Wheels O’ Time Museum Explores Early Manufacturing

Wheels O’ Time Museum. Is it about cars? Is it about clocks? I wasn’t sure what to expect. It turns out “Wheels O’ Time” refers to the passage of time. The museum near Peoria, Illinois, focuses on manufacturing from the late 1800s to the mid-1900s. During this time. Peoria was a huge manufacturing city. It’s estimated that over 900 items, from bicycles to whiskey, were made in Peoria in the early 1900s. The Wheel O’ Time Museum recalls that era. Its 30,000 square feet of exhibit space spread across four buildings, plus outdoor space, is jam-packed with artifacts, mostly from the Peoria area.

Wheels O' Time Museum - one of five buildings

Yes, there are cars…

I was partially right. Wheels O’ Time Museum displays quite a collection of transportation exhibits, including automobiles, railroad cars, bicycles, and models of steamboats and airplanes.

Wheels O' Time Museum - Velie 60
The Wheels O’ Time Museum is home to many unusual automobiles, including (foreground) the 1925/1926 Velie 60. The Velie Motor Car Company was founded in 1908 by John Deere’s grandson, Willard Lamb Velie.
Wheels O' Time Museum - Early Ford V8 Club display
The Wheels O’ Time Museum partners with the Early Ford V8 Club. The club maintains a display, which they change monthly. Mustangs was the current exhibit when we visited.
Wheels O' Time Museum - Tin Lizzie
This Tin Lizzy is available to guests for photo ops.
Wheel O Time railroad cars
You can walk through some of the railroad cars and browse railroad memorabilia inside them.
Wheels O' time Museum - model railroads
With a touch of a button, you can watch model trains run. The toys in the display on the right were all manufactured prior to World War II.
Wheels O Time model airplanes
Model airplanes hang from the ceiling of the Wheels O’ Time Museum, include a model of a “Red Baron” tri-plane. The museum also has a 3/4 scale model of the Spirit of St. Louis.
Wheels O' Time Museum - bicycles
Wheels O’ Time Museum has a nice collection of antique bicycles, some of which were produced in Peoria.
Wheels O' Time Museum - riverboat models
Left: Model of a riverboat that plied the Illinois River in the 1800s; right: model of today’s Spirit of Peoria. We took a moonlight cruise on the Spirit of Peoria during our visit. (Editor’s note: Sadly, the Spirit of Peoria left the city permanently in 2022.)

…and there are also clocks

Wheels O' Time Museum - c;locks

Early music, early radio and other fun stuff

The player piano puts you in an upbeat mood as you enter the museum. Other musical gadgets play with the press of a button. Antique organs, phonographs, and a jukebox bring back days of time past.

Wheels O' Time music display
Top: An animated circus parade comes to life when you insert a coin. Lower left: Mechanically-operated musical instruments; Lower right: jukebox

Wheels O' Time Museum - Musical instruments

Wheels O' Time Museum - presidential barbershop quartet
This quartet of former U.S. presidents breaks out in song when you press a button. From left to right, presidents portrayed are: Nixon, Reagan, Ford, and Carter. Not seen in this photo, behind the quartet a likeness of President Clinton is soaking in a tub since he was “always in hot water.”

Listen to the story of early Peoria radio station at the WMBD diorama. The radio station is Peoria’s oldest, dating back to 1927.

Wheels O' Time Museum - WMBD

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Grandma’s kitchen

One exhibit displays old kitchen gadgets, from an early toaster to the first vacuum cleaner. The vacuum cleaner used manual pump suction, not electricity. I think a broom and old-fashioned rug beater would have been easier to use.

Wheels O' Time Museum - Grandma's Kitchen

Stairs from a fire station…and a brothel

You don’t think much about the staircase (shown below) until you hear the story of its origin. The staircase came from a former fire station. However, before that, it was in a brothel.

Wheels O' Time Museum - staircase

Fun mechanical horse story

John Kellogg, of cereal fame, invented the mechanical horse. He believed the jostling caused by the mechanical horse was good for your insides.

A wealthy Peoria family owned one of the mechanical horses. They would ride it on days when the weather was bad and they couldn’t ride their real horses. Sometime later, the museum obtained the mechanical horse and restored it. One day a woman from the wealthy family visited the museum. Now in her 80s, she said her husband would never let her ride the mechanical horse because he thought it was too dangerous. She asked if she could ride it now. And she did.

Wheels O Time Museum - mechanical horse
Mechanical horse

If you visit the Wheels O’ Time Museum

We were in the museum for almost two hours, and we only made it through two of the four buildings and took a few quick photos of the railroad cars. So you should definitely plan at least a half day to go through the entire museum.

The Wheels O’ time Museum is located about 20 minutes northwest of Peoria, at 1710 N Woodside Drive in Dunlap, Illinois. It’s open May through October. Check the website for hours, admission fees, and other details.


Peoria offers many accommodations options. Check rates here.

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Wheels O' Time Museum


Disclosures:  The Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Wheels O’ Time Museum hosted our visit to the museum. Our admission was complimentary. However, any opinions expressed in this post are strictly mine.
This article contains an affiliate link. If you book a room through the “Check rates” link above, I will receive a small commission, at no additional cost to you.

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