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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.


New Lego exhibit at the Wheels Museum. View The New Mexico Lego Users Group has
partnered with WHEELS to have a beautiful Lego Train layout for children of all ages to enjoy. The exhibit will vary from season to season and we invite you to come see this new Lego train exhibit.

January 8, 15, 22, 29 – Sunday morning admission free from 9 am-1 pm at the Albuquerque Museum and the City’s International Balloon Museum.

Do you have a few hours each month to help the Wheels Museum? Volunteers are needed so the Museum can be open more; run the model railroad trains, also help needed with events, marketing, fund raising. Call Leba Freed at (505) 243-6269.

Febuary 16, 11 am. Bob Bovee Long Steel Rails concert. This program for all ages presents songs and stories about the famous trains, rail workers, hobos, train wrecks and train robbers. Call or email Leba Freed for reservations at (505) 243-6269 or leba4@aol.com.

March 17, Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day at WHEELS. Movie, tours, train ride and food celebration.

April 1, 1 pm. Doug Figgs and Badger. Back by popular demand. By reservations only (505) 243- 6269. Doug’s show was sold out last year, so call early! Donation: $10.00.

April 8, 11 am. “Historic Albuquerque” Ronn Perea will present old Albuquerque anecdotes including delightful stories about our beloved Alvarado Hotel and the politicians, actors and entertainers who stayed there. This is a free event but, of course, donations are always appreciated.

April 22, Wheels Museum Day trip to Rancho De Chimayo Restaurante, El Santuario de Chimayo and the Santa Fe Plaza. Call Leba or Janet at (505) 243-6269 for more information. The museum is a 501C3 non-profit community organization whose mission is to create a transportation museum at the downtown Albuquerque Steam Locomotive Repair Shops.

May 19-May 23, Train trip to the Grand Canyon. Only a few spaces left.Scheduled through Amtrak Vacations, call Leba or Janet at (505) 243-6269 for reservations and more information.