By DOUG CURLEE | La Mesa Courier
La Mesa is home to one of the top three museums of its type in the United States. Comparatively few people know that fact and most of those who do know it are all about automobiles — the older the better.
The Horseless Carriage Foundation and the Automotive Research Library share space at 8186 Center St., Suite F, just a few blocks southwest of Grossmont Center.
At one time, the library was housed at the Automotive Museum in Balboa Park, but space considerations there dictated a move elsewhere.
The small front area is a sitting room, where you can sit and peruse articles and books about nearly every car ever built, back to the days when there were powered by steam.
There are a lot of pages to peruse — a lot of pages.
“We’ve scanned and archived more than 5 million pages, so far, and there’s still a whole lot to go,” said “Mac” McPherson, executive director of the research library.
You begin to understand the magnitude of that task as you look down the several aisles of books and documents stretching nearly the length of the building.
If you need service manuals for very old cars, or design drawings, or books about the vehicle, or books and articles about early San Diego, they’re likely to be there.
Doesn’t everyone need a schematic of the first Studebaker truck from before Word War I?
How did McPherson get to this place in life?
“I’m not dead sure,” said the retired Navy man and master printer. He’s always been interested in old cars, so this was right up his alley. “I just came in to help out a little, and found myself in charge of the place.”
Lest you think this is all about American cars, absolutely not. The library has documentation about cars from all over the world, going back to when they were first made — even if they were powered by steam, as many were.
Mac could even provide information about perhaps the worst car ever built — the Trabant, which was Communist East Germany’s attempt to match the success the Volkswagen enjoyed worldwide. The Trabant was so bad even the people who built it didn’t want to drive it.
There are many items available for sale at the museum — often duplicates of the items already scanned and archived. There are many more items that are one of a kind, and will never be sold. Those items can be scanned and printed out for a nominal fee.
The museum exists on contributions, some of those sales and donations. Mac is particularly grateful for ongoing support from the Ellen Browning Scripps Foundation.
It’s a place to see and appreciate if you’re at all interested in the topic.
It’s a little hard to find, but not terribly so, and there’s not a whole lot of parking.
But if cars — all kinds of cars — are what you’re interested in, you can look past all that and enjoy.
The Horseless Carriage Foundation and the Automotive Research Library in La Mesa is open Tuesdays through Fridays, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The foundation also offers presentations at schools — complete with a vintage Model T Ford. For more information, or to make a donation, visit the library at 8186 Center St. or visit online at hcfi.org.
— Doug Curlee is a longtime San Diego reporter in both print and television. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.