LeMay’s new Family Zone a nostalgia trip for all

Staff writerDecember 14, 2013 

A space that formerly held a pair of DeLoreans at LeMay–America’s Car Museum now is home to the auto shrine’s new Family Zone.

The child-friendly space will have its grand opening at 10 a.m. Saturday.

While geared heavily toward kids, it also will be a nostalgic road trip for baby boomers.

The 2,000-square-foot space long has been in the plans for the museum, which has continued developing its programming since its June 2012 opening. About $250,000 donated by the Murdock Charitable Trust Funds was spent on the Family Zone and a new Education Resource Center, which is stocked with books, vintage advertising and original car manuals.

“The goal of this space is to have some intergenerational connections,” said Debbie Kray, the museum’s education manager and the mastermind behind the new interactive display.

The only holdover from the original space is a soap box derby car. The cars, built so children can sit inside and race them using only gravity, were popular from the 1930s into the 1970s, Kray said. A diminished but still active soap box culture exists today.

As in the 1930s, soap box cars are handmade, and that aspect is as important to the tradition as is the racing.

Facing the soap box car is a 40-foot-long pinewood derby race track. The foot-long cars also rely on gravity. The museum’s track has a sophisticated scoreboard that records the finishing placements of four cars at a time. The 50 cars on hand for racing are modular, allowing children to build their own, which in turn can change race outcomes.

“They can see how weight placement can change velocity and acceleration,” Kray said.

The Boy Scouts of America’s local Scout Shops and the Pacific Harbor Council, the Tacoma/Pierce County Sports Museum and Highline Community College offered materials for the cases and consultation on the soap box and pinewood derbies.

Another exhibit kids and their grandparents might enjoy is a 1924 Dodge Royal that children can climb into, start the engine (sound only), turn on lights and work the accelerator. They can even try hand-cranking the car, old-school style.

“It’s the one option for them to get a feel for what it’s like to drive a 1920s car,” Kray said.

Visitors young and mature can learn the basic systems that make cars work by studying a chassis with exposed parts. The chassis was built from the ground up and its various systems are color coded.

Another display case is filled with 1960s nostalgia, plus a few electronic items thrown in, to re-create the heyday of the Great American Road Trip.

“It’s a trip down memory lane,” Kray said.

Finally, even the youngest children can drive their own road trips on a U.S. map, featuring highway systems, toy cars and American landmarks.

The map is so large it has holes for kids to pop up inside.

FAMILY ZONE

  • Where: LeMay – America’s Car Museum, 2702 E. D St., Tacoma.
  • When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
  • Tickets: $14 adult, $12 senior/ student/military, $8 (ages 5 to 12), free younger than 5.
  • Information: 253-779-8490, lemaymuseum.org.

Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541
craig.sailor@thenewstribune.com

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