First-class message about a local treasure

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Column by Ben Sheroan, editor

By Ben Sheroan

Occasionally, our Sunday conversations in the form of this column are interrupted. Something else appears in this space for a myriad of reasons.

Sometimes, we devote the space to something of particular importance such as the recent full-page of tributes to the late Jim Collier. More often, it’s a hectic work schedule or some other interruption that robbed the time reserved for writing. Over the summer, one absence was vacation related.

But it most likely is the fact the distance between the idea and computer keyboard was too great. Translation: I could not think of something worth your time or I could not make the idea work.

Rarely do these columns come fully formed in the mind. My first boss and writing mentor used to compare it to “opening a vein.” Writing something personal can be that painful.

In today’s case, however, the subject was virtually gift wrapped. Delivered by the U.S. Postal Service in a bleached, white envelope came a stack of paper more than a half-inch thick.

It was shipped by Bill Swope. You probably know him as a local new car dealer. You also may recognize him as World War II veteran and a long-time civic and community leader.

He’s also a proud papa. In this case, I’m not talking about the family he and Betty raised in their home. He’s the proud papa of Swope’s Cars of Yesteryear Museum, which sits alongside the dealerships on North Dixie Avenue in Elizabethtown.

Mr. Swope mailed photocopies of 80 pages of the museum’s visitor sign-in sheets, which represents three months this summer.

It’s amazing to see how far people have come. The first page alone has notations from California, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia, Ohio, Illinois and Ontario, Canada.

I stopped counting after 30 states and was only halfway through the stack of paper. There was even the name of someone I know from an earlier portion of my life spent in Athens, Ala.

Have you ever wondered where people from exotic places such as Switzerland, Australia or Barbados go on vacation? Some of them come to Elizabethtown to see the Swope collection.

“It would seem that for many, Elizabethtown is a destination, rather than just an exit off the interstate,” Mr. Swope wrote in his accompanying letter.

The guest registry is not a requirement of the museum. These 1,600 signatures were offered voluntarily and most were punctuated with notes of praise.

“Amazed!” “Wonderful — Over the top.” “Eye popping.” “An incredible collection.” “THE BEST!” “I’ll be back.”

The website tripadvi sor.com lists the museum as a “must see attraction” and it is.

It is an extraordinary personal collection marking the history of the automobile. The vehicles obviously have been painstakingly restored and certainly at no insignificant cost.

But museum admission is free.

The facility, which was renovated and expanded earlier this year, is quite a gift to the community and one that we should cherish and personally enjoy.

It’s open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., except holidays. It closes an hour earlier during winter. A staff of knowledgeable hosts provide tours or answer your questions.

Mr. Swope closes his letter with a question to himself.

“Am I bragging? Yes, just a little, but I trust you will forgive me.”

I’ll answer for us all with this adage: It’s not bragging if it’s true. Swope’s Cars of Yesteryear Museum truly is a quiet treasure.

Ben Sheroan is editor of The News-Enterprise. He can be reached at (270) 505-1764 or bsheroan@thenewsenterprise.com.