Ephrata pedal car collector welcomes visitors

By on January 18, 2017
In 1991, Darren Seiverling's great uncle, Richard Seiverling, built a building to house his five antique cars and the single pedal car he owned at the time. Only three of the classic cars remain, but the pedal car contingent has grown to more than 140 examples. Darren operates the museum on behalf of his Seiverling family relatives.

In 1991, Darren Seiverling’s great uncle, Richard Seiverling, built a building to house his five antique cars and the single pedal car he owned at the time. Only three of the classic cars remain, but the pedal car contingent has grown to more than 140 examples. Darren operates the museum on behalf of his Seiverling family relatives.

There’s a modest local building that houses an astonishing collection of pedal-powered vehicles. The collection was amassed by Richard Seiverling, a World War II vet who farmed from 1946, the year he got out of the Army, until 1972, the year he went to work for a local Ford tractor dealership. He retired from that job in 1986 and, having been a busy man all his life, took up the mission of collecting pedal cars.

Actually, Seiverling started with full-size antique cars, and had a garage built to house them in 1991. Then, in 1994, according to his great-nephew, Darren Seiverling, Richard bought his first pedal car, a tan and orange Pontiac. Then he bought another pedal car, and then some more, and it wasn’t long before he was selling his full-size antiques, replacing them in his garage with pedal-powered vehicles of all descriptions.

In 1996, Richard Seiverling’s stand-alone garage in Ephrata became the Seiverling Museum LLC, and he opened it to group tours. When he died 10 years later, the museum held some 140 pedal cars and three of the full-size vehicles that Richard was especially fond of.

Darren Seiverling had been helping his great-uncle with lawn care and other chores ever since the garage was erected in 1991. He shared Richard’s enthusiasm for the kiddie-sized cars, and he took over the reins of the museum after Richard’s passing.

The younger Seiverling wasn’t sure what the future would hold for his great-uncle’s dream, but 10 years later, he says, “We’re still here.”

Richard Seiverling never charged admission to museum visitors and didn’t even accept donations. He wanted it to be free to everybody, a fact that led to some heated discussions with Darren.

Richard Seiverling did make some provisions in his will for the museum’s maintenance. Darren Seiverling has placed a collection box inside the museum entrance, and cash donations help with insurance, heating, lighting and other expenses. There’s also a Seiverling Museum website that generates a modest amount of cash. Although it is incorporated, the museum is operated more to keep Richard’s vision alive than to make a profit. Darren Seiverling reports that there is enough income to sustain that vision, and he does not foresee a time when they will shut the doors and liquidate the collection.

Darren Seiverling said that once Richard Seiverling began collecting, he became known in the pedal car community as a man with a mission. One advantage pedal cars have over full-sized antiques is that a pedal car doesn’t have to be started up every now and then, and it takes up much less room. Pedal cars are also less expensive than their full-sized kin, but they can range in price from $400 to $20,000.

One of several pedal powered tractors in the Seiverling Museum. The Murray company is still in the business of making small tractors for lawn and turf uses.

One of several pedal powered tractors in the Seiverling Museum. The Murray company is still in the business of making small tractors for lawn and turf uses.

Richard Seiverling bought cars from people whose business was pedal car restoration, and it didn’t much matter where in the country they were. Darren Seiverling said cars in the collection had come from Atlanta, New Hampshire, Michigan, California and other states. A restorer would send Polaroid snapshots of a finished car. If Richard Seiverling liked it, he’d send a check to the restorer and when the check cleared, the restorer would ship the car to Ephrata.

Darren Seiverling likes the look of the restored cars — it’s how they looked when they were new — but collectors currently place higher values on cars (and pedal-powered planes, trains, boats, tractors, etc.) in their untouched, original condition, complete with dents and rust spots. Prices on eBay and a few print publications go up and down with the collector community, and these days, buyers pay about 20 percent more than they do for the slick restorations. If he adds to the Seiverling collection, which he’s done only twice in 10 years, Darren Seiverling said he will stick with restored specimens.

The museum has a one-of-a-kind car that was made for Richard Seiverling by a master craftsman. It is modeled after the rare 1932 Chrysler series CP cabriolet that is one of the three full-size antiques still housed in the museum. Chrysler made just 396 of the high-end cars, and only 13, including the one Richard bought, are still known to exist.

Darren Seiverling said the pedal car builder worked from eight Polaroid pictures Richard Seiverling took of the full-size vehicle. The first time the builder saw the original was the day he delivered the pedal car to the museum.

The oldest pedal car in the Seiverling Museum was made in 1918; the newest was made in 2004.

Just about every car comes with its own driver, Darren Seiverling pointed out. Richard Seiverling’s late wife, Ethel, was an enthusiastic supporter of her husband’s pedal-powered passion. Every time he bought a new vehicle, she bought a teddy bear to sit in the driver’s seat.

Darren Seiverling said he thinks the pedal car hobby is growing, becoming more popular with guys in his age range, their 30s and 40s. At the museum’s open houses — usually monthly during the spring, summer and fall — he regularly meets people with ambitious collections. He recalled one man who said he owns 10 Ferrari pedal cars, each one a different model. He mentioned a local auto dealer who’s reputed to have a collection rivaling the one in Ephrata.

In the 1990s, when the internet was young, Darren Seiverling said, an online search for pedal cars might turn up a few pages. A recent Google search for “pedal car” returned 6.4 million results in a little under a second.

Darren Seiverling is a busy guy. He has a full-time job in the parts department of EMM Sales and Service in nearby Brownstown. His employer specializes in transportation equipment for agricultural products. He has a degree in electromechanical engineering and puts those skills to work part-time for the local cable TV company. He and his wife have two small children.

And, he manages to fit in quite a bit of time for keeping his great-uncle’s museum vision alive. Darren Seiverling opens the museum for groups and even one-person tours, with advance notice. He and his wife sit down at the beginning of each year to figure out when they want to have open houses, and which car shows they’ll visit.

For more information or to arrange a visit, go online to seiverlingonline.com, or call 431-7257.

Dick Wanner is a staff writer and photographer for the Ephrata Review. He welcomes reader feedback at rwanner.eph@lnpnews.com.

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