By Mickey Zezzo and Joyell Nevins
BETHEL TOWNSHIP — Longtime Motor City Mogul Lee Iaccoca and Bethel Township’s Gale Halderman have something in common: auto designing.
Iaccoca, 89 and living in California, is credited with the production of the Mustang.
Elderman, 82, retired in 1994, spent 40 years as a designer of Ford and is still a designer at heart.
Standing tall amid the vast Tipp City farmland is his creation … a 1990 barn that the Bethel class of 1950 grad has tranformed into a Halderman Ford Museum.
The barn used to be the stables and storage for the Halderman Nursery, ran by both Halderman’s father and grandfather. In fact, a 1953 McCormick Farmall tractor that his dad used sits in one of the rooms of the musuem. It was restored by Chuck Nessle.
The museum reflects Halderman’s past and showcases a variety of Ford mementos. The walls are covered with more than 100 photos of Ford cars and trucks of yesteryear and below the art display, an endless collection of small model cars of many years ago, naturally all Fords. There is also a case filled with Ford pins, patches, keys, plant security badges, and even a limited edition Henry Ford cent.
“It’s been fun,” Halderman said, smiling. “The thing is, once you kindof get into it, you can’t get out. People keep bringing you stuff.”
One wall is dedicated to designs from the Ford drawing room. They are from the 1950s-90s, and range from hand drawn sketches on tracing paper to slick computer designs. Three sketches of the Fairlane are Halderman’s original work, from when his department was trying to come up with ornaments for the vehicle.
The museum concept developed almost a decade ago — Halderman had all those sketches and other artwork just sitting on a shelf and in the basement of his Dearborn, Ohio, condo. His three daughters, Karen, Carol and Kim, encouraged him to put all those items into a visible, separate space.
“That’s what started it all,” he said.
The musuem is dedicated to his father, Emerson, and late wife Barbara. Gale and Barbara met at a school dance, when he was crowned king and she was the queen. In the required royalty dance, they found out they both liked to roller skate. They met the next week to go roller skating, and decades later celebrated 59 years of marriage.
On the musuem floor itself is several Ford classics, all kept charged and immaculately clean. Halderman says he drives them all in the summertime.
There’s a 1966 Ford Mustang convertible, and a Thunderbird he wrote one check for.
There’s a 1927 Model T with a three pedal system — for one brake, high/low and reverse, looking like it’s fresh off the assembly line.
Next to the Model T is a 1931 Model A Cabriolet Convertible, and it’s not difficult to imagine some young teenagers of that year heading for a bunny hop. The convertible has a rumble seat and is from the last year that Model A’s were built.
Also inside is a separate camera museum created by his daughter, Karen Koenig, who relocated from Dearborn to Tipp City. When she came to the Halderman farmhome, she asked her father what should she do with all the cameras she had collected?
“I said, ‘well, we’ll just make room’,” Halderman said.
So the office became a collection space for almost 300 cameras, each with their own tag. Plus, antique plaques, advertisements and magazines all related to photography.
Both the museum and the camera collection have a guest book. Guests have hailed from California, Georgia, Maryland, Indiana, North Carolina, and all over Ohio and Michigan.
Halderman first studied art at the Dayton Art Institute. He was taught industrial design by Read Viemeister, who designed the Tucker automobile. Viemeister encouraged his students to pursue a career in the auto industry, saying it was a great job and offered a creative challenge.
After working 40 years in the same industry, does Halderman agree?
“I’d do it again,” he said with a grin.
The museum is located at 6500 State Route 40 in the Brandt area of Tipp City. There are no hours, but Halderman will open it to whoever would like to see. Call him at (313) 418-2696 to make an appointment.
You can also like “Halderman Museum Barn” on Facebook to see more photos and keep abreast of events.