Foundation finds new home for FWD Museum

New site will have much more space

Grace Kirchner, Leader Correspondent

Since it was built in the late 1890s, the Zachow­ Besserdich Machine Shop on East 11th Street has been an important Clintonville landmark. Now 120 years later, it houses the Four Wheel Drive Museum.

That is about to change. The museum is getting a new home.

The FWD Foundation, dedicated to preserving the history of the Four Wheel Drive Auto Co., has purchased the former Topp ­Steward factory, 325 15th St., for use as a museum. The building was formerly home to Atlas Conveyor, Nordberg, Rexnord and more recently Badger Transport.

The purchase was announced by Mark Thomas and Marcia Olen, granddaughter of Walter Olen, the first president of FWD.

Otto Zachow and William Besserdich developed the first effective design for transferring power to all four wheels of an automobile in the 11th Street building. With the help Clintonville attorney Walter A. Olen, the Four Wheel Drive Auto Company was founded in 1909.

“The museum on 11th street is wooden and oil soaked” said Mark Thomas, a former Clintonville resident who has been one of the people working with the foundation and museum. “We are concerned that a fire could destroy important history, but the building will stay and may be turned into the shop it once was.”

The 60,000-square-foot 15th Street building is constructed mainly of steel and concrete, and will provide more space for the museum as well as room for a library, research area, offices, gift shop and meeting room.

“The history of FWD is important to the world,” Thomas said. “The present museum is too small to adequately represent the history. There isn’t any thing newer than 1916 in that building and a lot of history has been made since 1916.”

Five trucks have been donated to the museum just over the past four years, and others are interested in lending vehicles to the facility. Thomas expects that within six months they will have at least 21 FWD trucks in the museum.

FWD Seagrave also recently entrusted the museum with a substantial quantity of patterns and documentation.

While the foundation continues to seek donations of historically significant vehicles, and print and paper material from the public, it will not need the entire 15th Street building for some time. Organizers said they are open to leasing up to a third of the space if they can find a suitable tenant.

The move will occur gradually, with no set timetable for completion.

The museum is also seeking volunteers to help continue making the museum a destination for visitors and an economic asset for the city. Organizers hope to develop a Friends of the Museum organization.

The museum is open by appointment. Call Bill Hupke at 715­-823-­2870 or Daryl Schroeder at 715-­823-­2241.