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Closing Scene: Mr. Dougherty’s Auto Nation


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I get a lot of grief about the stuff I collect; books, magazines and newspapers as well as family heirlooms that I just can’t seem to part with. But my penchant for collecting (OK, hoarding) pales in comparison to the late Ray G. Dougherty.

His son, Doug, says his dad’s collecting bug was likely sparked by a visit to Detroit in 1930. He went there to pick up a Coupe fresh off Henry Ford’s famous assembly line and drive it back to Longmont. While there, he took note of Ford’s penchant for preserving (collecting) everything—from Edison’s entire laboratory in which he invented the light bulb and phonograph to farm equipment and steam engines to boats, bicycles and motorcycles and on and on.

A Boulder County turkey farmer, Dougherty began assembling a world-class collection of rare, antique vehicles, farm equipment, musical instruments, firearms and phonographs rather modestly. He would acquire farm equipment and vehicles from neighbors who were upgrading to modern machines that, through the last weekend in August, are on display at the Dougherty Museum located about half a mile south of Longmont on the east side of U.S. 287.

“He used to keep the steam engines and tractors in the brooder houses and sheds on the farm,” recalls Doug, who now oversees the museum. “For a couple weeks when the turkeys were just hatched, he’d have to move them outside, but for the rest of the time, he kept them in the sheds.”

And not just on his farm. Over the years, Dougherty enlisted his parents and friends in his effort to house his growing collection that includes the 1902 Mobile Steamer, one of the first—if not THE first—automobiles (once called “mankillers”) in Boulder County owned by pioneer and businessman Andrew J. Macky. Virtually all of the vehicles and equipment in the collection came from within a 30-mile radius of Longmont, according to Doug.

The dozens of vintage cars—including Packards, Rolls Royces and Pierce Arrows from the early 1900s—are exceptional not just for their near mint condition, but because they all run. And while that may not be such a big deal for the automobiles, keeping 100-year-old, steam driven tractors in working order is no small feat. Forget about the problem of finding original parts, just knowing how to start the damn things is a feat in and of itself. Just ask any engineer or fireman who nurse, cajole and beat the vintage iron horses that haul aficionados up and down the mountains in Durango, Georgetown, LaVeta, Antonito and Cripple Creek.

If seeing such antiques coaxed to chugging, roaring, thumping life is a thrill, then don’t miss the last weekend in August when the Dougherty Museum—in conjunction with the vintage tractor show held on the adjoining field—fire some of those agrarian dinosaurs up and put them to work.

This isn’t your average car show with chromed motors, plush interiors and flawless restoration. The antique tractor show at the Dougherty Museum is about seeing pure Boulder County history chug to life. Only when you get to see and hear and feel firsthand what these old behemoths were like to operate (for example, inflatable rubber tires didn’t show up on tractors until the early 1930s, giving early farmers a thorough beating in exchange for the gains in productivity).

Thanks to staffing help from Boulder County’s Senior Tax Workoff program, the Dougherty Museum remains open three days a week through the summer months. It’s non-descript cement building doesn’t do justice to the mechanical gems inside. But if you’re interested in getting up close and personal with some vintage Boulder County history, it’s worth a visit. But don’t even think about using the museum as justification for keeping that 60s vintage Ford pickup (the one that you’re going to restore someday) collecting dust next to the garage. Trust me, it’ll never fly.

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