"Smithsonian" on the Prairie and More
©2013 by Nancy and Dean Hoch
Photos courtesy of Dave Geisler, Owner
What better way to spend at least a day than at a veritable Western version of the "Smithsonian" museum located on the wind-swept prairie of South Dakota? If you take us up on this idea, you'll be among 100,000 or so other visitors that show up here each season – and the season in South Dakota is mainly June through October.
We drove into the otherwise nondescript, little town of Murdo located between the two major cities of the State – Sioux Falls and Rapid City – and we never dreamed what awaited us just a block off Interstate 90. We saw some signs advertising a Pioneer Car Show and Prairie Town, but what we found was much more than the signs seem to suggest. We promise that, if you go, you will be transported back in time as far as the 1880s -- and then vaulted forward through the entire 1900's and into the modern era.
Just a couple of hours southwest of DeSmet, South Dakota (of Laura Ingles Wilder fame if that site might tickle your fancy), here's just a little of what you'll see in the surprising little town of Murdo, population 679:
Forty-two buildings in the Pioneer Auto Show are filled with an amazing, almost mind-boggling display of over 250 vintage cars -- including classic cars, muscle cars, antique cars, dozens of motorcycles, 60 tractors and even an 1890 big, old, black, horse-drawn hearse. All are close enough to touch. There's even a special display featuring a mannequin of Elvis Presley riding his pride and joy, an impressive turquoise and black Harley-Davidson. His shirt even matches the colors of the bike. All comprise the largest private collection of these kinds of vehicles in America.
You can also stroll through a "prairie town" authentically dating back more than a hundred years, with a jail, homesteader's cabin, barber shop, blacksmith shop, and a one-room schoolhouse looking as it did so many years ago -- complete with open books, slates, and chalk on the desks, as well as a pot-bellied stove, tin lunch pails, and those beautiful, old penmanship charts on the upper walls.
Old Time School Room
Note: Many of the relics are of the vintage of Wilder's Little House on the Prairie. One big room of the 42 is designated as National Rockhound and Lapidary Hall of Fame. Here lighted display cases are filled with everything collectors will enjoy viewing.
There are hundreds of toy cars on display, plus old typewriters and Edison phonographs, dust-covered dental chairs, dental drills and even old metal tooth molds. And there's an old time service station to boot.
Current owner, Dave Geisler, is justifiably proud of his huge collection. He recently returned from the massive Pebble Beach Car Show with a trophy for one of his restored classic cars. His father, A.J. Geisler, launched the whole venture back in 1954, and the 50th anniversary was celebrated eight years ago. Then in August of 2011, the TV show, American Pickers, filmed a segment for national viewing.
This entire venue is also a kid-friendly place that provides an education as an added feature. Dave has pre-recorded stories in many of the buildings explaining the various displays. All a visitor has to do is press a button, and Dave talks away. Meanwhile, kids can also have fun gathering stickers for a well-planned treasure hunt.
In addition to all the above displays, Dave's museum features a large, well-designed, Hallmark gift shop and a restaurant featuring '50's décor. Tasty buffalo burgers are on the menu.
Another delightful and totally unexpected surprise that awaited us in Murdo was staying at the pristine LandMARK Country Inn. Note: the MARK part of the name is emphasized because of the congenial innkeeper's name, Mark Sanderson, and the "land" for the surrounding endless miles and miles of prairie.
This one-of-a-kind motel sits on 30 expansive acres just a block from the main street of town. As one approaches the property on the sloping hillside, evergreen trees and waving American flags on the hillside are all part of the welcoming atmosphere.
"Luxury Accommodations at an Affordable Price" is part of the advertising for this luxurious inn, and prices start at amazingly low rates.
There are suites with sunken tubs, hot tubs or whirlpools, as well as free in-room movies, music, and HBO, as well as themed rooms beautifully decorated with attention to every detail. Everything on site is impeccably clean. There's also an inviting new indoor heated pool set at 90 degrees. The blue water is so clear it shimmers like polished crystal. There's poolside TV, and swimming's allowed until midnight. Rounding out the amenities are a continental breakfast, a small video arcade, antiques in display cases for sale, a playground and volleyball equipment.
For more information:
Book well ahead, if possible. Here again the season is just five months (June through October). Phone number is 605-669-2846.
The pioneer of Murdo's Pioneer Auto
Founder Dave Geisler motors through stroke to keep legendary SD attraction humming.
By: DOUGLAS GLADSTONE, For The Daily Republic
This sign announcing the Pioneer Auto attraction in Murdo is visible to travelers on Interstate 90.
MURDO — Few people rival David A. Geisler for the title of "raconteur." He's the owner of the Pioneer Auto Show and Prairie Town, located off Interstate 90's Exit 192 in Murdo. The attraction has more than 300 vintage cars, trucks and motorcycles.
Visitors quickly learn he is gregarious. How gregarious? Stacked up against Geisler, former President Bill Clinton might be an introvert. "My Dad never met a stranger," says his youngest daughter, Jennifer Kaiser. "He loves people and can talk to anyone about anything. I didn't realize what a talent that was until I got older."
Sure, he's got a multi-million dollar business in the least populous county in South Dakota. Sure, he's known all over the state for his work on behalf of the visitor and tourist industry. Sure, he's won so many awards for his commitment to hospitality and customer satisfaction that there aren't enough trophy cases in his home or office to display them all. But strip all his successes away from him, and Dave would still be Dave.
And that's fine with him. "The road to a friend's house," he says, "is never long."
Unfortunately, the hours that he puts in at the Auto Show are. "It is an addiction. It's a way of life for us," admits the septuagenarian.
Regrettably, that addiction may also have helped fuel the series of strokes he suffered less than two years ago, when he couldn't speak for upward of 50 hours.
"You know how frustrating that was for a guy like me?" he asks. "I still had a lot of stuff to sell and things to tell. I suppose everyone has his or her problems, but this was really difficult for me."
Dave's eldest child, daughter Vivian Sonders, agrees it was a painful period for her father.
"He is a man who is filled with such abundant energy that, if you ever told him he absolutely had to retire from working, he'd probably die first," says Vivian, of Burnsville, Minn. "He's tireless, he has so much energy."
A former manager for a women's clothing store in Hastings, Neb., Vivian was the child who worked the most at the family business while growing up.
He hasn't changed much over the years, says Jennifer, of Fayetville, Ga. She recalls growing up with a parent who loved to take his family on trips.
"There was usually not much of a plan," she says. "He was always so much fun when we were on vacation. We would just get in the car and head in any general direction. A two-hour trip could take anywhere from two hours to 10 hours. There were always things to see along the way, historic markers, famous farms, and always people to talk to."
Geisler says that, besides his therapy sessions, what got him through his medical ordeal was his faith in God. "It made me focus on what is really important," he says.
"Most of the time, we couldn't leave the dinner table until we answered a Bible question," Jennifer remembers. "I always knew he expected the best from us, and his desire was for us to be raised in a godly home and to know the Lord."
His children agree that Dave also instilled in them a work ethic that was predicated on earning one's keep in life.
"When I would ask Dad for a quarter, or a dollar, he would always make me go dust cars or pick Coke bottles up," recalls Jennifer. "There was never a handout."
Geisler and his family appreciate their good fortune. He has met sports figures, politicians and Hollywood celebrities galore. He's appeared on the History Channel's "American Pickers" television program. He's traveled abroad. That's why he is the first to acknowledge that he has a lot of reasons to count his blessings. "Whatever we have," he says, "we are greatly blessed."
Born in California
Due to his medical scare, Dave states that, while he may have cut back the hours he now works, ceding some of the operation to his 46-year-old son, David M. Geisler, "I still enjoy coming to work every day. It's our family's passion.
"We work hard to provide a completely unique tourist destination along I-90," he adds. "Anyone who visits the Museum or Prairie Town gets treated with the utmost care and attention. And, though we're not very fancy, we have stuff here you've never seen anywhere else in the world."
It is a passion borne out of an entrepreneurial spirit and love of history that still drives Geisler. Born in Pasadena, Calif., in 1937, he came to South Dakota in 1942 with his parents, Vivian and A.J. "Dick" Geisler, his brother, John, and his sister, Roma, when A.J. traded their house in Pasadena for a farm in Blunt.
In Pasadena, A.J. had been the proprietor of a feed and hardware store and, while business had been good, he was looking for new challenges. But move to South Dakota? What did A.J. know about farming? Especially since there hadn't been a good crop in the state in years. All the locals in Blunt thought A.J. was doomed to fail, according to Dave.
He did not. In 1945, A.J. moved the family again, but this time they relocated to Murdo, which was just 80 miles from their farm in Blunt.
The rest, as they say, is history.
As for Dave, part of his personal history includes going to Bethany Lutheran High School, in Mankato, Minn., for a spell, as well as attending Seward High School, in Seward, Neb., where he excelled on the basketball court. Like his father, Dave could be restless.
But Seward was also where he met his high-school sweetheart. That union, which produced his four children, ended in divorce.
He chalks up the divorce, in part, to his hard-driving personality. From 1962 to 1980, he owned and operated Murdo Ford Mercury, a high-volume auto dealership. "We were one of the top Ford dealers in the state," he says proudly.
"I was very successful, I was on the school board, I was very active in the community," he says "And my marriage suffered."
In 1986, Geisler had a client in Chamberlain he needed to visit. The business trip turned into something more after he met the woman he'd soon marry.
According to Geisler, his current wife, LJ, keeps him on an even keel. "She's really detail oriented," he says, beaming. "And she's an under-the-radar kind of gal." Which suits Geisler just fine, considering his is an oversized, over-the-top personality.
Don't call it a museum
As for the Show, what began as a way for his late father to promote the Phillips 66 gas station and John Deere and Chevrolet dealership he opened in 1950 has evolved into a 10 acre, 42-building site full of exhibits that is renowned for its collection of vintage cars and memorabilia. A.J., who died in 1973, used to park the cars at the gas station in order to entice customers to stop and fill up. One of the cars was a 1913 Ford Peddler's Wagon, which is still on display at the Auto Show.
By 1954, Dave, John and A.J. had so many cars they needed a place to show them properly. So they built their first building.
Just don't call it a museum.
"Museums are considered boring, dusty and free," says Geisler, who helped establish the Visitor Industry Alliance, a political action group for tourism in South Dakota. "We are not a museum. We're an attraction."
It's an attraction that has so far earned him induction into the South Dakota Hall of Fame in 2004, the Ben Black Elk Award for his promotion of tourism in the state, as well as the 2007 Retailer of the Year Award from the South Dakota Retailers Association. More recently, Pioneer Auto Show won the 2012 George S. Mickelson Great Service award given annually to a South Dakota business or organization that has done an exemplary job of exceeding visitors' expectations in customer service.
It's a reward he doesn't take lightly.
"Tourism is vital to Murdo," says Geisler. As of 2010, the Census Bureau reported there were only 488 people, 237 households and 128 families residing in the city.
"There's only 1,060 people in the entire county," he adds. Other than Geisler's famous attraction, Jones County may best be known for Fort Pierre National Grassland, a federally protected short grass prairie area where part of the Oscar-winning movie "Dances with Wolves" was filmed. "Tourism has always been a natural for us because it's always been important," continues Geisler. "How South Dakota goes, Murdo goes."
Indeed, tourism has a $1.8 billion impact on the state economy, according to the South Dakota Department of Tourism. The industry is responsible for more than 27,000 jobs and $270 million in state/local tax revenue.
South Dakota Tourism Secretary James D. Hagen agrees that both Geisler and Pioneer Auto Show are mainstays in the state's tourism industry.
"As one of the 'founding fathers' of tourism in our state, Dave has contributed much to our industry in terms of his unique promotional ideas, his years of service on the Governor's Tourism Advisory Board, and the tremendous service he gives to his customers," Hagen says. "The tourism industry in South Dakota wouldn't be complete without Dave and Pioneer Auto."
'A step back in time'
Though David jokingly refers to his father as a showman and not as South Dakota's unofficial goodwill ambassador, for his part, Dave Geisler doesn't seem to mind. "I don't know if I was a born salesman, but I did sell my first car before I was in my teens," he admits.
According to Dave, when he was just 9 years old, he set up a bicycle sales and repair business in his father's car dealership. When he was subsequently left alone to tend to the phones one day, the young Dave made that first sale.
"Cars bring back one's memories," said David, whose own son turns 1 year old this month. "There's a commonality in it for people, just like football or any other shared interest. Memories of history are fun and people always remember the first car they ever drove or owned."
"It's a step back in time," agrees Dave.
While classic cars are the Show's bread and butter, the Geisler family has acquired many other treasures. Their trove of chotchkies features corncob pipes, door knobs, oil cans, typewriters, old magazine ads, posters, signs, news clippings, slot machines, potbelly stoves and countless other collectibles.
The Show's Prairie Town area offers visitors a chance to walk through a Midwestern, turn of the century town, complete with railroad depot, the original Murdo Bank, a blacksmith shop, livery barn, jail house and general store. But the main focus of the Show's historic old town is a restored wood-frame gas station originally built in 1930 by the Gurney Seed Company, of Yankton.
A self-described "low-tech kind of guy," Geisler has never ceased to be amazed by all the technological advances the world has experienced. "I mean, look at how far we've come in just the last quarter of a century alone," he says. "Twenty-five years ago, we didn't use a fax machine, we didn't have the Internet. And look how important those things are in our lives now.
"We are the stewards of history," he says.
South Dakota's Pioneer Auto Show - 1905 Fiat a winner at prestigious Concours D' Elegance in 2012
August 27, 2012
Murdo, SD - Every year, during the third weekend of August, over 200 of the most prized collector cars and motorcycles in the world enter onto what is often called the best finishing hole in golf — the famed eighteenth fairway at Pebble Beach Golf Resort in Pebble Beach, California.
South Dakota was represented, and did not disappoint by taking 2nd place in Class L-1 (Prewar Preservation) with the 1905 Fiat 60 HP Quimby Touring, entered by David Geisler Sr. of Pioneer Auto Show, Murdo, SD.
This show is special, as cars and motorcycles are judged on style, historical accuracy, and their technical merit - with participation by invite only. Concours D' Elegance translates as an automotive contest of elegance. To compete in the Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance an automobile must be a well preserved or accurately restored vehicle still quite capable of being driven. It will almost surely have some historic value—perhaps it served to debut new technology or new styling trends or it has an impressive racing record. And it will be rare—possibly a singular example of a special chassis bearing a respected coachbuilder’s art.
Dave Geisler Sr., owner of Pioneer Auto Show, said "The 1905 Fiat definitely fits the profile for this show. Of only twenty of its kind built, it is believed to be the last one in existence."
The Fiat was originally built as a high performance car specifically for the ultra-rich to drive fast on public roads, and by verbal history this particular car is believed to have been owned by the eclectic brewing tycoon August Anheuser Busch, Sr.
"We are thrilled to have earned recognition at Pebble Beach," said Geisler. "The car will next be featured in the lobby at the new LeMay Museum in Tacoma, WA. As one of the world's largest auto museums and attractions, this four story museum houses up to 350 cars, trucks and motorcycles."
The historic automobile will then make its way back to its current home, the Pioneer Auto Museum in Murdo, South Dakota. Here it will remain for automobile enthusiasts across America to admire the one of a kind car when they travel to South Dakota.
To learn more about this spectacular and rare automobile or to see how Pioneer Auto in Murdo celebrates and preserves the automotive culture, call 605-669-2691 Murdo, SD - Every year, during the third weekend of August, over 200 of the most prized collector cars and motorcycles in the world enter onto what is often called the best finishing hole in golf — the famed eighteenth fairway at Pebble Beach Golf Resort in Pebble Beach, California.
Pioneer Auto in Murdo, South Dakota Receives One of a Kind World Class Car
July 11, 2012
MURDO, S.D. – Pioneer Auto in Murdo, South Dakota has recently acquired a one of a kind 1905 Fiat.
The vehicle was delivered in 1905 to Hollander & Tagman in New York City. Verbal history shows it then sold to August H. Busch in St Louis, and is now believed to be the only 69 Horsepower Fiat in existence.
"This car was one of the first models to be produced by Fiat," said Dave Geisler Sr., owner of Pioneer Auto. "We are excited to add the historic value and distinctiveness of the 1905 Fiat to our collection."
With a 650 cubic displacement engine, the 1905 Fiat was a powerful four geared, rear-wheel drive vehicle owned by the elite in the time period, such as Kaiser Wilhelm.
The unique addition to the classic car collection has a running gear priced at $13,000 and a Quinby Body priced at $4,500, making the full price of the car $17,500.
The car will soon be on display for the public at the 2012 Pebble Beach Tour d'Elegance, August 16–19 in Pebble Beach, California. Presented by Rolex, the Pebble Beach Tour d'Elegance is an annual top–ranking collector car show where vehicles are judged for their historical accuracy, their technical merit and their style.
After participating in the Tour d'Elegance, the classic car will be featured in the lobby at the new LeMay Museum in Tacoma, WA. As one of the world's largest auto museums and attractions, this four story museum houses up to 350 cars, trucks and motorcycles.
The historic automobile will then make its way back to its exclusive home, at the Pioneer Auto Museum in Murdo, South Dakota. Here it will remain for automobile enthusiasts across America to admire the one of a kind car when they travel to South Dakota.
"This is an extraordinary discovery for us as collectors," says Geisler Sr. "But it's also a very rare and exciting opportunity for auto fanatics around the world and in South Dakota."
Pioneer Auto receives three of world's rarest, most valuable vehicles
June 15, 2012
RAPID CITY, S.D. – Three of the rarest and oldest vehicles in the world were recently delivered to the famous Pioneer Auto Show in Murdo, S.D.
Dave's Transport delivered the vehicles, which fulfilled a long-term negotiation of moving them from a northeast collection where they had been housed for 65 years.
"Now, we have the honor of displaying the vehicles at Pioneer Auto Show," said Dave Geisler Sr., owner of the classic car museum. "These rare gems add more class to our entire collection."
The antique car museum’s new vehicles include the 1904 Holsman Model K, the 1907 Middleby and the 1903 Ford Model A. Some facts about each of the vintage cars are as follows:
1904 Holsman Model K
"Many companies copied this model. It is the granddaddy of the high wheelers," said Geisler. "Henry K. Holsman stuck with the high wheeler until they went out of favor." This vehicle features a unique 7/8 Manilla rope drive.
This vehicle was named for Charles M. Middleby, and the models of this car were built in the former Charles E. Duryea Plant. It is a two-cylinder vehicle with an air cooling system.
"This is possibly the last 1907 Middleby to exist in the world," said Geisler. "We're very fortunate to have it here at Pioneer Auto."
1903 Ford Model A
"This is a collector's dream," exclaimed Geisler. "Henry Ford's fingerprints are all over this one. Henry then built several more models until he settled on the Model T in 1908. We have been looking for a 1903 Ford since we opened in 1954."
The three antique vehicles are available for viewing year-round at Pioneer Auto's classic car museum in Murdo, S.D. For more information about Pioneer Auto Show's classic car inventory, visit www.pioneerautoshow.com/inventory.
American Pickers Visit Murdo
On August 11th Mike Wolfe, Danielle Colby Cushman and a film crew from the History Channel’s “American Pickers” stopped in Murdo, SD to search through the treasures contained within the 42 buildings that make up Pioneer Auto Show and Museum.
Wolfe, Cushman and the crew spent 11 hours picking and filming until they found a few gems to purchase. Among the treasures were a Mickey Mouse mannequin, old toys, jewelry and a racecar.
“It was a long day,” Dave Geisler, owner of the Pioneer Auto Show and Museum said of the occurrence. “But they were very professional – overall it was a good experience.”
Opened in 1954 by Dave’s father, AJ Geisler, the Pioneer Auto Show and Museum houses an expansive collection of antiques specializing in classic cars. It’s no surprise “American Pickers” made the trip to Murdo. "We probably have the largest private collection in America," Geisler said. “Mike kept telling us how blessed we were to have what we do and I couldn’t agree with him more” he added.
It’s unknown when the segment will air but there is hope that the stop and the coverage will give Murdo and the museum a much needed lift after the lagging tourism season.
Murdo’s iconic big green car sign crashes to the ground in June storm
July 25, 2011
MURDO, S.D. – The town of Murdo mourns a loss.
This loss is not one of its residents, but something just as beloved: Pioneer Auto Show’s big green car sign.
On June 30, a massive storm blew through Murdo. Sustained 70 to 80 mph winds blew the iconic sign – which features a mock ’26 Nash – down on its side.
“The steady winds for about an hour just destroyed the sign,” said David M. Geisler of the family-owned classic car museum.
Murdo held an all-class reunion the July 4 weekend after the storm, and classmates couldn’t stop talking about the sign.
“The town’s identity has been taken!” exclaimed one classmate.
“We have to do whatever it takes to put the sign back up,” urged another classmate.
Geisler said the show must go on. Plans are in the works to rebuild the sign. Pioneer Auto is working with sign companies, and the new sign should be finished by Labor Day.
Pioneer Auto Show’s big green sign has been pointing people to Murdo and its classic car museum since 1972. The sign was erected that year in conjunction with the completion of Interstate 90.
The famous big green car was added to the sign in 1981. To allow for more parking at the nearby Super 8 Motel, the sign was moved and rebuilt in 1993. That same year, a Daktronics reader board added to the sign. That too was destroyed in the June 30 storm.
“The sign is so symbolic for the museum,” Geisler said. “The fact that the sign was located right at the I-90 exit has helped travelers to locate us over the years. The sign has put Murdo on the map.”
Old Cars Weekly New & Marketplace
2010 Spring Carlisle Issue - Vol 39 No. 15 April 15, 2010
Sound Your Horn - Tucker Worth The Wait
I just finished the interesting article about the fate of the missing Tucker cars. The story reminded me of an occasion about 20 years ago, when my wife and I were on a motor trip. We were in South Dakota when we saw a sign telling us to stop at the Pioneer Auto Museum just ahead. It is located at Murdo, SD, population about 600. What a surprise! The museum has a large indoor area with restored and original-condition cars.
Another building was full of muscle cars from the 1960s and 70’s – Chevy, Ford and Mopar. Outdoors and under cover was another 74 or so unrestored cars and trucks. I have a Tucker fan since I first learned of them, and inside the museum was a car that made me drool. It was the Tucker that Mr. Tucker had built for his wife, according to the museum. He had the color – Danube Blue- made for her.
Apparently, she only drove the car a few times and then it was put in storage. It was truly beautiful. I don’t know if this Tucker is still there. My guess is, considering the price they bring today, the car was probably sold. If it was sold, it would be interesting to know who it was sold to and for how much. I noticed the Pioneer Auto Museum is one of Old Car Weekly’s advertisers: maybe someone from Old Cars Weekly could contact them and do a story on the car.
As a side note to this story, in 1948, I was 18 years old, living in Minnesota. Every summer, the people of Minnesota have one of the largest state fairs in the country. I went to the fair in 1948. Some lucky man was one of the few that purchased a new Tucker, and actually received it. He was very enterprising. He had a large tent with his new Tucker inside. For $1, you could look at it. This was in 1948, when a dollar was worth something.
I couldn’t afford the dollar, so I missed out. I finally saw one at Harrah’s car collection in Reno about 15 years later. However, it was still very exciting to find one in the little town of Murdo, SD.
Note: The Tucker was leased by Pioneer Auto from the family who owned it. They decided to take it home to Elk Point, SD about 5 years ago so it is no longer on display at the Museum.
Pioneer Auto Show Articles by SD Magazine
Most Expensive Wheels - March / April 2010
There aren’t many ways to link Tom Mix and Elvis Presley. Maybe there aren’t any – other than the Pioneer Auto Museum, of course.
Dave Geisler and his family have gathered 275 automobiles, 60 tractors, 60 motorcycles and an assortment of additives from music boxes to rocks at their one-of-a-kind museum in Murdo. The cars range from a 1902 jewel to a 1981 Trabant, a product of the late and unlamented East German auto industry. There’s also a Flanders, a Hupmobile, and a 1959 Cadillac El Dorado with tail fins as big as those on a F-14. As for Mix and Presley: Tom’s 1931 Packard convertible is just on building over from a 1976 Harley once owned by The King himself.
We were too polite to ask what the collection is worth, but when we visited Pioneer Auto Museum some years ago we crossed paths with a visitor form Utah who claimed there were a couple cars that could fetch $750,000 apiece at auction. He may have been exaggerating or just plan full of baloney, but we feel safe saying that the most expensive wheels in South Dakota can be found in Murdo.
A Showman for Motor Heads - Jan / Feb 2010
You’ve heard of the Model A and Model T, but have you ever seen a Model N? Or a ’31 Pierce Arrow, ran entire shop full of Mustangs?
Dave Geisler’s Pioneer Auto Show in Murdo has all that and more in 40 buildings stuffed with nostalgia. He also collects railroad memorabilia, rocks and minerals, farm machinery (including the world’s fastest manure spreader), and hours worth o other things to see in one of the world’s biggest private auto collections.
As we browsed a few years ago, a visitor said he saw two cars there worth $750,00 or more. Dave walked away with a big grin and said, “I get to meet more motor heads!’
He loves to entertain. He pops nickels in antique jukeboxes and starts a player piano that plunks honky-tonk tunes. He might have made a fortune in a traveling carnival. But his heritage is cars, and you can’t truck hundreds of them from town to town, so people come to him.
Courrier Magazine - January 2010
Guest easily can spend a day and evening at Murdo-based Pioneer Auto and Antique Town, which encompasses more than 40 buildings over several acres. Hundreds of antique cars, tractors and motorcycles, as well as vintage toys and other nostalgia, are just a portion of what’s available at his unique attraction. The facility also is home to the National Rockhound Hall of Fame and Lapidary, where rare rocks, gems and fossils are displayed.
A classic diner ensures case of planning for those who want to stay through lunch or dinner. “We’re open until 9:30 p.m. through the summer, and we’re happy to work with tour operators to plan special evening programs for group’s” said David Geisler, owner of Pioneer Auto and Antique Town. An antique car parade or rides in a vintage automobile are tow activates that can be arranged through Geisler.
Midwest-built cars help fill ‘Pioneer’ collection
Murdo, S.D., is as good a place as any to discuss cars built in the Midwest, outside of Michigan, and Dave Geisler, of the Pioneer Auto Show, may be better than most to be in that discussion.
“The Pioneer Auto Show was started in 1954 by my dad, A.J. ‘Dick’ Geisler and his family,” Geisler said. In 1945, the family moved to Murdo and opened a John Deere and Chevrolet dealership, followed later by a Phillips 66 gas station.
Eventually, when the car collection started building, A.J.’s sons, John and Dave, joined in finding some wonderful examples of America’s motoring past. Many cars came to the collection through tips and classified ads.
Murdo Has A TRUCKLOAD of Trucks
If you think that old-truck collectors are going to run out of vehicles someday, one trip to the Pioneer Auto Show in Murdo, S.D., should clear up the misconception. It’s not fair to describe this attraction as a “museum” when it’s really a community built around collecting stuff. The complex consists of 38 buildings erected a few at a time around a motel, gas station and the GTO Diner. Many of those buildings are filled with vehicles, including more than 50 old trucks.
The beginning of Pioneer Auto Show dates to 1954, when Dick Geisler opened it under the name Pioneer Auto Museum. Today, it’s his son, Dave, who will most likely greet you at the door. If you buy a ticket — which Dave will tell you is cheaper than those for many other highway attractions — you’ll gain entrance to a treasure trove of trucking history (plus cars, tractors, motorcycles and all kinds of Americana).
Classics Turn Up on Parts Safari
Americans still love old cars. That’s a fact that became clear to me when I traveled halfway across the country to pick up some vintage MG Magnette parts in Oregon. Old cars were everywhere — driving, riding on trailers, sitting in fi elds, for sale in dealerships, parked in storage yards, decorating antique shops, perched on poles and exhibited in museums.
Among the museum cars were several “big-C” Classic cars. When Classic Car Club of America (CCCA) members talk of a “Classic car,” they are using the term to identify specifi c vehicles which they define as “fi ne or unusual foreign or domestic motor cars built between the years 1925- 1948 and distinguished for their respective fine design, high engineering standard and superior workmanship.” Most of us would think of these vehicles as “big, fancy, luxury cars of (basically) the Great Depression era.”
Pioneer Auto Show receives commendations for great serviceBy Pam Daum
The Tourism Education Council, the South Dakota Department of Tourism and Governor Mike Rounds have recognized Murdo’s Pioneer Auto Show and their employees for their outstanding service. South Dakota has a tradition of hospitality, and the Pioneer Auto Show employees have extended this tradition to visitors that have passed through their door, providing friendly service that has brought letters of praise from those receiving the service. “Many have found that extending a helping hand and giving a warm smile has its own rewards, but we want to recognize those individuals who are singled out by our visitors for going beyond what is expected,” wrote Governor Rounds.
How does an employee receive a great service commendation? The Department of Tourism has forms in the businesses, and if people have received good service at that business, they can fill the form out and send it into the SD Department of Tourism. When an employee receives their first commendation, they receive a letter from the governor and a Certificate of Recognition. Linda Thomas, Debbie Snider and Tennille Edwards have received this Certificate of Recognition.
When an employee receives a second commendation, they are awarded a Great Service Star sticker, which they can place on their Certificate of Recognition. Janet Kinsley, Darlene Wiedemer, and Doug Snider have been awarded this star. A third commendation brings a Great Service Star lapel pin, and Dave Geisler plus the whole Pioneer Auto staff have received this pin. “Great Faces” and “Great Places” is South Dakota’s slogan. There are a great bunch of people at the Pioneer Auto Museum who are helping put South Dakota on the map with their outstanding service making Murdo one of the great places to stop.
This Flying By on the Interstate Has Got to Stop
Golden West Communications Newsletter
A.J. Geisler was selling gasoline at his Phillips 66 Station in Murdo, SD for 30 cents a gallon and vertical fender fins were still a year away from appearing on the 1957 Chevrolet Bel-Air when President Eisenhower signed into law the bill creating the nation’s Interstate Highway system.
At the same time, a group of scientists and engineers were putting into place the makings for a very different highway of their own, an electronic highway that would decades later bring another type of traveler to the Geisler’s business.
Today, thanks to the vision of President Eisenhower and those early day academicians, you can slice through South Dakota in a matter of hours on Interstate 90 or you can go around the world via the Internet in a matter of seconds. Either way, you can stop and visit the Geisler’s Phillips 66 station that has, like the two-lane highways, undergone a transformation of its own.
“The Big Variety Show,” as the Pioneer Auto Show is billed, began 52 years ago as a gimmick for stopping travelers on what would become Interstate 90, thanks to Eisenhower’s action. Businessman A.J. Geisler, known to all as Dick, came up with the idea to pull motorists to his Phillips 66 gas station by parking a few old cars in its parking lot, including a 1913 Ford peddler’s wagon that’s still on display today. Lured by the classic cars, visitors stopped to take a look. While they were there, they filled up their tanks as well.
Today the cars remain the stars, although they’re just part of a collection that spans 10 acres and 42 buildings, and that runs the gamut from apothecary items to typewriters. There are lunch pails, cameras, gas pumps, clocks and watches, rocks and gems—you name it there’s a good chance you’ll find it on display at Pioneer Auto Show. “There’s stuff you won’t see anywhere else,” says Dave Geisler, Dick’s son, who today runs the “big show” along with son David. “All of it’s truly worth more than the cars, but everyone forgets about the other stuff.”
While you’d definitely have to visit the Pioneer Auto Show in person to get the full “big show” experience, you can get a glimpse of what it’s all about on the Auto Show’s web site, too. It’s been up and running for about a year and a half, and Dave says, it’s and essential element to doing business today. “You got to do it, especially if you’re in rural South Dakota. We don’t have a lot of people here, right? So you have to be able to reach out.”
Visitors to the web site can follow links to information on every aspect of the Auto Show, including its collections and other attractions like the Prairie Town—complete with jail house, fire station, homesteader’s shack and the original Murdo Bank—and the Auto Show’s café and gift shop. Also available is information on the Auto Show’s annual auto auction, an extremely popular event held every May, and a list of cars for sale. A recent visit to the site revealed a super-sweet 1956 T-Bird and a 1935 Ford Roadster pickup ripe for restoring. Soon, visitors will be able to make online purchases from the Auto Show’s Hallmark Gift Shop. “An online shopping cart is definitely a goal,” Dave adds. “We’ve only begun to scratch the surface. We get quite a few hits every day; it opens up a whole world to you right here in South Dakota.”
Internet communications are increasingly playing a larger role in other parts of the business as well. “People contact us from all over,” Dave says. “We’re very well known after 52 years, and lots of them call us, but they contact us over the Internet too. A lot of older people who have older cars aren’t Internet savvy, but it’s getting close to 50/50, phone calls and emails. We spend about an hour a day answering emails from all over the world.
Internet connections are also giving the next generation of highway travelers another reason to stop by the Auto Show. “We fell it’s so important that we have a special road sign to bring people off the road to use our internet, it’s definitely a hook,” Dave says. “We have a big sign on the road that says “free internet,” and a little kiosk in our place, and there’s someone on it most of the time. Motels have it, lots of people use it, we think if we can get them here, they’ll stay and shop around.”
So remember the Pioneer Auto Show the next time you find yourself flying down the interstate at 75 miles and hour. Take your foot off the accelerator at mile marker 190 and spend a few hours traveling back in time because as Dave puts it, “this flying by on the interstate crap has got to stop”. Who knows, you may just drive home in a 1956 T-Bird and at the very least, you’ll be able to check your email.
Wild Bill’s Car Connection
By Billy B. Ruiz
Make and Year of Vehicle: 1968 Shelby GT500 Two-Door Hatchback
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There's lots to see and do here at Pioneer Auto Show. Take a brief tour of our extensive classic and antique vehicle collections!