A car museum is helping Florida recover from Hurricane Irma

aerial shot of the American Muscle Car Museum

A week after Hurricane Irma slammed Florida and caused widespread devastation, a car museum on the state’s Atlantic coast continues to play a vital role in recovery efforts. The American Muscle Car Museum in Melbourne generally isn’t open to the public—only non-profit fundraisers, car activities, and school tours—but it is hosting some 1,300 utility workers from around the country as its 42-acre property serves as a staging area for Florida Power and Light.

“More than 300,000 people lost power in Brevard County alone, so anything I can do to help, I’m going to do,” said museum owner Mark Pieloch. “We have workers from all over the country—Michigan, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Kentucky, Louisiana … It’s a big job, and it takes a lot of people. There’s still a lot to do, and they’re whittling it down, but they aren’t there quite yet. Hopefully within the next two or three days everyone around here will have power.”

Pieloch, a pet pharmaceutical entrepreneur with a collection of more than 250 muscle cars, opened the 123,000-square-foot solar-powered museum last fall, west of the nearby Melbourne Greyhound Park. The American Muscle Car Museum and its 1,200 solar panels suffered little hurricane damage—“there were broken tree branches and some water on the floor that we mopped up in a couple of hours,” Pieloch said—and the museum did not lose power. The Greyhound Park, on the other hand, was under a foot of water after the hurricane.

“On Monday morning (Sept. 11), after I checked on my business, I stopped to check on the museum,” Pieloch said. “There were still 60-mph wind gusts, but I knew we were going to be OK. I saw a (FP&L) worker walking nearby, and he looked kind of perplexed, so I asked if I could help.”

As it turns out, the answer was an emphatic yes. Florida Power and Light had planned to use the Greyhound Park as a staging area. Pieloch offered the museum property as an alternative, and after several phone calls and visits from “his boss and his boss’ boss,” Pieloch said FP&L agreed it was the perfect spot. “The gentleman said, ‘Have your lawyer call our lawyer, and we can put a contract agreement together and hopefully get this going soon.’ I said, ‘Forget that. People need help right now. Just promise me you’ll fix anything you break, and let’s do this.’ We shook hands, and that was that.”

Within hours, a small city was created; it includes housing trailers, a giant mess tent, showers, and laundry facilities. There is also plenty of concrete to park utility trucks and gather equipment. Pieloch said the approximately 1,300 workers gather for meals each evening. FP&L President and CEO Eric Silagy and Vice President Robert Gould visited the grounds late last week to thank the workers, some of which had just finished restoring power to Hurricane Harvey victims in the Houston area and drove directly to Florida.

Pieloch downplayed his contribution to the recovery efforts. “When people need help, you help,” he said.

The American Muscle Car Museum opened less than a year ago. It contains 90,000 square feet of display space, an 18,000-square-foot showroom, and an adjacent 15,000-square-foot maintenance and restoration facility. Pieloch’s collection includes more than 40 Indianapolis 500 pace cars and trucks, more than 30 Shelby vehicles, and 24 Yenkos—at least one car for every make and model ever built. More than 60 of the cars on display have less than 100 miles on the odometer and an additional 30-plus have between 100–999 miles.

Photos of the FP&L staging area can be found on the American Muscle Car Museum’s Facebook page.