Out of the ordinary

Are you looking for something a bit out of the ordinary this summer? Try taking a trip to the Leon Historical Society museum.

Unexpected treasures await visitors. A number of displays and items catch the eye, including Bertha’s kitchen, an ice saw, a rudimentary vacuum cleaner, lovely vintage clothing, a Dick and Jane reader, a military display, and the space-age looking beauty shop model permanent machine. This writer was especially surprised to find a duplicate of her old metal doll house, there with the antique toys.

Fred and Freida Milliman were the host and hostess for the Saturday I visited. They said that the Museum is housed at the Old Grange Building, which was the “farmer’s club house,” At one time, there was a stage and dance hall upstairs. The Grange was a place to exchange information, pleasantries and recipes.

A section of the museum is devoted to the Pennyroyal Race Track. The Millimans introduced me to Hoyt Prince, who raced there in the late ’40s. Prince smiled as he reminisced.

He said, “It was right after the war. The drivers used old helmets they had from the war, and goggles from airplanes.” He added, “Drivers used to take as much off their cars as they could. We didn’t think much about safety – just lightness and speed.”

He spoke of the dust, and said that kids would climb the trees to get a better look at the racers.

Prince said, “There were maybe 10 or 12 cars per race. Elliot Ellis kind of ran it. It was $25 to $30 for first place. It was fun – we didn’t realize the chances we were taking.”

He spoke of the death of Joe Ott at the track. He said, “Things changed after that. It became an obstacle course for awhile, but then it went back on the big track until 1960.”

Prince, now 90 years old, was one of the original drivers. He said that his nephew Bob Fisher also drove often.

Prince was born in South Dayton. He grew up on a farm, but never farmed it. He said, “I got out of the military, and wanted some freedom. The Kendall Refinery needed a salesman.”

This former race car driver started in Bradford, and ended up managing a branch of 23 employees in the Buffalo area.

“I never thought I’d end up doing that,” he said.

He lived in Collins for 32 years. He and his wife winter in Florida. He knows many people down there, but said he still feels at home in this part of the country.

Prince traces his family back to Joe Prince, who was born in 1752 and fought in the Revolutionary war. His ancestors all had big families. His youngest daughter, Ruth Prince Schauer, got her certificate as a Daughter of the American Revolution.

Talking to Hoyt Prince takes listeners back to a magical time when the thrills of auto racing were just a drive away down Route 62.

In addition to the contents inside the museum, visitors were able to view an outdoor display that June afternoon. Fred Milliman is working on building the replica of a race car from the golden age of the Pennyroyal race track.

He said, “The guy next door sold me the bottom of the car. I’ve been working on it a couple years, using old parts and materials.”

Two drivers who started their racing careers at Pennyroyal went on to NASCAR fame. In 1950, Bill Rexford became the first NASCAR Points Champion. Lloyd Moore, who also raced at Pennyroyal, earned fourth place in NASCAR in 1950. Fred Milliman’s dad, Howard Milliman, along with Al Kickbush, a mechanic, built the very first car that Bill Rexford drove. Later, a car dealer named Buesink from Jamestown donated cars for Rexford and Lloyd Moore to drive.

Fred described the considerations he faces in completing the car he is working on. He said, “Cars were set up to steer only straight or to the left. There was only an emergency brake.”

He explained there were tires buried in the corners and on the front stretch of the track to keep people from cutting through it. The track was only a half mile. It was one oval loop, with a pit in the center. Top speed was 60 miles an hour. The track would get very dusty, so there was an “observatory tower” from which officials could view the race.

Fred recounted a story about the Petty family, a legendary NASCAR family. Lee Petty, the patriarch, had come to the area for Fred’s dad to do a car repair. The Petty family lived in their car during the season, traveling from race to race. Fred said that he played with the Petty kids outdoors, but couldn’t really understand what they were saying because of their southern accents. One of those boys was Richard Petty, who grew up to be the king of NASCAR, winning the most races of anyone. Lee took a look at the Pennyroyal track, but declined to enter a race there. He felt that the wear and tear on his vehicle wouldn’t be worth the prize money.

Fred never raced, but can build cars. He said, “Except that I haven’t built a motor yet. I want to do it.” Race car enthusiasts and casual viewers will be interested in his work in progress.

Fred, a retired teacher, had some final thoughts. “We’re going to help the Leon Historical Society preserve what we have here. There are several interesting pieces, things I’ve only seen one of.”

The town historian, Pat Bromley, has announced a number of activities which will be held next week in conjunction with the Leon Historical Days. See schedule below

On your trip down memory lane, be sure to take a side trip through the memorabilia of the Pennyroyal Race Track.

The museum is located at 6830 Route 62 in Leon.

Comments on this article may be sent to vnotaro@observertoday.com