The Forney Museum of Transportation began as the private collection of Mr.
J. D. Forney of Fort Collins, CO. From an early age Mr. Forney had an
interest in cars, airplanes, and all modes of transportation. He was
born in Enid, Oklahoma on January 27, 1905. Due to a family breakup, J.
D. lived some of his childhood on his Uncle Mert's farm in Missouri.
There he learned how to do a full day's work at an early age helping
with chores. He ran away when he was 14 and was on his own from then
on. He knew how to work hard, and delighted in doing a man's work and
receiving a man's wages.
D. attended his first years of high school back in Enid, where he
purchased his first car, a 1919 Model T Coupe. He spent his senior year
in Sterling, CO, where his older brother Clarence was the Industrial
Arts teacher. He also worked part time in the local grocery store, and
played on the high school football team.
While a student at Sterling, J.D. traded his Model T for a used 1919 Kissel touring car.
brought this car with him when he enrolled at Colorado A&M,
(Aggies), which is now CSU. (He confessed that he had been ticketed for
speeding around the oval there.) It was here at college that he met and
courted Rachel Krickbaum in his Kissel car. A few years later, she was
to become Mrs. J.D. Forney.
After years of hard farm labor, J. D. knew that he did not want farming
to be his life's work. In his youth he had often sold products door to
door to earn extra money and enjoyed the work. After college he began
1932 the Depression limited sales and J. D. looked for other ways to
support his family. He invented and patented a unique "Instant Heat
Soldering Iron" and the Forney Manufacturing Company was formed. Its
headquarters was the basement of his home in Ft. Collins, CO. where he
began to manufacture and sell his invention, with considerable
assistance from his wife.
original soldering iron worked from a car battery and was ready to
solder as soon as you touched the metal. In the early 30's, he
developed a 110V transformer to operate the soldering iron. This then
developed into a small welder, and after that, a larger welder.
In the late 1930's, J.D. had a vision of a welding machine that would
work with the electricity available from the newly developed REA farm
electrical system. Such a welder had to be able to operate
satisfactorily from small rural transformers. His was the first
'limited input welder'. When REA approved his welder, his vision moved
forward rapidly. These welders were easy enough for the average man to
operate, and soon Forney Manufacturing Company became known as the
pioneer in "farm welding". For many years Forney Manufacturing led the
nation in the production of farm welders.
products followed, including battery chargers, spot welders, welding
supplies, vacuum cleaners, training film production, water ski's, and
even aircraft (Fornaire Aircoupe). The affiliated companies became
In 1955 J.D.'s wife Rae and son Jack, decided that J.D. needed a
diversion from business and secretly conspired to locate a Kissel Kar
similar to the one he owned in high school. They had hoped he would
enjoy tinkering with the car and perhaps drive it to work or take it
for Sunday drives.
Kissel was found and Jack arranged to have it painted yellow. J.D. did
indeed drive it to work quite often, and a photo of him in his Kissel
was published in the "Forney Flashes", a Forney Industries weekly that
went out to over 600 field representatives around the country.
As soon as the 'Flashes' hit the field a call came in to J.D. from one
of the field representatives, "I have a 1915 Model T that I can trade
straight across for a Model C Welder. Are you interested?" Similar
calls began to come in. J.D. was no stranger to barter from his days in
the cash-poor Depression and couldn't resist the temptation to acquire
the cars he was interested in. He especially responded to calls that
mentioned the owner needed to get rid of the car and was going to junk
it or sell it to kids to make a hot rod. From then on J. D. began
trading welders for and buying automobiles and carriages. The
collection began to grow.
Jack was running the manufacturing plant and one of his employees was a
draftsman who had grown up in his father's shop - a shop which restored
antique automobiles. Jack mentioned to J.D. that he could release him
for a half week at a time, if J.D. would like his help in restoring his
growing collection. Within a month, Jack had to hire a new draftsman,
as J.D. had him working full time on the cars. The manufacturing plant
employed experienced welders, mechanics, carpenters, machinists,
painters, etc., so many restoration projects began to be worked on
between production schedules.
time, J.D. began to receive invitations requesting the use of his
antique automobiles in parades and events in nearby communities. Mrs.
Forney was a collector of antique clothing, so often employees with
their families, as well as the Forney family, dressed in authentic
period clothing for the event, young and old alike. They were trained
to drive the horseless carriages or classic cars.
Parade in Ft. Collins
Forney grandchildren dressed for parade
J.D. and Rachel at the Broadmoor for the Glidden Tour
Three or four times a year, 6 to 16 vehicles would become part of a
parade or special event in the area. Jack and Pat's matched team of
black Morgan horses were used to pull one of the elegant Victorian
carriages in these parades. This required an entirely different sort of
"driver". Often the cars were driven from Ft. Collins to the nearby
community and drew quite a bit of attention as they rolled down the
highway to their destination. This continued for about 8 years. At this
time, it was still just J.D. and Rae's private collections and the idea
for a museum had not yet emerged.
first, the collection was housed in his garage, and an attached
building J.D. had used to build welding equipment in the 40's. But
Donart Printers, (an affiliated commercial printing firm on the
premises) was growing, so a new building was constructed on LaPorte
Avenue with the possibility that DonArt could expand into it. However,
J.D. began storing some of his vehicles there before DonArt had
expanded enough to move in.
collection began to occupy more and more of the space in the new
building. The restoration shop was moved into the back of the building
as J.D. began to acquire more vehicles that needed work, including some
Donart made other plans for their expansion.
J.D.'s collecting continued. A small German locomotive was purchased
from a New York amusement park. Motorcycles, buggies, wagons, carriages
and most anything with wheels were added. Local residents and
employee's families increasingly desired to view the collection, so
J.D.'s grandchildren were enlisted as cashiers, and to dust and polish
the vehicles. The collection was usually open on Saturdays and
sometimes Sunday afternoons. Children were charged 10 cents and adults,
25 cents. The collection grew and grew, so in 1961, it was incorporated
and became the Forney Museum, a non-profit charitable organization
1965, Mr. Forney served on a planning committee bringing a Billy Graham
crusade to Denver. Here he met Jerry Von Frelic who was the originator
of "Cinderella City", one of the first giant shopping malls in the
country. Mr. Von Frelic offered J.D. free rent if he would move the
collection to his new mall. This would give the museum more exposure,
while drawing people to the mall, a good deal for both of them. The
museum remained there for about 2 years.
Moving to Cinderella City
Due to limited space and other operational difficulties, Mr. Forney
began to seek a new location. His collection now numbered over 200
vehicles, including another locomotive and some rail cars. The Denver
Tramway Powerhouse, a large brick historic building near the Platte
River became available. The Tramway Power House was built in 1901 to
house the boilers and engines to generate the electricity for the
Denver Trolley system that blanketed the Denver Metropolitan area until
1950. Another collector, Dr. James Arneill, a prominent Denver surgeon,
had several railcars and six antique automobiles. He partnered with
J.D. to purchase the building to house both collections and was active
in raising money for the Museum in it's new home. The collections were
moved to the Powerhouse in 1968.
after the move, Union Pacific donated a 4884 Alco 'Big Boy' Locomotive,
the largest steam locomotives ever built. Only 8 of these giants remain
today. Donated vehicles of all sorts began to be more prevalent than
acquisitions. These donations could be written off the donor's taxes,
providing a benefit for both the museum and the donor.
Museum remained in the tramway building for 30 years, remaining a well
known landmark along I-25. The museum, however, continued to grow and
finally began outgrowing the Tramway building. Also, the high cost of
restoring the continually deteriorating structure was becoming
prohibitive. All restoration had to be done to historic site
specifications and often involved considerable time navigating red tape
and ongoing negotiations. Asbestos and lead paint in the old building
had to be addressed also. Much of the time and money that was to have
been used to upgrade the exhibits and make the area more comfortable
for visitors was redirected to maintaining the building. The idea of
moving the entire collection was staggering, and the museum made
several efforts over the years to secure sufficient funding for the
museum to continue operation.
began failing in the mid '80s and Jack took over managing the
activities of the museum. In October of 1998, under his direction, the
Museum sold the Platte Street building to sporting goods retailer REI.
It ran them around $40 million to restore the old building to a level
the Museum could never have achieved. A warehouse facility on Brighton
Blvd. next to the Denver Coliseum was purchased. Renovations began in
1998. With the help of many volunteers and the loan of needed
equipment, most of the collection was moved to the new building by the
spring of 1999. It took 2 years of negotiations, permits, track laying,
etc. to move the Big Boy locomotive to its new home, ultimately costing
over $750,000. (The moving of the collection is a story unto itself for
the move to the opening of the "new" Museum, we were very fortunate to
have hired our director, Pam Johnson Bestall, whose tireless work and
creativity has been invaluable in this undertaking. Her interest in the
collection and understanding of its historic value made her an
extremely valuable asset.
Amy C. Neuman joined the museum as Director in 2007.
January of 2001 the Museum opened to the public
in this spacious 140,000 square foot facility.
Only 70,000 square feet of space is now being
utilized for exhibition and administrative purposes.
The remaining space is available for future
expansion when funds are available. The entire
museum collection, including the train equipment
and Big Boy steam locomotive, is now housed
Front of the new museum building
with his wife Rae, J.D. spent untold hours with
the museum over the years. Their children and
grandchildren have also worked extensively on
the museum. Jack Forney and his family continue
to do so. Most museum exhibits are from J.D.'s
collection and were donated to the Forney Museum
of Transportation. Jack and Pat Forney have
put a tremendous amount of time, energy and
money into the Museum. It is through their dedication
this historical treasure has been kept alive.
J.D. & Rachel Forney
Jack & PatForney
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The entire museum collection was moved from the Tramway building to the
current location, but not everything is on exhibit at one time. So stop
back often to see the changing exhibits.