Among the various draws of Sacramento is the California Automobile Museum on Front Street, just north of Broadway. And the majority of those who are most familiar with this museum remember the name Towe.
After all, it was the then Montana banker Edward Towe who provided nearly every automobile that was used to establish the museum at its current, original site in 1986. The museum officially opened to the public on May 1, 1987.
Many local automobile enthusiasts were delighted to learn that Towe, 97, would be making a special appearance last Sunday, Oct. 2 at the museum for the second edition of the museum’s annual Founders’ Day.
The visit also represented the 25th year since Towe’s automobiles were relocated to the then-new museum site.
A crowd gathered in front of the museum during last weekend’s event to meet Towe, who shared a few of his many memories.
While sitting in a wheelchair in front of the museum, which was originally known as the California Towe Ford Automobile Museum, Towe, who once owned the largest collection of Fords on display in the world, drew much attention, as he posed for photographs and signed several autographs.
Although much energy was created by guests who were eager to at least get a glimpse of the man who was so instrumental in the process of bringing an automobile museum to the capital city, it appeared at times that no one was more excited to be present at the event than Towe himself.
Towe’s excitement and sense of nostalgia for the event was apparent as he requested copies of photographs taken at the event and at one point turned to his daughter, Kristy Updegraff, who served as the museum’s executive director from 1996 to 2006, and asked, “Can you take a picture of the (museum) building for me?”
Fortunately for Towe, his visits to the museum do not have to be so infrequent as they were during the past, since he recently moved from Arizona to the Pocket area of Sacramento to reside with Kristy and his son-in-law and Kristy’s husband, Jim Updegraff.
Nonetheless, Towe seemed to treat the event as if it were either his last visit to the museum or it would be a long time before he would visit the museum again.
Dick Ryder, the museum’s founder, said that Towe’s presence at the event was a fulfillment of a commitment that he made in the 1980s.
“It was really neat to have the reminiscent of something that happened (about) 20 years ago,” Ryder said. “On that video tape (that was shown at the museum during the event, Towe) said that he would be around in 20 years or so (and) he was around in 20 years.”
Roseville resident Brenda Whittington, one of several people to receive an autograph from Towe last Sunday, said that she feels fortunate to have had the opportunity to have met Towe, considering that she had arrived at the museum for the current Porsche exhibit, which continues through Nov. 28, and was unaware of the Founders Day festivities.
“My husband (Tom Whittington) wanted to come see the Porsche exhibit,” Brenda said. “I like (cars), but I’m not as attentive to the finer details of a car as my husband is. We come down here (to the automobile museum) from time to time and look at the various exhibits. But I had no idea that (Towe) would be here today. I’m glad that I got a chance to meet him. It’s wonderful to see that he’s still doing so well for his age.”
Although Towe spoke few words to the crowd that had gathered to see him, he requested that he have the opportunity to share a few of his memories for this article.
And in doing so, Towe, who later rode in a 1903 Model A Ford as part of the event, said, “You might say that this is a culmination or the windup of about 100 years of playing with old cars. I put my life into (car collecting). I’m 97 and a half and I have two years and a half to go (to reach 100 years of age). I bought my first car in about 1926. It was a 1917 Ford Model T Touring car. I bought it from Sam Towe, a distant relative of mine, for $12.”
As a teenager, Towe, with the help of his father, established a bicycle business in his hometown of Paullina, Iowa.
As Towe’s mechanical expertise in bicycles progressed, he added automobiles to his business.
Towe’s love of Fords eventually led to his accumulation of 240 Ford automobiles. He purchased the first of this collection’s cars in 1950.
The collection included every year and every model of the first 50 years of automobiles manufactured by the Ford Motor Co.
During the event, Towe demonstrated that he still possesses a sense of humor.
After signing an autograph, Towe said, “Don’t write a check on top of it.”
Later during the event, after being asked why he specified the 1914 Touring car as his favorite automobile, Towe replied, “(Because) it’s the year I was born.”
In the most recent edition of Fuel, the California Automobile Museum’s newsletter, which is printed six times per year, Karen McClafflin, executive director of the museum, wrote: “Museums like ours are truly fuel for the soul. Museums are places of reassurance in times of uncertainty; a place where people can escape from the problems of life for a time. Museums are inspirational; a place where visitors can see how the changes and innovations of the past have shaped our world today.”
And fortunately for the capital city, Edward Towe helped pave the way for the creation of what has become the California Automobile Museum, thus allowing thousands upon thousands of people the opportunity to obtain “fuel for the soul” at this longtime, popular Sacramento museum.
Kristy said that she is appreciative of the opportunity that her father had to participate in this year’s Founders’ Day.
“I’m glad he’s getting some recognition,” Kristy said. “It’s been a long, long lifetime of collecting automobiles and he’s been away (from Sacramento) for some years now, so it’s nice to have him back.”