History of the Forney Museum

June 4, 2023

The Forney Museum of Transportation holds a rich history that began with the passion and dedication of Mr. J. D. Forney from Fort Collins, Colorado. From a young age, Mr. Forney displayed a keen interest in cars, airplanes, and various modes of transportation. Born on January 27, 1905, in Enid, Oklahoma, his upbringing was shaped by a family breakup, which led him to spend part of his childhood on his Uncle Mert's farm in Missouri. It was there that he learned the value of hard work, contributing to daily chores and embracing the responsibilities of an adult at an early age.

At the age of 14, J. D. left home and embarked on a journey of self-reliance. He understood the importance of hard work and took pride in earning a fair wage. His early high school years were spent in Enid, where he made a significant milestone by purchasing his first car, a 1919 Model T Coupe. Seeking new opportunities, he later moved to Sterling, Colorado, to spend his senior year. In Sterling, he worked part-time at a local grocery store and actively participated in the high school football team.

During his time as a student in Sterling, J.D. traded his beloved Model T for a used 1919 Kissel touring car. This car became a significant part of his journey when he enrolled at Colorado A&M, now known as CSU. J.D. fondly recalls being ticketed for speeding around the oval at the college. It was during his college years that he met Rachel Krickbaum, who would later become Mrs. J.D. Forney, and their courtship was intertwined with memories of their rides in the Kissel car.

Despite having endured years of labor on farms, J.D. realized that farming was not his true calling. Drawing from his entrepreneurial spirit, he had previously sold products door to door to earn extra income and found fulfillment in that line of work. After completing college, he ventured into selling encyclopedias, exploring new avenues to support his growing family.

However, the Great Depression of 1932 significantly impacted sales, forcing J.D. to seek alternative means to provide for his loved ones. During this time, he invented and patented a groundbreaking device called the "Instant Heat Soldering Iron." The Forney Manufacturing Company was born, with its headquarters located in the basement of J.D.'s Fort Collins home. With unwavering support from his wife, J.D. began manufacturing and selling his invention, which operated from a car battery and provided instant soldering capabilities. As the years progressed, he developed a 110V transformer to power the soldering iron, leading to the creation of small and large welders.

In the late 1930s, J.D. had a visionary idea for a welding machine that could effectively utilize the electricity from the newly developed Rural Electrification Administration (REA) farm electrical system. This welder had to be compatible with small rural transformers, marking the birth of the first "limited input welder." With the approval of REA, J.D.'s vision gained momentum, and Forney Manufacturing Company emerged as a pioneer in the field of "farm welding." The company dominated the production of farm welders across the nation for many years.

The success of Forney Manufacturing paved the way for the expansion into other product lines. Battery chargers, spot welders, welding supplies, vacuum cleaners, training film production, water skis, and even aircraft, such as the Fornaire Aircoupe, became part of the affiliated companies under the umbrella of Forney Industries.

In 1955, J.D.'s wife, Rae, and his son, Jack took a momentous trip to Europe, where they visited various transportation museums and gained inspiration for the establishment of their own museum in Colorado. The idea was to create a space that would celebrate and preserve the history of transportation, showcasing a diverse collection of vehicles, artifacts, and memorabilia.

Upon their return, J.D. and Jack Forney began actively collecting vehicles and transportation-related items, scouring the country for unique and historically significant pieces. Their collection grew rapidly, encompassing automobiles, motorcycles, bicycles, trains, airplanes, and even a steam-powered tractor. Each addition to the collection was carefully restored and maintained, ensuring that the vehicles remained in pristine condition.

In 1961, the Forney Museum of Transportation officially opened its doors to the public. Housed in a building in downtown Denver, the museum quickly gained popularity among enthusiasts and the general public alike. Visitors marveled at the vast array of transportation marvels, from vintage cars to locomotives, from biplanes to bicycles.

Over the years, the Forney Museum expanded its collection and outgrew its original location. In 1974, the museum moved to a larger facility on Brighton Boulevard, where it resides to this day. The new location provided ample space to display the growing collection and allowed for the addition of interactive exhibits and educational programs.

Under the stewardship of the Forney family, the museum continued to thrive and became a cherished institution in Denver. It served as a gathering place for transportation enthusiasts, a source of education for students, and a repository of history for future generations. The Forney Museum's commitment to preserving the legacy of transportation was evident in its extensive collection and the dedication of its staff and volunteers.

In 1999, tragedy struck when a fire broke out in the museum, causing significant damage to the building and some of the vehicles. However, the Forney family and the museum's supporters rallied together to rebuild and restore what had been lost. The community's overwhelming support allowed the museum to come back stronger than ever, with improved facilities and an even more extensive collection.

Today, the Forney Museum of Transportation stands as a testament to the passion, vision, and perseverance of J.D. Forney and his family. Its collection has grown to include over 600 artifacts, ranging from rare automobiles and motorcycles to antique fire engines and historic aircraft. The museum continues to educate and inspire visitors of all ages, offering a captivating journey through the evolution of transportation.

As the Forney Museum looks to the future, it remains dedicated to its mission of preserving transportation history and providing a unique and immersive experience for all who walk through its doors. The legacy of J.D. Forney lives on, reminding us of the transformative power of transportation and its profound impact on our lives and society.

The Forney Museum Highlights

Visiting the Forney Museum of Transportation is an opportunity to explore a captivating collection that spans over a century of transportation history. Here are some highlights you can expect to see:

  1. Vintage Automobiles: The museum boasts an impressive assortment of vintage cars, including classics like the Ford Model T, Chevrolet Bel Air, and Packard Sedan. These beautifully restored vehicles showcase the evolution of automotive design and engineering.
  2. Historic Trains: Step into the past as you marvel at the meticulously restored locomotives and train cars on display. From steam-powered engines to diesel locomotives, the Forney Museum offers a glimpse into the golden age of rail travel.
  3. Aviation Marvels: Aviation enthusiasts will be enthralled by the collection of airplanes, ranging from early biplanes to military aircraft. The museum showcases iconic models like the Piper J-3 Cub, Beechcraft Staggerwing, and North American P-51 Mustang.

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