Appearances can be deceiving: Archie Lewis says that many of his outdoor vehicles can still be driven.
Appearances can be deceiving: Archie Lewis says that many of his outdoor vehicles can still be driven.

Lewis Antique Auto and Toy Museum

Field review by the editors.

Moriarty, New Mexico

Sitting on the north side of Route 66 -- whose attractions usually evoke the look and era of the 1950s -- is the Lewis Antique Auto and Toy Museum, a reminder that people have been driving in New Mexico long before the days of tail fins and rock 'n' roll. Archie Lewis, born in 1936, is nearly as old as the Mother Road, and many of the cars in his collection are older than Archie.

Archie unwinds another story from his museum easy chair.
Archie unwinds another story from his museum easy chair.

Ancient and fragile-looking Ford Model Ts in every stage of survival can be found on the eight-acre property, from skeletal hulks out in the yard to painstakingly restored examples -- the jewels of Archie's collection -- inside the main building. Also inside is Archie's toy collection, with over 6,000 miniature cars, trucks, and model trains displayed in a kind of joyful chaos.

Archie keeps himself indoors, too, sheltered from the southwestern sun, in a comfy chair angled just slightly to the door. He told us that he sits there every day from 10 to 4, and is always happy to speak with visitors.

Route 66 license plate map. Most visitors already know that the Mother Road runs right past the museum.
Route 66 license plate map. Most visitors already know that the Mother Road runs right past the museum.

Archie grew up about an hour southeast of his museum, in Vaughn, on the road to Roswell. "My dad had a garage and I was raised in it," said Archie. A 1926 Model T roadster, still out in the museum yard, was his first car. "I bought it 40 miles from home, drove it home," said Archie. At the time, he was nine years old.

The museum's toy collection is organized casually.
The museum's toy collection is organized haphazardly.

Archie's story of this first car leads to one of his diversionary tales, and it quickly becomes evident that the main attraction at this museum is not the cars, but Archie. He has seen things.

"I was down there when they were putting the bomb in the tower," said Archie, referring to the first atomic bomb that was exploded on a tower in nearby White Sands in 1945. Robert Oppenheimer, the bomb's chief scientist, had ordered some truck parts from the Lewis garage, and Archie's mom had to drive the parts to the secret bomb site (Archie tagged along, and it was on this trip that he spotted the Model T that he would later buy). "Oppenheimer told us how to get in, and then they wouldn't let us leave," said Archie. The Lewis's had to live in a tent for several weeks while the top secret bomb was assembled, and were freed just before it exploded. At one point Oppenheimer shook Archie's hand, apparently grateful for the truck parts that somehow helped make possible the Atomic Age.

Restored Model Ts and other vintage vehicles are kept indoors.
Restored Model Ts and other vintage vehicles are kept indoors.

"The UFOs was my sister and two other girls," said Archie on another tangent, this one about the famous flying saucer crash in Roswell. "The same day that thing crashed, something flew over them and about scared them out of their wits." Archie's memory, which he admits is sometimes vague, is that odd aerial sights were a common phenomenon in the skies above the Lewis garage. "Seemed like Vaughn had a lot of them flying objects," he said. "My dad" -- who was doing work for the government -- "had a special number that he called when we seen stuff. I don't know where he called but he had a special number."

As Archie tells his stories, we take note of the white beard framing his creased, sun-leathered face. Archie is as visually memorable as his restored cars. He has attracted portraitists, he said, both photographers and painters. Examples of their work are scattered throughout the building. Archie is quick to point out that additional copies can be found in books and galleries.

Archie nearly punched a movie star for abusing one of his cars.
Archie nearly punched a movie star for abusing one of his cars.

Although Archie may resemble a stock photography character, he is far from superficial. Before he opened the museum he worked tough jobs in the high desert of New Mexico as a mechanic, welder, and gold and uranium prospector. For a brief time he rented out his restored cars to Hollywood, but then he nearly punched out Ricardo "Wrath of Khan" Montalban during a film shoot. "He decided to strike a match on my fender," said Archie, recalling Ricardo's on-camera improv that threatened Archie's carefully restored 1914 Model T touring car. "Boy, I come unglued."

Archie is very protective of his cars, and once took Roadside America to task for calling his outdoor display a junkyard. "I call them antique recyclables," he told us. Many of these relics -- Archie said there are around 700 of them -- appear to be in rough shape, but their decay has been arrested by the dry New Mexico air, and Archie suggested that their looks can be deceiving. His first car, the 1926 Model T roadster, is out here. "Same condition that I bought it in," said Archie. "It would run if I clean the fuel lines, yep."

Archie operated an antique auto parts business in Albuquerque until 2003. Then, when he felt that the city was starting to surround him, he packed up, moved here, opened his museum, and sat in his chair. He likes wide open spaces. He finally has a place to park his cars and tell his stories.

Lewis Antique Auto and Toy Museum

Address:
905 Route 66, Moriarty, NM
Directions:
On the north side of Central Ave./Route 66 just west of I-40 exit 197.
Hours:
Daily 10-4 (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Phone:
505-832-6131
Admission:
Adults $4.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Soaring Museum - GlidersSoaring Museum - Gliders, Moriarty, NM - < 1 mi.
Memorial of Perpetual TearsMemorial of Perpetual Tears, Moriarty, NM - 1 mi.
Tin Sheet TombstonesTin Sheet Tombstones, Chilili, NM - 14 mi.
In the region:
Chevy on a Stick, Albuquerque, NM - 32 mi.

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