mod’ scooter riders faced off against traditional ‘Rocker’ bikers in 1960’s England. The Beatles drummer Ringo Starr famously replied, when asked whether he was a ‘Mod’ or a ‘Rocker’, ‘Neither. I’m a Mocker’. Cleveland’s Skidmark Garage serves as headquarters for the ‘Mods vs Rockers’ group, and the Crawford looks forward to hosting this bunch of local rowdies again in the near future.
Top: ‘New BMW R18’s ready to roll,' Photo by John Lutsch Bottom: BMW Motorrad ‘BMW and Sill’s Motors Team,’ Photo by John Lutsch
On September 11-12, BMW Motorrad (BMW Motorcycles Corporate) held a two-day rider experience at the Crawford in coordination with Pamela Dengler of Sill’s Motor Sales, Cleveland. Pam was featured in News from the Crawford Issue Two earlier this year. The BMW factory team arrived with a huge, purpose-built semi tractor trailer housing eighteen of their new R-18, massive-engined touring motorcycles, designed to compete directly with Harley Davidson within this market niche. Over eighty local riders signed up for the experience, with around ten rolling tours occurring each day.
Late September saw the Crawford participating in the Molto Bella car show, held at Stan Hywet Hall on the 12th, where we displayed our newly-acquired 1956 Citroen Traction Avant Familiale to great interest from the crowd. Also, on the 25th, our Macedonia Preservation and Storage Facility hosted its second ‘Coffee and Cars’ of the year, but with dire weather forecast for the day, attendance was sparse. The rains held off however, and a highlight of the event was the firing up of two aircraft engines owned by Macedonia volunteer Frank Sesek (see Frank’s profile in News from the Crawford, Issue One).
(Click each Video Below to Watch)
His 1943 Jacobs R755 radial was originally used to power training aircraft for future B17 bomber pilots, and the jet turbine is a Garrett Auxiliary Power Unit, which was used to start the Navy’s F18 Hornet fighters. Frank hit the afterburner on the jet and one could feel the heat blast thirty feet away! Really impressive! Keep an eye out for our next Coffee and Cars coming next Spring!
‘The Crawford at Fuel Cleveland’ Photo by John Lutsch
Most recently, the Crawford participated in the seventh annual Fuel Cleveland motorcycle show, held at the former Cleveland Twist Drill factory at East 47th and Lakeside. We brought our 1918 Cleveland single cylinder bike, along with our ultra-rare 1956 Vincent Black Prince, and the positive response was immediate. Around five thousand visitors packed the one-day show, and the variety of choppers, customs, bobbers, and vintage bikes was remarkable. Machines like the Vincent are so rarely seen that quite a stir was created, particularly among the motorcycle media. Our friends at Lowbrow Customs sponsored and organized the show, and with some good fortune, we may be invited back again next year! We would like to thank Bob Vail, Tim Dunn, and Bill Glavac for their kind assistance transporting our bikes to the show.
Photo Above: ‘1929 Auburn Boattail Speedster arrives in Sheffield’ Photo Below: ‘Johnny Risko in his prime’ photo courtesy boxingoverbroadway.com
Occasionally, great classic cars are like comets; they burn brightly across the night sky, remain for a short time, then continue on their unseen and mysterious journey. Such is the case with our featured car, a 1929 Auburn 8-120 Speedster, originally owned by professional boxer Johnny Risko of Sheffield Lake, Ohio.
Risko, now largely forgotten, was a sports superstar in the 1920’s and ‘30’s, going toe-to-toe and sometimes beating boxing legends like Gene Tunney, Max Baer, and Max Schmelling. He became known as the ‘Rubber Man’ because of his ability to take a punch and keep coming forward. In approximately 140 fights, he was stopped only three times, and counted out only once, when he was 38 years old. Because of his success, Risko could afford the finer things in life, one being the purchase of a new 1929 Auburn Speedster. When most cars of the period were capable of speeds in the 40 mph range, the Auburn could push nearly 100 mph. Risko, although a great boxer was an average driver, who promptly wrecked the car. Undaunted, he purchased another 1929 Speedster, drove more carefully, and kept the car until his death in 1953. From that point on, the Speedster became the proverbial comet, hidden from view in a Lodi, Ohio barn from 1956 until Auburn enthusiast Alan J. Atkinson of Houston, Texas recently discovered it while purchasing another Auburn from the the owner.
Above: ‘La Cigogne’, by Francois Bazin 1920” Photo by John Lutsch
Bottom Right: ‘A fragment of the headlight collection’ Photo by John Lutsch, Bottom Left: ‘Vintage trophies gleam at Macedonia’ Photo by John Lutsch
In 1922, British archaeologist Howard Carter discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings, Egypt. When his financial patron Lord Carnarvon, who was looking over Carter’s shoulder asked if he could see anything inside, Carter replied, ‘Yes, wonderful things.’
The Crawford’s Macedonia Restoration and Storage Facility may have little in common with the Valley of the Kings, but it too contains ‘wonderful things’ in a myriad of rooms which are not open to the public.
One room reveals shelf upon shelf of carefully stored vintage headlights; from oil-fueled to acetylene, to electric-powered. Nearby are corresponding glass lenses for the headlamps glimmering like jewels. Another room contains a trove of silver trophies, from aviation’s Golden Age to classic automobile races to awards garnered by some of the Crawford’s most noteworthy cars.
It was in a rather dark corner of a small storage area that the subject of this article was discovered, surrounded by equally rare and beautiful objects. It is an original casting of ‘La Cigogne’ (The Stork) created by French Sculptor Francois Bazin in 1920. Not only is it a beautifully executed bronze work of art, but significantly, it is the prototype for the ornaments which graced the radiator caps of all Hispano Suiza motorcars from 1920 onwards. It is an iconic image familiar to most vintage automobile enthusiasts and has been reproduced in all sizes and materials throughout the past century.
The name ‘Buffalo Soldiers’ conjures up images of the Old West, where blue-clad cavalrymen galloped from their stockade forts to confront restive Native American tribes. With the clarity of hindsight, the romanticized notions of chivalry and valor associated with the cavalry have become a bit tarnished as awareness has increased regarding the mistreatment of Indigenous Peoples.
The real Buffalo Soldiers, however, were a largely forgotten group of six African American cavalry and infantry regiments, created by Congress in 1866. Ironically, they were a minority group facing discrimination who were tasked with suppressing another discriminated-against American minority rebelling against life on Indian reservations. They fought their way from West Texas to Kansas, on to Montana, eventually being billeted in San Francisco, where they became acting federal park rangers in the Sierra Nevada. Their exploits are chronicled in the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum in Houston, Texas.
Fast forward to around 1993 in Chicago, where African American police officer Ken Thomas founds the ‘Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club’ to promote a positive image of Black motorcyclists which would counter the prevailing perceptions of motorcycle clubs as ‘gangs’. Members were recruited from active-duty and retired military, law enforcement, and professional groups. The aim was to create not only an active brotherhood of riders, but an organization whose interaction with the community was based on charity, goodwill, and education.
As the temperatures lower, and the fluffy white stuff makes more frequent appearances, most of us face the sad reality that our vintage, sports, and classic cars must go into storage for the all-too-long winter. Before the garage is shuttered for the final time, here are some recommendations to follow so that come Spring, your car’s recommissioning will be headache-free.
Change your oil. Fresh oil will limit the amount of water the lubricant absorbs while static. Most folks don’t realize oil is hygroscopic, and with the absorption of water, it can partially lose its viscosity.
Over-inflate your tires. This is to reduce the possibility of incurring flat spots due to the tire remaining static while supporting the weight of the vehicle. The best method to avoid flat spots is to store the vehicle on jack stands to eliminate concentrated pressure on the tires.
Fill your gas tank. Having a full tank helps to prevent moisture from building up in the tank and corroding the fuel lines. A good fuel preservative is highly recommended as well.
Protect the undercarriage. A large piece of plastic drop cloth placed beneath your vehicle can prevent excess moisture from evaporating from damp concrete and settling on your chassis. This is an easy, inexpensive way to prolong the metal bits underneath the shiny bits.
Install rodent deterrents. Mice and (heaven forbid) rats are incredibly injurious to automobiles in storage. They love to eat wiring, insulation, leather, and just about anything else they can sink their teeth into. They also love to create nests in the engine bay, heating system, and exhaust areas. First, block off your tailpipe(s) to prevent mice from using them to get into the exhaust system. Also, if possible, block off the intake to airboxes as well. If your car is running rough, you just may find the air filter chewed to pieces and a season’s worth of acorns stored there too. Electronic pest chasers are very effective in reducing the number of unwanted garage guests, and for those who do get through your first line of defense, mouse and rat traps are a must.
This is just a shortlist of suggestions to keep your stored car in top condition and to avoid frustration when the weather warms once again.
With generous funding from the State of Ohio, our work to renovate the lower gallery of the Crawford Auto Aviation Museum is underway. In partnership with AECOM, WRHS will complete aesthetic and critical infrastructure upgrades to this roughly 26,000 sf gallery that, with few exceptions, has not been altered or restored since the museum opened in 1965!
Improvements to the gallery’s ‘core and shell’ will transform its appearance, increase the safety and accessibility for public and private use, increase the amount of space available for vehicle exhibition, and is the foundation for future exhibits and programs. While we’re installing a much needed new floor, lighting and other improvements, the lower level of the Crawford will be unavailable from December 1, 2021 – Spring 2022.
In the meantime, our plans to reinstall, reimagine and populate the Crawford lower gallery are in progress. When complete, it will have a fresh appearance and the museum collection will be highlighted as never before.
WRHS is grateful to the State of Ohio,
and to you for your understanding and patience.
During the renovations, the main floor of the Crawford Museum is OPEN for business to the public and for private parties and events. “A Century of the American Motorcycle,” presented by Progressive and Dan T. Moore, is on loan to WRHS from the Barber Vintage Motorsport Museum through March 20, 2022. After, “The Lure of the Open Road”, an extraordinary exhibit of motorcycles from Northern Ohio collections will open, sharing main floor galleries with a curator’s choice of automobiles from our collection.
During the renovation, you still have the opportunity to experience WRHS’s incredible collection of classic cars in the following ways:
Behind the Scenes Tours at the WRHS Restoration and Storage Facility. Tours by appointment only during regular business hours starting January 2022. Please contact Larry Davis, Crawford Collection Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Behind the Scenes Tours of Collection Storage. Get a sneak peek at the cars during Cleveland History Center regular business hours. Ask at Admissions for information.
“If These Whitewalls Could talk …” Every car has a story. Find them and share yours at wrhs.org and @clestartshere.
As work progresses in the lower gallery, we’ll provide updates in our Newsletter, keeping our guests informed about reopening dates and new exhibits.
Jay Leno Visits the Crawford
Earlier this month, Jay Leno, television host, comedian, and writer, famous for his incredible collection of classic cars and motorcycles, stopped by the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum with Lou Vitantonio, President of the Greater Cleveland Automobile Dealers Association (GCADA). Jay, Lou, Dennis Barrie, Glenn Anderson and I toured the Century of the American Motorcycle exhibit on loan to the Crawford (thru 3/2022) from the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, a special treat given Jay's knowledge and unrivaled passion for motorcycles. However, the highlight of the visit was being with Jay - automotive and entertainment royalty - in the Crawford collection, listening to stories, ideas, and learning from a leading authority on automobiles and automotive history. Jay's visit is a feather in the cap for the Crawford, one of the finest automobile museums in the United States.
Kelly Falcone-Hall, President and CEO, WRHS
Gear Up for your Next Group Event!
Consider the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum for your next club meeting or event! With 50,000 sq. ft. of open gallery space, there is plenty of room to safely host your next club outing.
From versatile conference spaces, to opulent reception halls, there is a space for every meeting, get-together, and event at our convenient University Circle location!
WRHS prioritizes people, place and purpose. For our people, the WRHS community and the communities we serve, WRHS strives for a culture of excellence, diversity, equity, access and inclusion. We apply best practices to the stewardship of our places, collections and digital resources. It is our purpose to empower the entrepreneurial spirit to create, promote and sustain a relevant, experience driven organization. We approach our work through an equity lens to ensure that collections, experiences, staff and board reflect the rich diversity of Northeast Ohio.
Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum experiences - collections, stories, exhibits and programs - lift up the stories of all people in Cleveland and Northeast Ohio.