If you’ve ever taken the long drive across Nebraska on Interstate 80, you’ve probably noticed some things: corn fields, a lot of cows, and farms galore can be seen from the long expanse of road. You’ll also find a number of interesting and often quirky roadside attractions, including Fort Cody, the Great Platte River Archway, and the birthplace of Kool-Aid. But one roadside attraction you may have never seen or paid much mind to, sits in a large warehouse set off by itself on the north side of the interstate, just 13 miles West of the Kearney, the NE exit in Elm Creek. This little gem is known as Chevyland USA.
Opened in 1974, Chevyland USA was a classic automotive museum filled with over 100 Chevrolets when in its prime. The original owner, and caretaker to this day, Monte Hollertz, started collecting automobiles in the ’60s. Wanting to share his growing collection with other enthusiasts, Hollertz decided to open up his own museum, and opted for the establishment’s current location after sitting in the once undeveloped farm field along I-80 in his 1955 Chevy. he was sitting there, gauging the interest it might draw by how many people were traveling along the interstate as they looked his direction.
When the museum first opened, it was the talk of the town. Hollertz recalls that he’d have more than 100 visitors to the museum each day, and it wasn’t unusual for automotive and local print media outlets to stop by for a tour. Hollertz collected until the mid-’80s, telling us that, at point, he had acquired “enough stuff.” The museum has sat and deteriorated in mostly an unchanged state ever since.
Growing up and traveling back and forth from Colorado to Iowa to see family at least once or twice a year, we passed Chevyland USA a couple dozen times, at first paying little mind to the glorified warehouse on the side of the road. But, as our automotive enthusiasm grew and became more attuned to what exactly was sitting behind the floor-to-ceiling windows that run the length of most of the building, we swore to one day stop and investigate what appeared to have become someone’s nearly forgotten collection of cars. To our surprise, Chevyland USA still functions as a museum, and is open just about every day of the year between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.
Traveling across the country to attend both the Goodguys Heartland Nationals in Des Moines, and the Iola Car Show in Iola, Wisconsin, on back-to-back weekends early this July, we decided it was a good time to stop by the museum and take a look at a collection that had been a mystery for 29 years. What we found can only be described as a one-of-a-kind trip back in time. it is defintely worth seeing for yourself.
The entrance to the museum is nothing more than a glass door in the side of the weathered metal building. Toys from the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, and newer, greet visitors in a small office-type space lined with glass display cabinets featuring everything from classic dolls and antique hub caps, to vintage dealership print materials and die-casts. Not everything in Chevyland USA is Chevy-based these days, but you’ll still find the vast majority of the collection emblazoned with the iconic Bow Tie or other GM-badging. Hollertz told us his collecting of toys came after his collecting of full-size cars. The old dolls are compliments of his wife.
Through a standard wooden door lies the automobile collection, now housing around 80 vehicles of all varieties. You’ll find motorcycles and snowmobiles to rows of consecutive model-year Chevy coupes and Impalas. The first car you see once inside is a 1932 Chevrolet Deluxe roadster – Hollertz’s favorite of his vehicles since it shares his same birth year. It was also the subject of a two-year restoration he completed with his son – the trophies that surround it are evidence of its successful show days. Past the roadster are dozens of classic vehicles, reaching all the way back to model years in the early 1900s.
The museum is setup with some semblance of a once thriving hot spot, with carpet-lined walkways, mannequins dressed in period-correct clothing, vintage furniture, bicycles and license plates, and wooden stands with information on just about every vehicle on display. The warehouse now sits as an almost eerie reminder of what used to be. Almost every vehicle in the place, whether perfectly aligned with its neighbors in an organized row, or haphazardly pulled in through the overhead door and left as if parked after a run to the store 30 years ago and forgotten about, are covered in dust and sitting on at least one flat tire. Vehicles like a 1917 Laser kit car, a Syracuse fire truck, and Volkswagen Caddy are intermixed with both restored and untouched factory GM classics.
An impressive collection of early 1910s and 1920s Chevys are among the vehicles on display, along with a couple vintage trailers, more vintage bicycles than you’ve probably ever seen in one place, and some oddities, like a 1928 Overland Whippet. Overall, the collection may be a little under-maintained, but it’s certainly impressive none-the-less and definitely worth checking out!
If you ever find yourself driving across Nebraska along I-80, be sure to take the short detour to Chevyland USA. It’s just a mile or so down a gravel frontage road off exit 257. For a small donation of $6.00 for adults to walk through, the experience is worth every penny.
We could have stayed there for hours looking through all that Chevyland has to offer and talking to Hollertz about his passion project, but we were running short on time. We certainly look forward to going back and exploring more in the future.