The old (and almost forgotten, for many years) “Birthplace of Four Wheel Drive Museum” (www.fourwheeldrivefoundation.com) in Clintonville, Wis. is getting a shot of energy from a former city resident. History buff Mark Thomas, now of Pontiac, Mich., is making what used to be a tiny collection of historic vehicles and corporate artifacts into a gigantic museum with some very significant cars, trucks and materials.
In 1911, the Clintonville Four Wheel Drive Corp. invented the first four-wheel-drive system used in production vehicles in the United States. FWD has existed since then and is now merged with Seagrave, the maker of fire trucks. Thomas and his volunteers are now in their 37th month of moving the FWD-Seagrave collection into new quarters in a Clintonville factory where Topp-Stewart Tractors were once manufactured.
The old museum was housed in the actual machine shop where United States four-wheel-drive technology was invented. We first visited there in the early ‘80s. The FWD Museum was always a labor of love for those involved with it. The hours of operation were pretty much a mystery and to get in usually required a phone call to the right person in the FWD-Seagrave Company who had a personal passion for corporate history.
We recall the museum being small and dimly lit. The walls were lined with historic black-and-white photos tracing the history of FWD trucks from World War I times up until the 1980. The same photos are still around (many are now being digitized), but there’s nothing similar about the museum itself. It’s in a new building, it has new-and-improved backing and the vehicle count has grown from 13 to 58 and counting.
The new FWD Museum is truly “history in the making,” and when it is finished you won’t need to read a book to know what FWD-Seagrave is all about. A trip to the new museum will show you everything from the look of the FWD baseball team’s uniforms to the medical chair the company nurse had in her office. There are blueprints for practically every vehicle the company ever turned out, wood and aluminum patterns for thousands of FWD parts and a room full of glass plate negatives of historic FWD photos.
In 2017, the Shawano Evening Leader newspaper ran a story by Grace Kirchner that first announced that the FWD Museum was moving to new and larger quarters. “The FWD Foundation, which is dedicated to preserving the history of the Four Wheel Drive Auto Co., has purchased the former tractor plant at 325 15th St., Clintonville, for use as a museum,” wrote Kirchner. “The purchase was announced by Mark Thomas and Marcia Olen, who is the granddaughter of FWD’s first president Walter A. Olen.”
At that time, Thomas guessed that at least 21 trucks would wind up in the museum. He never anticipated that number rising to nearly 60 vehicles. Kirchner said FWD-Seagrave entrusted the museum with “a substantial quantity of historical documentation.”
According to the Website above, the FWD Museum has traditionally been open from 1 pm to 4 pm on Saturdays from June to September. Thomas said there will be expanded hours of operation starting in 2019. He said that limited viewing by appointment can also be arranged. To make an appointment, call Bill Hupke at 1-715-823-4552 or email Mark Thomas at [email protected]