Harold LeMay was not a car collector, and two events this weekend should prove it.
Yes, the Guinness Book once awarded LeMay a world record that celebrated a collection topping 3,000 cars, and yes, the two events this weekend will be held at the locations holding collections under the LeMay name.
But Harold wasn’t a car collector. He said so himself.
“I don’t collect cars. I save history,” he said, as recalled by Paul Miller, president and chief operating officer at LeMay — America’s Car Museum.
Part of that history finds a home beginning this week as the museum mounts its first permanent exhibit.
Honoring Harold LeMay, the exhibit has been named “Lucky’s Garage.”
Nancy LeMay explains the name, recalling one of her late husband’s favorite sayings.
“It takes a lot of work to be lucky,” Harold said.
Fashioned after LeMay’s actual first man-cave retreat, Lucky’s Garage replicates the original right down to the oil bottles, the scattered nuts and bolts and the dust that long ago settled onto the bumper of a lemon-yellow 1932 Ford Model A.
Signage and a video will help introduce Harold to museum visitors.
“He grew up very poor. He grew up very frugal,” said Miller during a private tour earlier this week.
“There’s a whole thread here. You don’t buy something new, you save what’s there. It’s about Harold’s character, Harold’s work ethic, Harold’s success as a businessman,” Miller said. “It’s not just Harold’s cars.”
Gesturing inside the garage itself, Scott Keller, chief curator at America’s Car Museum, said, “This is what you would have seen around the country. This is a common scene from 30 years ago.
“Every neighborhood had a garage like this,” he said.
It was the place where a guy went to tinker, to fix a rattle or ping, to commune with grease, oil and other petroleum products.
Old license plates decorate the walls and there’s a battery tester off to the side, a spark plug cleaning machine on the floor and a set of wide white sidewalls on a shelf on a wall. There’s a Crosley radio with dials like a dashboard, and the radio plays swing. Also on the floor a mechanic’s creeper lies ready for a quick slide toward the Ford’s underbelly.
The dust on the bumper is authentic — so much so that collection manager Renee Crist has been warning diligent museum staff not to wipe it away.
In Harold’s garage, even the dust tells a story.
A private unveiling was scheduled for invited guests on Thursdayand the public will get its chance to view the exhibit Friday (Aug. 28) at the ACM across from the Tacoma Dome.
Meanwhile, on Saturday, the LeMay family will host the 38th Annual LeMay Car Show at the Marymount Event Center in Spanaway.
Where the first gathering inaugurates an ongoing tribute to Harold LeMay, the latter represents a commitment to his affection for vehicles of all types.
The Marymount event will feature a two-day auction containing 150 lots, among which bidders will find, according to its list, “Pepsi Cola Vintage Sign with Thermometer,” “1984 Porsche 944,” “1977 Ferrari 308 GTS,” “1939 Rolls Royce,” “Collection of Matchbooks” and “1960 Nash Metropolitan,” among others.
The party also will feature something that Harold loved most of all: stories. People telling stories, car stories, truck stories, stories of the American road.
“It was so important for him to preserve that history,” said Nancy LeMay. “He was interested in people knowing the history. He liked the everyday car.”
Among cars on display at Marymount will be a 1917 Cadillac Type 55 Club Roadster, plus a recently restored 1886 steam-powered tractor.
“I really think Harold was wise beyond the times,” she said. “I would hope people would see that he didn’t collect cars just because he could. I hope they see that he was more interested about history and education. He was raised in the Depression era, and he just didn’t throw things away. He wanted people to understand that it wasn’t like it is today. If your toaster broke, you fixed it. If your car broke, you knew how to fix it. You didn’t have to plug it into a machine. It was so important for him to preserve that history.”
Among the cars selected for the first rotation in the Lucky’s Garage exhibit — all from Harold LeMay’s personal collection — are Hupmobiles from 1928 and 1933, a 1937 Cadillac, 1930 Packard, 1930 Willys Knight, 1922 Ford Model T, 1913 Oakland, 1969 Camaro, all for a total of 48 vehicles.
“I want people to understand what drove Harold,” said museum head Miller. “He was dedicated to hard work, he believed in re-use, he believed in the stories. Harold was as enamored of the story as he was of getting the car.”
LeMay — America’s Car Museum has become a part of that story, chief curator Keller said.
“Tacoma has emerged as a center of car culture,” he said.
Said Miller, “We wouldn’t be standing in this place if it wasn’t for Harold.”
C.R. Roberts: 253-597-8535
What: The first permanent exhibit at Lemay — America’s Car Museum.
Honoring: Harold “Lucky” LeMay, museum namesake and accumulator of automotive history.
When: Exhibit opens Friday (Aug. 28) during regular museum hours, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Where: Museum is located across from the Tacoma Dome.
Admission: Included in museum ticket price; adults, $16, seniors (ages 65 and older) and military $14; students, $12, youth (ages 6-12) $8, child (5 and younger) free.
38th Annual LeMay Car Show
Where: LeMay Marymount Event Center, 325 152nd St E, Tacoma, WA 98445.
When: Saturday, Aug. 29 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Weather: Rain or shine.
Admission: Adults, $15.
Featuring: Tours of the collection both at Marymount and at the nearby LeMay family homestead; a two-day auction; plus collectors’ car show.