When John Parham collected things to loan to the non-profit National Motorcycle Museum, his main focus was motorcycles, then memorabilia. But when a really big artifact of transportation history came along, an entire roadside service station, he couldn’t resist.

When acquired it was in pieces and pretty rough. Broken panes in the huge window units, a bent sheet metal cornice, but John saw potential. A local auto body shop made the sheet metal cornice runs for the four sides. The complex corners were just in need of straightening. Then everything got a coat of paint, red and yellow of the Shell Oil Company. Museum staff lead by the owner of the bodyshop got the whole station reassembled, and it just barley fit inside the Museum. After all, it was a modular station meant to be shipped new from the factory to anywhere in America and erected on a concrete slab. The finishing touch is the hand painted lettering on the three sides done the old fashioned way; laid out with a pounce pattern, lettered with sign paint and sign painter’s brushes.

Note the gravity pumps, the bulk oil tank and other features a driver would meet on the American roadside in bygone days. Finished in 2012, soon the office was filled with great petroliana, but more has been added over the years. Visitors can walk right up to the attendant’s office, check out items that might have been sold in the era and get the feel of being a gasoline station attendant in years past. When you visit you will see the offerings are much different from today’s roadside quick store. A large graphic on the Museum floor traces service station architecture and how fuel was sold in the early years, yet also speaks to modern “fuel” like electricity and hydrogen to get us down the road.

The Gasoline Station in America is an unexpected exhibition at the National Motorcycle Museum, fun, yet informative as to how things were on the road 100 years ago in the era of the Model T, the Harley-Davidson J Model and the Indian Power Plus. We hope you plan a visit to the National Motorcycle Museum this summer to check out all it holds before it closes permanently on September 4.

4 replies
  1. ken tilly
    ken tilly says:

    Why is the museum closing permanently on September 4th 2023 and couldn’t Mike Wolff be interested in either buying or running the museum considering that he is an Iowa native?

  2. ken tilly
    ken tilly says:

    Having just discovered that the museum is closing permanently later this year, I have to ask the question, why, and also knowing that Mike Wolff is an avid motorcycle collector and Iowa native, could he not want to get involved in saving the museum in some way?

  3. Mark
    Mark says:

    Thanks for the note, Ken.

    Here is what we published on the Museum website about six weeks ago:

    Located in eastern Iowa in the small town of Anamosa, the National Motorcycle Museum has been home to over 500 motorcycles, a great bicycle collection and thousands of pieces of memorabilia. After 22 years in this location, however, the Board of Directors, lead by Chairman Jill Parham, has decided to close the Museum later this year. “We have struggled for several years to cover wages and utilities partly due to low visitation.” The Museum is one of about six motorcycle museums in America operated as a non-profit and was established in Iowa by J&P Cycles founders John and Jill Parham. As is proper with closing non-profits, the Museum is using professional counsel during the process. Owners of loaned motorcycles have been contacted, motorcycles that belong to the Museum will be liquidated at auction to pay bills. Much of the Parham Collection will be sold as well. If you would like to be informed of the sales, go to the Museum’s website and sign up for email, http://www.nationalmcmuseum.org. Since this is the unfortunate end of a fine museum, we hope you’ll make plans to visit one more time. Closing date is end of day, September 4, 2023, giving visitors to Sturgis and the Blackhawk MC meet in Davenport a chance to stop by.

  4. Andy
    Andy says:

    You don’t miss your water til the well runs dry. I’ve spent a few fine days at the museum, and will cherish the memories til I’m gone too. I plan to visit a couple of times before it’s gone for good. The Parham family and the board of directors deserve our gratitude for having nurse it through these times as long as they have.


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