by John Stapleton
Ernie Adams was about 15 when he first had the vision — a train was going by near his home in Harvard, Nebraska when he spotted an old refrigerator lying in the weeds.
“It had the top toward me, the door was ripped off and it had an old tire on it,” Adams says. “And to me it looked like a miniature touring car with black fenders.”
Adams said he always loved antique cars but was too poor to afford one. Space also was an issue in the small trailer park where he lived. But he remembered that vision, so the first small car would be built out of a refrigerator. He was 25 at the time.
In 1971, Adams moved to Phoenix. Raising his family, he slowly continued his hobby, building a miniature ’39 Chevy and a ’42 Ford Convertible. In 1998, he moved deeper into the desert, about 20 minutes past the little farming community that would become the City of Maricopa.
The family’s new home came with a foothill view and an old gas station that would become a functioning garage and internationally known as the Dwarf Car Museum.
At 52954 W. Halfmoon Road, Maricopa, the Dwarf Car Museum started small but now on any given day has become a big deal with visitors coming from around the world to see the miniaturized cars Adams has built by hand. He’s even attracted big time stars as the museum was featured in the show Jay Leno’s Garage.
Even though it is tucked away in the middle of the desert, Adams says he could get up to 250 visitors a day starting from the time the museum opens until it closes. Within the museum, plenty of collectibles adorn the walls, and an entire century of America’s love affair with cars is on display.
Adams smiles when reflecting about them: “People just drop them off on my front door and I find a place to hang it.”
Also on the display is the collection of trophies Adams has acquired through the years.
“Yeah, quite a few awards; I hold my own at shows,” he says. “We usually enter a special interest class or a most unique class if they have one.”
At 80, Adams still works in the garage daily. Personally, he plans to keep going as long as possible with no intention to sell. Plans are in place to keep the museum open for generations to come as it has become bigger than a hobby. Adams intends to pass it to his son, and later to his granddaughter.
This may come as a surprise, but he says it wasn’t his idea to start the museum in the first place.
“This was the kid’s,” Adams says. “So, they will take care of it long after I am gone.”
There is no entry fee for the museum, but you’ll definitely want to bring a camera and be prepared to take a lot of photos.
Dwarf Car Museum
Open daily, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
(closed June 15-July 8)
52954 W. Halfmoon Road, Maricopa
Photos Ernie Volo