Cloud Museum vehicles a peek into early Arizona

By Mara Knaub

Yuma Sun

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 10 2012 12:05 a.m. MST

A wagon at the Cloud Museum in Bard, Calif. is seen on Dec. 19, 2011. The Cloud Museum, owned and operated by Johnny Cloud, boasts a large collection of vintage vehicles, gas pumps, and many antique tools.

Yuma Sun, Craig Fry, Associated Press

YUMA, Ariz. — How did Arizonans live a century ago? The Cloud Museum in Bard, Calif., offers a glimpse into the early years of its statehood.

"It takes you back to the old days," noted Ellen Henderson, a museum visitor from Canada.

The museum, owned and operated by Johnny Cloud, has an impressive collection of vintage vehicles, including what could be the largest collection of Ford Model Ts in the world, as well as residential antiques and historic items from that era and the years that followed.

"It's history packed into three acres," Cloud quipped.

The first McClouds hailed from Scotland and migrated to the United States, dropping the "Mc" for political reasons. They settled in Texas before Cloud's grandfather moved to the Yuma Valley in 1917, five years after Arizona Territory became the 48th state. His father was 12 years old.

The Clouds eventually set down roots in nearby Bard. Cloud's grandfather worked as a farm laborer before acquiring his own land.

"My family has always farmed and worked on farms," Cloud said.

Hence, it's not surprising many of the vintage farming machinery in the museum belonged to his grandfather and father. An antique Ann Arbor hay baler on display was bought used by Cloud's father before he married his mother.

Nowadays, Cloud leases the family's Bard land to other farmers and concentrates on his museum during the winter months.

Cloud started amassing his personal collection during the past 22 years. "I didn't have anything to do so I started to collect," he said, laughing.

He certainly didn't set out to run a museum. He parked a few vintage cars by the road and people started to pull over to check them out.

When more and more people showed interest, a light bulb went off: "I put up a fence and started charging."

He's willing to travel a distance to get something he wants. He has traveled throughout Arizona and several states, including Utah, North Dakota and South Carolina, in search of antiques. Sometimes he pays for the stuff and sometimes the previous owners will donate it.

He has found some things in remarkable condition, such as 1909 horse carriage and an 1880 penny-farthing bicycle with a huge rear wheel and tiny front wheel.

The oldest thing in the museum? "Petrified wood."

An old farm labor households antique cast irons with kerosene heaters, kitchen utensils and appliances, an old brass bed, vacuum cleaner with a suction pump, butane refrigerator and icebox in a wooden cabinet and an Olympic record player.

Cloud noted most items are mechanically operated, much different than today, when just about everything runs on electricity.

He has several gas-motored washing machines dating from 1912 to 1920 and blacksmith tools, including a rim shrinker and roller for wagon wheels. It's how they fixed "flat tires" in the horse and buggy days, he pointed out.

The collection includes vintage tools, mining equipment, old stoves and buzz saws to cut the wood. "People had wood stoves and had to cut the wood to fit into the stove," Cloud explained.

He has old car parts, signs, bicycles with wooden rims, kerosene car lights, garage testing equipment and even an old Texaco gas station complete with fuel pumps.

Cloud explained the use of another oddity by today's standards: roll-up gas station. "You drove up, they rolled it out to you, pumped gas into your car and then they rolled it back to the business." The gas pumps show prices of 10 and 15 cents a gallon.

He also has a Lawrence Aircraft engine made during World War II and more than 400 wheel spokes hanging around the perimeter fence.

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