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Max, the Wheel, the Leech.

Return to Max Nordeen's Wheels Museum (Gone)

Field review by the editors.

Woodhull, Illinois

Morning sun cuts brightly across the cornfields as we pull off next to the large metal wheel -- Max Nordeen's place.

Max appears on his front porch and jumps out into his yard, shirtless, his face covered with white froth. "Are you Roadside America? I'm shaving! I'll be right out!"

Max is out to unlock the museum in a few minutes, unselfconsciously slapping on Osco aftershave and combing his hair in a novelty mirror. He claims that there's lots of new stuff to see since our last visit, and proceeds to march us through his recent acquisitions of sewing machines, coffee grinders, and scores of tiny novelty items.


"I've got a lot of rare and unusual things -- I'm constantly adding new things. People will come if you show 'em something they haven't seen before."

Max shows us some of his 84 pedal cars in the garage showcase section of the museum. His patter is continuous, the urgent, rapid-fire tones of a master auctioneer.

"I've got ideas for the future, so I've always got something to do." Then Max warms to his favorite topic -- his struggle for recognition.

"Every year I ride in a parade -- here's a photo of me and my calliope - and you know, not one person...NOT ONE...said they came to my museum because they saw me in a parade. NOT ONE!"

"The local people are SO stubborn -- SO sure this place ain't gonna amount to nothin'."

Max theorizes...

"Most of the people I get are outside people -- far off people. It's no trouble getting them to come back. It's getting them the FIRST time that's the PROBLEM."

"All I ask is that you pay the admission when you walk in the door. IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK???" We don't think so, but there's no stopping Max now...

"The rottener you are, the more people will like you. It's the TRUTH. That's why people around here don't like me -- I'm too DECENT and too HONEST."

Recent Acquisitions

The silver trophy cup presented to Miss Iowa, a Miss America runner-up in 1927, and an 1880 nudie photo of the 18-year-old third wife of Wyatt Earp. "Just try to FIND something like this. Try to BUY this. YOU CAN'T!"

Max Facts

He turned 71 in 1999. Max is of Swedish descent. "Swedes are known for drinking coffee," he points out. He graduated from auctioneer's school in 1966. His father learned the joys of collecting from Max. "That's very unusual, very. Usually it's the FATHER who teaches the SON."

Max has a big cleaver.

Max has no heirs, and is worried about the fate of his collection when he dies. We hold back the urge to ask him to write us into the will for the petrified leech. No locals have emerged as trustworthy future caretakers, and Max knows only too well the relentless forces of estate and yard sale economics. His unique assemblage may be worth a bit. His former wife, a college graduate, could not see the value in paying $15 for a barber pole. Now you'd have to pay $2500 for that same pole. "This is all SELF-education," Max explains. "You don't learn this in college."

He sold the hearse, and now makes his auction rounds in an El Camino. He enjoys hanging around younger people, he tells us, as he walks us back to the car, his gangly arms draped over our shoulders. "I may be old, but I don't THINK old."


A peek into Max's furry bachelor pad. It is dark and cozy, with framed pictures of John Wayne everywhere. Max introduces us to the neglige-wearing glamour mannequin in his living room. "Real eyelashes, real teeth in her mouth, and - oooh would you look? -- the purtiest nipples you ever saw."

Time for us to go. Max promises to keep plugging away. "I enjoy this so much, I'm gonna do this as long as I possibly can. This really gives me something to live for."

December 17, 2004: Remember Max Nordeen!

December 2004: Max has passed away.

August 2001: Max has raised admission to $3, Smiler Craig Thom informs us. And he recently purchased a tomb for himself. Every other grave in the Woodhull cemetery is underground, with just a stone sticking up. Max will be entirely above the ground. The door to the unit isn't finished yet. It will be in contrasting black granite and will have his picture on it. He doesn't think he'll need it any time soon.

Max Nordeen's Wheels Museum


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