By Chris Mayo
To step into the Lewis Antique Auto and Toy Museum is to step back in time, back to the days when life was less complicated and Route 66 was a thriving east-to-west thoroughfare.
Owner Archie Lewis chose his Old Route 66 location in Moriarty purposefully. “It seemed to me that these cars and trucks belong here,” he says. After all, many of them were the vehicles of choice for families and individuals making the trek along the Mother Road in the heyday of automobile travel.
Inside the large warehouse that serves as the indoor section of the museum, small toys are displayed on shelves lining the walls, with larger ones set on the floor amid the vehicles. Lewis’s collection includes some special gems, including a 1935 Autocar gas truck, a 1941 Army Half Track, and a 1955 T-Bird that is featured on a mural on the side of the Moriarty Chamber of Commerce Building.
It isn’t just the antique vehicles and toys that make a visit to the museum a delightful experience; part of the charm is visiting with Lewis himself. An easy conversationalist, he enjoys sharing his history and experiences.
Born in 1936, Lewis has been collecting and restoring antique cars all his life. “I bought my first Model T when I was nine years old,” he recalls. “My father was a mechanic and welder and I traveled with him a lot when he had out of town work. We were in Corona one day; I saw that Model T and I just wanted to have it. The man who owned it sold it to me for 40 dollars . . . I’ve been buying cars and trucks ever since.”
Lewis left Vaughn for Albuquerque shortly after graduating from high school. At first, he worked as a mechanic and welder for various companies around the city, eventually purchasing property on the corner of Edith and Montaño where he built a shop to fix and restore cars. “I did that on the side for the first few years,” he says. “One day I got mad at work, so I just packed up my tools and went into it full-time.”
All the while Lewis was collecting cars, trucks, and antique toy trucks, cars, tractors, and trains. He worked occasionally with Joiner Construction in Rio Rancho, whose owner is also a classic car enthusiast. Some of the cars Lewis restored for Joiner ran in the Great Race, a classic car race from the West to East Coasts that was held annually from the early 1980s until 2002. He also helped set up the J and R Museum, a classic car museum that is still in Rio Rancho.
After nearly 50 years in Albuquerque, Lewis decided to move to Moriarty in 2003. “I’d been thinking about it for a while,” he says. “Albuquerque kind of grew around me and I wanted to get back to living somewhere more out of the way.”
It took nine months to move all his cars, trucks, spare parts, and various antique toys. “We looked like a bunch of gypsies moving all that stuff up I-40,” he recalls.
In addition to his move, Lewis decided it was time to make his collection available to the public. “People were stopping by anyway while we were moving all the stuff onto the lot. They were just curious about my collection,” he says.
Lewis welcomes all visitors, which range from a handful on some days to large groups on others. Hours of operation are daily from about 10am to 5pm, with the caveat that he or his girlfriend, Beth, leave on occasion to run errands. Either one will be happy to show you around. All they ask in return is a small donation of whatever you feel is appropriate.
Lewis estimates that he has about 700 antique cars and trucks now, but he admits that he hasn’t bothered to count them since the move. He guesses he has 4,000 or so antique toys. His passion for collecting is as strong as ever. His most recent acquisition? An antique Amish buggy. If you want to know how he ended up with that, stop by and ask him. His museum is at the very east end of Moriarty on Old Highway 66, next to I-40 Exit 197. As he says, “You can’t miss it; it’s the place with the old cars and trucks and tractors outside.”
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