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Sight of the Week: Jul 8-14, 2024 | Archive

The collection is so vast that visitors have to view it by motorized tram.
The collection is so vast that visitors have to view it by motorized tram.

American Treasure Tour

Field review by the editors.

Oaks, Pennsylvania

The citizen-curators who build personal pop culture museums (this one, for example) usually focus on small, inexpensive items: toys, games, lunch boxes. Limits on funding and space hinder their vision. But what if they had all the room and money in the world?

The building's high ceilings can barely fit this Goliath Gumby.
The building's high ceilings can barely fit this Goliath Gumby.

They might end up with something like the American Treasure Tour.

The American Treasure Tour is a motorized excursion through the playthings of a deep-pocketed, anonymous collector. "He had a ball buying whatever he wanted," said Ross Brakman, the director of the Tour. And then the collector -- who for brevity we'll call Mr. C -- ran out of room. So he bought an abandoned tire factory, sold all of its machinery, and filled 80,000 square feet of it with his stuff. "There's a ramp to the second floor," Ross said. "He would drive up it and through his collection and never have to get out of his car."

Mr. C became friendly with a married couple, Ginni and Jerry Frey, who sold him antiques. Ross said that one day Mr. C asked the Freys, "You wanna see what else I have?" This eye-opening experience convinced them to convince him that his factory-utopia should be shared with the world, and the American Treasure Tour was born.

Giant shoe was built for a failed cable wedding channel.
Giant shoe was built for a failed cable wedding channel.

Like Mr. C in his car, the public views the collection on wheels, sitting in an electric tram. It's an attraction that gives much and asks little; visitors only have to settle in and enjoy the ride.

According to Ross, Mr. C began by collecting cars, then shifted to mechanical music machines. "But it all started to look the same," Ross said, so Mr. C began to diversify, acquiring giant showpieces, store displays, animatronic figures, and countless thousands of colorful pop culture artifacts, so many that they've never been inventoried. "These are things that make him feel good. Things that are happy," said Ross, trying to explain Mr. C's collecting ethos. "The bigger, the better." Some visitors ask why Mr. C has no model trains chugging around the factory: aren't they a happy collectible? Ross explained Mr. C's disinterest: "They're tiny."

The one-of-a-kind Model 175 Wurlitzer music machine.
The one-of-a-kind Model 175 Wurlitzer music machine.

Size is prized in Mr. C's world. The tram takes tourists past an immense Sony Walkman and a similarly mega-scaled woman's high heel shoe that was an outdoor prop from the failed Wedding Central cable channel. The World's Largest Slinky and a 19-foot-tall Gumby were once showstoppers at the Virginia History Museum. A giant bust of Britney Spears was salvaged from a Mardi Gras float; an eight-foot-high Tutankhamen sarcophagus head was built for Atlantic City's Taj Mahal Casino (Donald Trump didn't like it and threw it away).

"Happy birthday Mr. President," reads the sign on this display.

Several of Mr. C's purchases are too big even for the factory. One of them, a storm-damaged 24-foot-tall Muffler Man, was restored at Mr. C's expense and now stands outside one of the many entrances to the building.

Mr. C's ornate and wildly complex music machines have their own section on the tour. He has hundreds of them. The one-of-a-kind Model 175 Wurlitzer is the rarest on earth; Ross said that a wealthy tour-taker once offered to buy it for a million dollars. Mr. C ignored the offer. "To him, no price would be worth it," said Ross -- a position Mr. C likely takes for every item in his collection, including the hand-crafted statue of a Grovers Mill Martian, the giant styrofoam head of Albert Einstein, and the castle built of 400,000 popsicle sticks.

Mr. C's bottomless bank account means that he can collect pretty much anything, which gives the American Treasure Tour a dizzying diversity. Model airplanes and Mexican sombreros hang from the rafters. Neon signs and sideshow banners share space with a performing troupe of Chuck E. Cheese robots. There are clowns; a lot of clowns. A china cabinet is filled with old glass dinnerware that glows an eerie green under UV light. The glass, Ross explained, was mixed with uranium, which at the time was considered beneficial. "It may not kill you," Ross told us, "but I wouldn't lick it."

Grovers Mill, New Jersey, was said to be visited by Martians.
Grovers Mill, New Jersey, was said to be visited by Martians.

A portion of the collection has been set aside for visitors to examine on foot, and the guides use iPads to trigger performances on several of the music machines. Most of the factory, however, is toured from the moving tram. It's from this vantage point that one really appreciates the American Treasure Tour's visual maelstrom. SpongeBob pinatas hang over antique Cadillacs occupied by stuffed animals. A cardboard Marilyn Monroe pops out of an oversize birthday cake. John F. Kennedy from the Lancaster County Wax Museum (which was also bought by Mr. C.), is dressed as a barber, preparing to shave an unhappy customer formerly in the museum's pioneer massacre display. "We try," said Ross, "to put things in places that make sense in a place that will never fully make sense."

Another benefit to the American Treasure Tour, not widely publicized, is that on rare occasions the person sitting next to you on the tram may be Mr. C himself. The guides are instructed to never acknowledge him, and to pretend that he's just another tourist. "If you had these toys in a place like this, wouldn't you want to visit?" said Ross. "I think he gets a thrill being on the tram with people. He wants to enjoy it with them." Ross acknowledged that this I-can-see-you-but-you-can't-see-me approach is odd, but so is everything else at the American Treasure Tour.

The collection needs more bodies for its surplus wax heads.
The collection needs more bodies for its surplus wax heads.

"It's become part of my normal," said Ross of the Tour. "But I would never say that it's normal." That's what makes it worth visiting.

American Treasure Tour

1 American Treasure Way, Oaks, PA
Hwy 422 Oaks exit, left onto Egypt Rd. Turn left at Mill Rd. Once in complex, continue straight on Mill Rd, driving parallel to 422. Pass Regal Cinema Movie Theater; don't turn at stop sign. Go right onto American Treasure Way, next to large 422 business center sign. American Treasure Tour straight ahead.
F-Sa 10-8, Su 10-5 (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Adults $18.
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Happy Halfwit Muffler ManHappy Halfwit Muffler Man, Oaks, PA - < 1 mi.
Founding Fathers in PrayerFounding Fathers in Prayer, Valley Forge, PA - 2 mi.
Movie Theater From The BlobMovie Theater From The Blob, Phoenixville, PA - 3 mi.
In the region:
Black Squirrels, Haverford, PA - 11 mi.

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