Volo Museum Offers A Unique View Into History in Lake County - Visit Lake County - Blog

Volo Museum Offers A Unique View Into History in Lake County

By: Nick Borowitz

The Volo Museum offers a unique view into history in Lake County.  You can take a look into the past, let your imagination wander and buy a new car.

The eclectic museum is a stop on U.S. Route 12 of Lake County Road Trips. Continue here to "Let the Ride Take You."

I had the opportunity to tour the Volo Museum and gain some behind-the-scenes insight with the facility's marketing director Jim Wojdyla.

Glimpse of History

 

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The museum as we know it today began in 1960 when brothers Bill and Greg Grams lived on the property and operated an antique store in a barn. They would use their profits to buy old cars and tinker with them in their free time. Eventually, the brothers built up quite the collection.

"After a while, (the Grams brothers) built up a reputation, and people would come to see the collection of cars that they were building," Jim said.

Bill and Greg continued to buy, fix and grow their collection and with that, more and more people began making the trek to witness this oddity in tiny Volo. They decided to charge $1 per person and called it the "Volo Auto Museum."

That barn still stands today and is now the home of the antique mall. It sits on the property in addition to the other buildings that house the Museum's 45 exhibits and 10,000 mechanical marvels.

You can find eccentric artifacts ranging from classic boats, old player pianos, a display with a brief history of recreational vehicle travel and an entire building dedicated to military history.

The business and family continued to grow. As it evolved, Bill managed the antique mall and Greg took over the museum. Greg would then have two sons: Jay and Brian.

Jay continued to expand the sales and museum while Brian started to add vehicles featured in Hollywood into the displays. This began to draw in a crowd other than those who were just "car people."

The Museum's Sales Side

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Volo Museum still sells cars, too. Jim said they have selections of about 200 hundred classic cars and modern muscle vehicles. They will get a few 1920s cars and several 1930s roadsters, Packards and other beautiful machines.

The majority of their cars are the most popular ones from 1950s Chevys to the mid-1960s and 70s muscle cars.

"We are one of the largest all-indoor classic car dealers in the country," Jim adds.

The sales team does a meticulous job of cleaning up new inventory, snapping pictures of the vehicle from every imaginable angle, and making YouTube videos that prospective buyers are able to watch.

They sell between 70 to 80 cars within a given month. They ship nationwide to clients who don't have to guess what they're buying.

"Though Bill and Greg expanded their dad's business, Jay and Brian Grams' children are now also involved including spouses. So 4th generation family business," Jim said.

Both sides of the family, including Jay and Brian's children, are part of the operation. They continually add new displays and use the winter months to plan what's next.

Look out for a Titanic experience, an all-new Duesenberg room, and a new "Fast & Furious" exhibit. It will feature screen-used hero cars driven by actors Vin Diesel and the late Paul Walker.

"We just debuted our multi-million dollar "Ford v. Ferrari" exhibit with the real screen-used movie cars," Jim said.

Entering The Museum

Upon entering the museum's ticket booth, the smell of pizza immediately greets you. The Showtime Pizzeria features a dining area with about 30 distinctly different bicycles hanging from the ceiling. All are incredibly rare and unique.

In the center of the room is the Gram Central Station, a new ice cream parlor named in honor of the Grams family. The eatery also offers gourmet coffee and locally-sourced cream.

Gram Central Station also makes fresh handmade sweet treats in-house daily. Select from hot cinnamon buns, chocolate-covered Oreos, giant marshmallows and brownies.

 

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Lining the wall to your left in the parlor are various animatronic displays that transport you back to days of nostalgia. The Pirates, The Little Shavers, The Beagles, a giant Elvis, giant Michael Jackson and a three-piece drum/accordion group.

"The Little Shavers was an experimental unit from a Chuck E. Cheese ice cream concept shop and the only one in the world," Jim said. All are operational and can be requested to be viewed. Some of them are the only operational displays in the world.

 

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After absorbing the atmosphere of the Showtime Pizzeria, guests naturally move through the original showroom that still acts as the primary sales center for the car selling side.

You are greeted with the bright lighting, mirrored walls and streamers hanging from the ceiling. The entire interior design aesthetic gives the space a vintage vibe complementing the vehicles without flaw.

The next three buildings house the "Hollywood Cars, TV & Bizarre Cars" and the "Treasures of The Vault" displays, respectively. All three of these spaces also act as rolling storage for their inventory of cars for sale.

Hollywood Cars

The "Hollywood Cars" exhibit is where you can find a plethora of vehicles that made movie appearances. The aforementioned "Fast & Furious" vehicles are housed here. You can find the "General Lee" of the TV series "Dukes of Hazard" fame, a movie "Eleanor" car from starring Nicholas Cage "Gone in 60 Seconds" and a Batmobile from the original television run of "Batman" starring the late Adam West.

TV & Bizarre Cars

The "TV & Bizarre Cars" display is housed in the next building and is almost exactly what it sounds like. Have you seen a guitar car? They have one. How about a vehicle that is in the shape of a shoe and is, for all consideration, built like a hot rod underneath the hood? They've got that too.

Also housed here are snowmobiles, a variety of Disney character statues and other interesting surprises like the "Ecto-1" car of the film series "Ghostbusters".

 

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Treasure of the Vault

The "Treasures of The Vault" is housed in the next building. This facility is home to a myriad of Volo Museum's most prized possessions all under one roof. Here visitors are greeted with a recently added Gulf War-used HMMWV (Humvee).

Further, into the exhibit, you encounter Brittany Spears' car where she was surprised by the paparazzi. See one of the Mercedes that Oprah Winfrey used to own. Peep a prototype limousine from former President Donald Trump's business ventures.

There is a vintage token arcade, classic scooters, vintage kid's rides and the "Tumbler" from the Batman film "Dark Knight" saga with Christian Bale.

 

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Adjacent to the Hollywood Cars building is the Military Museum. This was one of Volo Museum's original exhibits that opened three decades ago.

The Military Museum

"The military exhibit started about 30 years ago mostly acquired from collectors, though some have been donated as well. Like all other exhibits, it is a living attraction that is constantly being grown and upgraded," said Jim.

 

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They showcase 15 military vehicles on display throughout the grounds. These range from WWII motorcycles, trucks and tanks to the HMMWVs utilized during Operation Desert Storm.

You can see vintage equipment from different U.S.-involved military conflicts.. There is a mixture of replica, de-commissioned equipment, and articles of clothing in addition to the instruments and vehicles.

On the western flank of the "Treasures of The Vault" building is where you will find the vintage tractors and a brief glimpse into Lake County's farming history. Directly next to the tractors is the "Carousel & Music Hall."

The 1928 Allan Herschel Carousel

Volo Museum's own staff restores a good portion of the old-time instruments, many of which still work today. They even rebuilt a classic merry-go-round.

 

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"It is a 1928 Allan Herschel Carousel. Hand carved and hand painted. It took about three years to restore. The building was built for the carousel, but just a carousel in a building didn't seem exciting enough so we added a Coney Island experience," Jim said.

That "Coney Island experience" is designed to give visitors the feeling of being at a classic carnival on Coney Island in the early 1900s. Bright lights, loud music that you might hear a busker playing and the mental imagery of carousels as they spun around.

A penny arcade, turn-style motion picture machines, an old Zoltar fortune teller and an impressive collection of self-playing pianos and street orchestras from the early 1900s are on display in the same space. All are operational with tokens purchased on-site.

There Is More Outside

After viewing each building and the historic icons inside, take a second to look around outside. You will immediately notice attractions that aren't directly attached to each exhibit.

Different aircraft sit outside the various buildings and the walkways that connect each attraction directs visitors by each aircraft. You have the opportunity to view an experimental helicopter machine from the 1950s, a jet plane that was donated, A government-issued Vietnam helicopter and a Harrier Jump Jet that was used in the movies "True Lies" and "The Avengers." (film series)

 

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The "Finned Boat Exhibit" is located near the aircraft display. Stored in these are boats from the 1950s that truly embraced the aesthetic of the automobiles from the era. Over-exaggerated fins with taillights, glossy fiberglass, big steering wheels with wood inlay and white leather interiors used to be the bee's knees on the waterfront.

 

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On the backside of the "TV & Bizarre Cars" building is where you will find the Transportation Museum. Visitors can view 19th Century U.S. West replica stagecoaches, an RV from 1949, camper mobiles as they have evolved through the years, a wooden caboose and a steam road locomotive.

 

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As previously mentioned with their new train display in the works, keep your eyes open for some additions to steam into place. You can enter the caboose and see what living and travel was like on the railroad system, way before our modern comforts became ingrained with our innate desire to be on the open road.

Jurassic Gardens at Volo Museum

Now that you have completed your self-guided tour of the automotive oddities and collectibles, the newest exhibit at Volo Museum awaits you. Jurassic Gardens appeals to the younger crowd and any adult's inner-kid love of dinosaurs and robots.

 

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A walkway guides you through the building and past the different animatronic dinosaurs. All of the favorites including a T-Rex, velociraptors and stegosaurus are there. The movement and sound effects of the animatronics really do make you stop and stare in awe at just how cool the entire concept is.

"Jurassic Gardens opened last May (2021) and is one of the country's largest all-indoor animatronic dinosaur parks. Be an archaeologist and dig for dinosaur skeletons, pan for fossils, sit in a dinosaur lab and play games in a Raptor arcade," Jim says.

The Raptor Pen Arcade is attached to the Jurassic Gardens exhibit and has modern arcade games in it. The dinosaur lab is where kids can see "experiments" and watch educational films about the various periods when each dinosaur lived.

This is where the "fossil dig site" for the kids is, too. Parents can buy souvenirs in the gift shop that is located in the same building and hide those "artifacts" for their children to find on their "excavations."

Volo Museum has additional plans for their Jurassic Gardens display, too.

Volo Antiques Mall

Do you recall that barn where they sold antiques from and that still stands to this day? That is now the Volo Antique Mall. The shop boasts over 3000 vendors and seven miles of antiques, collectibles and goods.

 

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Select from vintage clothing and collectible action figures. Find old beer cans and signs for the walls. Buy video games for the console collecting dust in your basement. No matter what you're searching for, there's just about any treasure a collector could dream of.

There is no shortage of fun and awe in visiting the Volo Museum. Right now, save $4 on admission and come back for free the next day. Purchase a ticket combination to visit the Museum and Jurassic Gardens.

 

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Maybe you have family visiting from out of town. Perhaps you want to take a road trip of the county. Need something to keep the kids busy and educated? No matter the occasion, Volo Museum is the obvious choice to include on your Lake County Road Trip.


Click here to win four free tickets to Six Flags Great America or an overnight stay at the Great Wolf Lodge Illinois. “Let the Ride Take You,” Hit the road and see everything happening in Lake County.



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