Mark Unruh clearly recalls the day a high school classmate showed up with a Cushman scooter, sparking a lifelong fascination that led him to both collect the vehicles and connect with other Cushman owners.
"It wasn't a car, but it was cool. It wasn't quite a motorcycle, but it was cool. After that, we were off to the races; every weekend driving all over the state on scooters," Unruh said.
Unruh, along with Tom Smith, Jesse Moege and other McPherson-area Cushman enthusiasts, are loaning items from their collections for "Topless Travel," a new exhibit at the McPherson Museum that opened Nov. 27.
"Topless Travel" features 25 Cushman vehicles, along with vintage advertisements, historical photographs and other related paraphernalia.
"This is just a smattering of what we have," Unruh said.
"We tried to have a representation of the different models they made throughout the years," Smith said.
One of the rarest Cushmans in the exhibit is a Model 53 Airborne Motor Scooter produced for military use during World War II.
"They're highly sought after," Moege said.
"They were actually made to throw out of an airplane with a parachute," Unruh said. "That was the intent — to get mobile vehicles forward in the front line."
Next to the Airborne is an engine still coated in Cosmoline and other Cushman parts still in their wax-dipped packaging.
After World War II ended, Cushman was one of the few companies allowed to manufacture vehicles because of their participating in the war effort, Moege explained. Their scooters were designed to serve as vehicles for hunters, postal workers and groundskeepers, among others.
"The best thing is they're fun," Smith said. "They're part of Americana and the central United States; that's where they were made."
Manufactured in Lincoln, Nebraska, Cushman scooters became popular because of their functionality, economy and ease of repair.
"Cushman advertised them as being your second vehicle," Smith said.
People could even order a scooter from the Sears and Roebucks catalog. While they were Allstate branded, the vehicles were made by Cushman.
"There were a few things to make it Sears', but it's all Cushman," Unruh said.
Production of the scooters ended in 1965.
"It's a piece of vanishing America," Moege said.
That doesn't stop the many Cushman collectors who are part of the Kansas Cushman Club and the Cushman Club of America. Unruh proudly noted that a group of McPherson-area Cushman owners met regularly in Lakeside Park even before those organizations started.
"There are not many towns who can say they have this many scooters and people," Smith said. "It's kind of a big deal for McPherson, Kansas."
While those meetings became less regular a few years ago, there is still a small group that gets together to ride the back roads on their scooters.
"We'll run to Hesston, Lindsborg or Inman — those places where we know there'll be a little place for six or eight of us to ride and have a drink and go back," Unruh said.
Those trips are made at a slower pace, as the cruising speeds for Cushman scooters ranges from 25 to 55 mph, depending on the models and road conditions.
"We have understanding wives," Moege grinned. "That goes a long way."
"Topless Travel" will be on exhibit through Jan. 12, 2019, at the McPherson Museum, 1111 E. Kansas Ave. For more information, visit http://www.mcphersonmuseum.com.