After 27 years at the same location, America’s Packard Museum is still one of the Miami Valley’s hidden gems.
“Many of our out-of-town visitors are looking for something to do on their second day in Dayton after they have toured the Air Force museum,” explained museum director Dan Badger.
If you’re one of those who have never spent a couple of hours at the museum at 420 S. Ludlow St. in Dayton, this is your formal invitation.
Founded by Robert Signom Jr., who is still the curator, the building was formerly the Citizen’s Motorcar Co. and sold Packards to Daytonians. Badger, a Yellow Springs resident, took over managing the operation about four years ago.
“I grew up around cars. My dad was a mechanic, and I have some background in antique auto and aircraft restoration,” he explained. “I started to volunteer here in about 2002 and eventually Bob Signom suggested I might get more involved. I really didn’t know that much about Packards until I started here.”
Badger and a couple of skilled volunteers do all of the mechanical work on the cars.
Packard automobiles originally were built in Warren, Ohio, but moved to Detroit, where they continued production until 1956. The company bought Studebaker in 1953 and continued to build cars until 1958. The 1957 and ’58 Packards were actually Packard-badged Studebakers built in South Bend, Indiana. Some of the most historic and significant Packards are in the collection of the Dayton museum.
While Badger is the only full-time employee, there are a couple of part-timers and about 30 dedicated volunteers.
“We wouldn’t be doing anything if not for the volunteers,” Badger said. “You can’t pay them what they are worth; they keep this place going.”
At any one time, there are about 50 cars on display. The inventory includes everything from a 1903 Packard Grey Wolf racer to one of the last Packards, a 1956 Caribbean.
“We have Al Capone’s Packard in the collection along with a wide variety of other models and racers – many that are still in original condition,” Badger added. “We try to rotate the display, cycle about 10 cars out and replace them with others every quarter, and we keep certain unique cars on display all the time” he said.
One of those is the 1930 Model 734 Boat Tail Speedster that sits in the showroom window on a turntable. Only 39 of these cars were built, and only 11 are believed to survive. About half of the total inventory is owned by the museum; the rest are on loan from collectors.
In addition to hosting between 15,000 to 18,000 visitors annually, the museum also hosts a variety of special events.
“We have weddings and wedding receptions, business meetings, holiday parties, all kinds of events that help generate revenue,” Badger said. “We got out of the event management business a few years ago. We have Elite Catering handle all of the event work, we just provide the space. Some days we have to move 15 or 20 cars out of the way for an event and we have to do that in a half hour,” he added.
“As small auto museums go, we’re pretty lucky,” Badger added. “The mortgage is paid off, we have money in the bank and any museum operating in the black is good.
“What’s cool is the cars tell the story themselves – we’re just lucky enough to get to take care of them.”
How to go
America’s Packard Museum is open every day except Christmas and New Year’s Day, from noon to 5 p.m. Adults $6, seniors $5, students free. It is located at 420 S. Ludlow St. in Dayton. For more information, call 937-226-1710 or go online to www.americaspackardmuseum.com