Wheels Museum on Track With Artifact Donations, Fund-Raising

By Tracy Dingmann
Of the Journal

Leba Freed has the weirdest days sometimes. Hardly one goes by when someone doesn’t offer her a plane, a train or … an oxcart.

But perhaps that’s to be expected for the woman who heads up the planned Wheels Museum, a big, big idea that’s gaining more supporters every day.

If all goes as planned, the transportation-themed museum will open three years from now in the former Santa Fe Rail Shops in Barelas. To make that happen, the museum foundation needs to raise about $25 million for planning, renovation and acquisition. It’s a huge endeavor for a museum that wants to tell the rich stories of Route 66, the Camino Real, the railroads and the important role Albuquerque played in air travel’s infancy.

The museum foundation has raised about $1 million so far from government allocations and private donations.

But the momentum for Wheels is clearly there, said Freed, a former Downtown businesswoman who is throwing her formidable powers behind the project with the help of marketing consultant Joe Craig and former city head of library services and cultural services guru Alan Clark.

“Every day people come in with stuff,” said Clark. “I don’t talk to anyone who is not interested on some level in this museum.”

In the past few weeks, the museum has been given a 1942 Seagraves fire truck used by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, a cache of rare books about trains and an oxcart built by a master carpenter that is a replica of the ones used to haul goods up and down the Camino Real.

But perhaps the most exciting treasure in the offing is the huge personal collection of auto-racing memorabilia owned by racing legend Bobby Unser Sr. The collection includes racecars, photographs, uniforms, trophies and actual film of historic races from the 1930s to the present day.

“It is a world-class collection that tells a powerful history of the growth of auto racing,” said Clark. “Bobby Unser was a fundamental part of the development of all that.”

The items would be loaned to the museum, said Unser’s wife, Lisa.

Other things Wheels has been offered include several old planes, a 1920s-era Rolls-Royce and a remarkable 1908 Sears horseless carriage used by a priest in Belen to travel between parishes.