CAMPO, Calif. -- In a land that’s flat, this place stands out like no other. A clock tower higher than any building nearby, watching over hundreds of trucks in varying degrees of decay.
“It has been said that this is like a hospital and there’s a lot of ill patients waiting to be resurrected,” says Bryan Butler, docent of the Motor Transport Museum in Campo.
The patients are the trucks and the doctor is Frank Ball, also known as a master mechanic. For decades, Ball has meticulously restored antique trucks, like a 1924 Ford Double T what was left to rust in someone’s yard for so long that a tree grew and molded around the engine.
Ball refinished the truck bed, swapped out parts and with a few forceful cranks and persistence, he got the engine purring again.
“Model T’s are not easy to get started at best,” says Ball.
He also tinkered with two antique buses now being used in parades in Julian.
“The neatest thing is watching the expression on the kids’ faces,” says Butler, who runs the place and has endless stories to share.
He pointed out a 1917 Nash Quad used during WWI to transport troops, a truck favored by President Theodore Roosevelt during his Yosemite trips.
Butler also pointed out a bus called the Pickwick Nite Coach made before WWI. “This was the most hideous thing to ride in,” says Butler. Every single Pickwick bus, except the one at the museum, was dismantled, its metal used for the war efforts. Butler bought this one off a missionary in Tennessee, and to his knowledge it’s the only one left in America, truly a piece of history.
The museum building itself is also full of history – from the clock tower to the arrows on the roof that point to a tiny desert airport in Jacumba, still in use today.
The museum is open to the public every Saturday and by appointment during the week. Admission is free. Butler says it’s the museum’s mission to preserve and restore American trucking history and educate people young and old about the beauty hidden in the old, dusty and rusty.