T-Birders flock to see Beloit angels
By Debra Jensen-De Hart
When Bert Eisenhour saw that first Thunderbird back in 1954, it was love at first sight. "I saw the first one and said 'I have to have one,'" he explained as he stood in the Beloit Angel Museum.
Eisenhour, his wife, Jane, and about 40 other members of the Classic Thunderbird Club of Chicagoland cruised into the museum parking lot Friday morning because it is among the sites they are visiting for their annual fall tour.
The club was chartered in 1962 and has 115 members, Eisenhour said.
Besides taking trips together, the group also attends competitive meets where cars are inspected for their attention to detail, quality, authenticity and more.
The cars in the club represent the first three years the model debuted, 1955. '56 and '57 as a two-passenger sports cars.
Eisenhour has owned a '55 and a '57. His baby blue '57 T-Bird sat in the lot next to some other very colorful birds of turquoise, pink, salmon, yellow and black and white. Wide white-wall tires gleaming, chrome grills shining and the spotless interiors and exteriors of
the models added a classic touch outside the museum known for its vast angel collection.
Peter and Lisa Ekstrom, who organized the trip, also planned stops at the House on the Rock, Little Norway, Cave of the Mounds and more for the T-Bird Club.
Eisenhour said he drives his Thunderbird a total of about 1,000 miles in the summer and fall. Replacement parts can be reproductions for the models now beyond the half-century mark, club members said.
Over the 10 years the museum has been open, Ruth Carlson, executive director, has seen people from a large variety of areas in the Midwest as well as from states across the country and even from New Zealand visit the site, she said.
It remains a travel destination for many people who come to Beloit, not only because of the large angel collection, but because of the well maintained building housing the collection— a former Catholic church— its history, the gift shop in the lower level and the ambiance of the riverfront which completes the experience, Carlson pointed out.
Volunteers keep the museum open for tourists by donating 10,000 hours of their time each year. Located at 656 Pleasant St., the site is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m.— 4 p.m. Admission to the museum is $6, adults; $5, seniors; $4 teens and $3 for children 5-12. There is no admission fee for the gift shop. Special tour rates also are available.