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Blackhawk Museum June 14, 2015

Posted by flashbuzzer in History.
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I recently visited the Blackhawk Museum in Danville. This museum features a collection of classic cars and other exhibits.

Here are eight nuggets that I gleaned from my time at the museum.

1. The Maserati family included seven brothers, and six of them helped launch the family business. They adopted the trident of Neptune as their company’s emblem, as the trident was the symbol of their hometown, Bologna. One of their successful products was the 3500 GT. Interestingly, the Shah of Iran was impressed by the 3500 GT; later, he became the impetus for the design and production of the 5000 GT.

2. Sir William Lyons founded the Swallow Sidecar Company in 1922 as a manufacturer of motorcycle sidecars. The Swallow Sidecar Company was renamed as “Jaguar” after World War II; Jaguar did not achieve international prominence, though, until their D-Type cars won three consecutive editions of the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race. Lyons wanted to recoup some of the design and production costs of the D-Type car, leading to the development of the XKSS as a road-going version of the D-Type car.

3. The hood ornament of Packard cars features a pelican; it has been claimed that this design choice was inspired by the Packard family’s escutcheon. Packard achieved great success with their Sixth Series in 1929. While their sales figures in subsequent years were impacted by the Great Depression, they did not compromise on the design of their cars; the Tenth Series is an excellent example in this regard. The outbreak of hostilities in World War II saw Packard shift its focus to the production of engines for aircraft and boats.

4. Mercedes-Benz designed and produced the 540K; this car featured a Roots-type supercharger that could be engaged by pressing the accelerator to the floor when the car was in its top gear. Interestingly, Joachim von Ribbentrop owned a 540K; the rolling chassis of his car was manufactured in Germany. Since von Ribbentrop was stationed in France at that time, the chassis was shipped there. Initially, he wanted a French company to design and produce the body of his car. Later, though, he was appointed as the Nazi ambassador to England; thus, the body of his car was eventually designed and produced by an English company.

5. Chief Plenty Coups played a pivotal role in fostering peaceful relations between the U.S. government and his Crow tribe. In particular, when he was young, he had a vision that buffalo would be replaced by cattle throughout his land. This vision spurred him and his wife to become farmers and even run a general store. In 1921, President Harding invited him to Washington D.C. when the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was opened.

6. In Native American mythology, eagles are revered as messengers who carry the prayers of men to the spirit world. Eagles are also regarded as being able to control the weather; for example, they can serve as the impetus for a thunderstorm. Native Americans could only add an eagle feather to their wardrobe with the approval of their tribal council; the right to wear these feathers could be earned by performing feats of courage or demonstrating strong leadership of their families. On a side note, bald eagles lay about 1-3 eggs per clutch, and these eggs incubate for about 35 days.

7. William “Buffalo Bill” Cody lost his father at a young age. He spent part of his formative years in Kansas, where he experienced the effects of Bleeding Kansas. Later, he served as a scout in the Union Army during the Civil War. His postwar adventures included several skirmishes with Native American forces; he was also acclaimed for his ability to hunt buffalo that constantly blocked train tracks. He toured England with his Wild West Show, and he even made an appearance at the 1899 World’s Fair in Paris. He later poured his earnings from the Wild West Show into several misguided ventures, including mines and a hotel. It should also be noted that he struggled to maintain his marriage vows.

8. A typical day for travelers on the Oregon Trail commenced around 4 a.m. with a bugle call or a rifle shot. They would then round up their animals that had been grazing near their camp. After they ate breakfast, they would set out around 7 a.m. They would travel until noon, when they would stop for an hour-long lunch. They would proceed on their afternoon journey until around 5 p.m.; they usually stopped at a location with sufficient grass and water for their animals and formed a wagon corral. They would then eat dinner; after dinner, women typically did chores while men chatted and young people danced. They would then go to sleep around 8 p.m. after posting guards, who would change shifts around midnight.

I especially enjoyed perusing the various classic cars in the museum, including several racing cars that competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The cars were clearly well-maintained, highlighting their aerodynamic features. I also enjoyed the Spirit of the Old West exhibit, which featured a massive diorama that described the decline of the Native American way of life in the West. That exhibit made a commendable attempt to present a balanced view of the interactions between whites and Native Americans over the last 300 years.

I should note that it is important to follow the directions to the museum that are posted on its website. While I parked in the correct location, it took me a while to find the museum’s entrance since I initially wandered in the wrong direction.

Overall I enjoyed my time at the museum, and I would definitely recommend it to history and automobile buffs who happen to be in the Bay Area.

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