Jerry Tanksley welcomes all who come to view his unique collection
BERRYVILLE, ARK. – After taking early retirement, Jerry Tanksley decided he needed something to do, but he wanted it to be different.
A collector of antiques, oddities and everything in between, Jerry decided to share his collection with the world. He created his own little town and the Memory Lane Museum.
“Everyone who comes here says they can’t believe what’s here,” Jerry, who is not only the owner of the collection, but the “tour guide, the mayor, the sheriff, the judge and everything else” in Memory Lane at his property on Highway 62 East in Berryville, Ark., said.
“I had been collecting stuff and just throwing it in my garage,” Jerry said. “It will blow your mind when you go through his old joint. I could talk to you for 10 years and not tell you what all I got. I was born poor, raised poor and just started collecting things, working on things, and made something out of this world.”
A construction worker by trade, Jerry has built 10 buildings to house his massive memorabilia collection, dating back to the 1930s. Toys, household items, industrial machines, signs, gas pumps, soda coolers, moonshine stills, movie memorabilia, an old peanut and popcorn machine from about 1906 and even a machine that x-rays feet can be found at Memory Lane Museum.
“I just started building,” Jerrys said. “I thought I was kind of getting carried away, but I just kept building and building. It’s not the best museum in the world, but it’s just a different museum. I just enjoy doing it, and God has blessed me and helped me find this stuff. I enjoy shooting the breeze with folks too; I like to joke and cut up with them.”
Jerry’s first building was a replica of an old service station, followed by a Post Office, barbershop, a jailhouse, a bank and Granny’s House.
“I put all original stuff in everything,” Jerry said of his buildings. “Granny’s House was a house that was built in the 1930s that belonged to a doctor in town. I bought it and moved down here and set it on my property.”
In addition to his buildings, Jerry has converted seven rooms of his home into areas for visitors to see. There are themed bedrooms, such as the Route 66 bedroom with Harley Davidson neon signs and quilt handmade by his sister, a 7-Up and a Coke-Cola bedroom, as well as early Coke machines and other memorabilia in his dining room.
Among the treasures at the museum is a fully operational 1955 Ronald McDonald merry-go-round that visitors are welcome to try out.
“Kids can play on it,” Jerry said. “I put kids on there and they love it.”
A 1953 Ronald McDonald figure stands next to the ride, and Jerry said he also other McDonald’s items he has not added yet.
The Berryville School District donated its old basketball scoreboard to Memory Lane. Jerry has created an indoor football area in honor of his grandson Jaden Tanksley and the Berryville Bobcats.
“They were just going to throw it away,” Jerry said, adding that building holds many other Bobcat memorabilia items. The doors of the building also are painted Berryville’s school colors, purple and gold. “I put indoor/outdoor carpet in there to make it look grassy, and it is something out of this world. My grandson loves it because it’s something his grandpa built for him.”
As the collection grows, so do Jerry’s plans. When weather permits, he is breaking ground on a new building. It’s a project Jerry has planned down to the last detail.
“I have a beautiful 1960 Chevy convertible. I’m building the building 24-foot long and 15-foot wide. It will be a metal building, but on the inside, I’m going to make it put pine boards all through the building, and black and white tile on about half of it. Then I have an old booth from a Dairy Queen, and I have an old jukebox that I’m going to put inside and in front of my convertible. Then, I have old gas pumps and old neon lights, a Chevy dealership sign, and old speakers from a drive-in movie theater on a pole. Then I have an old car hop tray, and I have my nephew looking for a plastic hamburger and French fries to put in the other window. I will be like someone is watching a movie at the drive-in.”
Jerry as several other antique cars and trucks, including a 1970 Pontiac, he bought new from Raymond Corporation in Berryville.
Jerry has an original 1949 sign from the dealership as part of his collection as well.
It’s hard for Jerry to say what his favorite building or item is at Memory Lane because the whole collection is special to him, and he said his visitors always find something they like.
“People come through and say they their dad had this or they remember that. There’s something for everyone, from kids up to someone 100 years old, and I’ve had people here who were 100 years old. They remember quite a few things in here.
Jerry wanted to share his collection with anyone who wanted to see it, but he also wanted to help bring a little tourism back to the area.
“When I was working construction, I would see buses come through the area, but they don’t do that anymore; it just seemed like tourism slowed down,” Jerry said. “I’ve been really busy this last year. I’ve had people from overseas and every state in the nation. I think a good 99.9 of folks have given me compliments on everything.
“I have a lot of people come out here to take senior pictures and things. The photographers just go wild. They say it’s one of the best places to go, and I will set a car outside if they want that.”
Memory Lane Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays from 1 to 5 p.m. He is open most holidays, other than Christmas, but Jerry said he welcomes visitors anytime.
“Just come on in,” Jerry said. “If you’re from California and want to see it before you go home, just come on in. I don’t do it for the money; admission just pays the light bill. I just do it because I enjoy it, and I like it when people say they remember something.”
Jerry may want to share his collection, but it’s not for sale.
“People come here and say they want to buy something, and I tell them to do just like I did – get out there and see if you can find it,” he said with a laugh. “Start knocking on doors and digging. If I see something in a field that I want, I go knock on doors.”