Many who pass through Hardy, a town of roughly 772 people 60 miles northwest of Jonesboro, have to put on the brakes for the police car sitting on the south side of the highway 412. But one need not worry about being pulled over. The squad car is just a small practical joke by Ernest Sutherland, the owner of the “GoodOldDaysVintageMotorcarMuseum.”
Complete with a dressed up dummy sitting in the driver’s seat, the patrol car has fooled its fair share of motorists.
“You would be surprised at the amount of people who will drive up there, pull into the parking lot of the museum up to where the police car is at, get out of the car, go over there and knock on the glass to ask for directions,” Sutherland said.
The squad car is the first visible “exhibit” of the museum, which has a small place in the history of automobiles, but also the history of Hardy. The car, a model from the early 80s, was the first police car purchased by the small town. When a second car was eventually purchased, the town sold it to Sutherland and his museum.
Sutherland, who works in the plastics industry and resides in Memphis, Tenn., started up the museum in March of 1996 when he needed a place to store his collection of cars he had restored, many of them Model –T’s, the car manufactured by the Ford Motor Company from 1908 to 1927.
“It was a hobby that got out of control. I bought my first car (a 1926 Model-T), restored it and thought ‘that looks pretty good.’ My intention was to buy a car, restore it and then sell it,” Sutherland said. “But every one I’ve restored I’ve fallen in love with and couldn’t part with it. Next thing I knew, I had 20 to 25 cars and I had to look for a place to put them. I ended up in Hardy. I thought someday when I retire, Hardy might be a good place to retire to. That’s never happened.”
The reason for Sutherland’s fascination with the car that occupies half of “Good Old Day’s” showroom is the longevity of that first era of vehicle.
“That really was the first car that was affordable for someone who was working. Back then of course a Model –T was a lot of money, but you could buy one for $300 to $325,” Sutherland said. “1927 was the last year the Model-T’s were made and basically the components and parts that went into a 1927 model were the same ones that were used in 1909.”
“He’s the sweetest man in the world,” said Mary Hambrice, the museum’s caretaker for the last three years. “One of the cars, a Skyline, the gentlemen that owned it loved his car. (Before he) passed away, he had asked if he could have his car put in here and it’s been here ever since just to keep it in good condition.”
Hambrice has been in love with cars ever since her older brother drove a candy-apple red 1969 Ford Mustang.
“I’ve always been fascinated by older cars,” Hambrice said. “My grandmother used to tell stories about (getting) gas, scrounging up 75 cents to fill the tank up.”
While half of the vehicles at “Good Old Days” are from the dawn of the automobile industry, a fair share are from the latter half of the 20th Century. Among them is a red 1910 Kissel Car, a vanilla colored 1924 Falcon Knight and a silver 1989 Pontiac Turbo Trans-AM emblazoned with stickers identifying it as a replica of the official pace car used at the 1989 Indianapolis 500.
But just a few feet away from the Pontiac sits a precursor to todat’s four-wheeled gas guzzlers. From the streets of Thailand sits a Ricksaw, a vehicle best described as part bicycle, part taxi, which while sporting a 1911 license plate, is really from the late 1800s.
The museum’s relatively isolated location, albeit in a tourist-heavy town like Hardy, hasn’t kept it from hosting a wide variety of visitors since its opening 17 years ago.
“We’ve had 20-30 people come through in a day or one person in a day,” Hambrice said. “You meet a lot of interesting people who come in here. I’ve met people from Australia, Germany, Austria, Japan, Scotland, England, Sweden and Norway.”
When Hambrice, a native of Louisiana, asks these distant visitors how they came to find the museum, the frequent response is through Google.
“So (I ask them) ‘do you like classic cars’ (and) they say ‘yes we do,’ so I give them brochures for other places to go to if they want,” Hambrice said. Last year the museum hosted the Model-T Club of America, a group that picks a town as a meeting place and then travels the back roads of America to get there.
The museum has had to adjust its seasonal openings in recent years because of the opening of a bypass around Hardy. With a drop in foot traffic, the museum now only opens in the summer, opening for seven days a week beginning in May.
Another force working against Sutherland and his museum is that which it documents: the passage of time. With each passing year the time from which all of the vehicles originated slips away. With it are those who are experienced at working on and maintaining the life spans of the vehicles.
“The old-timers are fading away fast,” Sutherland said. “Technology has changed.” The museum owner did say parts for old cars can be reproduced.