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The WHEELS Museum

An investment in New Mexico's history

Leba Freed is the founder of the WHEELS Museum in Albuquerque. Her dream was to showcase how transportation has shaped our history. She hoped to collect enough items to honor the past and eventually fill a museum. While she worked toward that dream, the museum was housed in seven different locations as the non-profit organization developed exhibits and found more space to house them.

In 2008, the WHEELS Museum officially opened in downtown Albuquerque. WHEELS stands for “We Have Everything Everyone Loves Spinning.” The museum has every kind of object you can imagine with wheels. Freed’s goal to preserve the past while featuring the Southwest has become a reality. The museum is housed in a 21,000-square-foot freight building with thousands of model-sized and large-scale items.

Originally, 30,000 spare parts were stored in the historic building that was built in 1914. These parts were the key to keeping locomotive steam engines running in their glory days. At one point, workers repaired 40 locomotives per month. It’s no surprise that trains are a big part of the current-day exhibit. Freed says, “We are passionate about saving the history of the men who built our city, our country, who labored for low wages under dangerous conditions to do whatever it took to build engines that would carry materials for growth and progress.” During World War II, the site was open 24 hours a day to help the war effort. Freed says, “This was the last remaining behemoth of its kind in the USA.”

The WHEELS Museum now has a ride-on train that holds 25 passengers and takes visitors around the larger exhibits throughout the building. Antique autos, race cars, gliders, and rare bicycles also fill the historic downtown venue. Vintage tools, record players, typewriters, and fire trucks are also part of the museum’s memorabilia.

Visitors can take a deeper look into the past through photo archives and the museum’s on-site libraries. If you’re lucky, you can meet the museum ambassador known as “Harley.” This friendly, furry, golden retriever visits the museum a few days each week and brings a smile to all who meet him.

Children especially love Harley and the museum’s model trains. “We have model train layouts of every gauge, including one 40-foot-long O-gauge,” says Freed. New S-gauge and G-gauge layouts are currently being built for the museum.

Another popular exhibit at the museum is an RV made of classic Route 66 billboards. The vehicle is another nod to the past and homage to the famous northeast-to-southwest interstate. Visitors can see Albuquerque’s history on display with the Alvarado Railroad Hotel exhibit and photos of the old airport and tram.

The museum is a non-profit organization that is self-funded and run by volunteers. The City of Albuquerque and the State of New Mexico have both provided infrastructure funds for the museum. “Most of our thousands of rare exhibits have been contributed by kind donors who know that others will learn from and be inspired by their family treasures. The county has pitched in to help the museum with printing costs,” says Freed. The New Mexico Rail Runner Express also sponsors the WHEELS Museum.

Visitors can enjoy a new experience and discover a new piece of the past each time they visit since exhibits change frequently. The movie industry has filmed dozens of major motion pictures and independent films at the museum’s downtown site.

The collection of items within the museum brings back memories for visitors of days gone by. The WHEELS Museum is also creating new memories for visitors of all ages. Numerous field trips, birthdays, and musical events are held there.

You can visit the WHEELS Museum in Albuquerque at the historic railroad building at 1100 2nd Street Southwest. Visitors can see Albuquerque’s history on display with the Alvarado Railroad Hotel exhibit and photos of the old airport and tram.

While the museum is filled with treasures, Freed says new donations are sometimes accepted, depending on the space available. The non-profit is also looking for sponsors and partners to expand. “We seek expansion and hope for funds to do so,” says Freed. Currently, tours, fundraising, and the gift shop help keep the museum afloat. Volunteers are encouraged to help with marketing, fundraising, and exhibits.

The WHEELS Museum is open Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to noon and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the weekends. Museum hours are subject to change, so be sure to call 505.243.6269 before visiting. For more information, visit

  • Leba Freed, President, The Wheels Museum