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Mrs. LeMay opens doors for lovers of cars – and stuff

Post by John Henrikson / The News Tribune on Aug. 29, 2009 at 6:34 pm with No Comments »
August 29, 2009 6:34 pm

By C.R. Roberts

The News Tribune

Only once a year – every year – Nancy LeMay opens the gates of her Parkland home to those who truly believe in Harold LeMay’s dream and who appreciate his obsession to collect.

The LeMay Museum is open year-around at the former Marymount Academy in Spanaway, and progress continues toward a newer, greater museum near downtown Tacoma.

Only one day in 365 can the public see the broadest extent of the late Harold LeMay’s collection.

The public came on Saturday, so many and so wet in the morning rain that volunteers opened the gates early.

Affectionately known as "the home," the LeMay compound contains all manner of things related to a life long lost along the American road.

Harold LeMay collected vehicles most of all – so many that his collection was once listed by Guinness as the largest in private hands.

He also collected almost everything else.

The vehicles and the stuff stood Saturday in barns and lean-to outbuildings, in offices, cubbyholes and rooms above other rooms.

"We’re here because we love cars," said Rosemarie Van Cleve of Eatonville. "We’ve been coming for 28 years."

Saturday was the 32nd installment of the annual LeMay event.

Betty Pilling of Bremerton has come to them all, she said.

"Every show. Where else are you gong to find this?" she asked. "Every year, it humbles me."

The cars were there, of course. The ’49 Ford and ’39 Mercury, the pink ’57 Thunderbird beside a green ’56 Thunderbird. The Model Ts, Model As and the V-8s.

The sleek ’36 Ford Roadster, a classic ’48 Ford Woodie station wagon, a 1903 Oldsmobile, a 1904 Orient, a fiberglass-body 1954 Kaiser Darrin and hundreds more.

Lincolns, Cadillacs, ambulances, tractors and fire trucks.

And everything else. The hubcaps and steering wheels, the pinball machine and the full-scale mise en scene soda fountain. A post office and the general store complete with Mrs. Stewart’s Liquid Bluing, Bon Ami and Grandpa’s pine tar soap. And somewhere around 96 meat grinders. A board game called "Good Old Days." Plus grilles and engine blocks, spark plugs and wheels.

"In 1954 Ford switched to an overhead valve," said Mike Ellis, answering a question from a passerby.

Ellis, a four-year volunteer docent at the LeMay Museum at Marymount, stoods beside a "marine version of a Lincoln Zephyr" engine, and he asked, "How come such a small carburetor for such a big engine?"

"Every time I come here to the house I notice something different," he said.

Lindsay Passmore of Tacoma began volunteering three years ago.

"I used to come to the open house, and I really caught the bug," she said.

Throughout the day, school buses shuttled visitors from the home to Marymount.

Scott Holmes, a Puyallup hardwood dealer, came to Marymount with his wife LeAndra and 6-year-old son Bradenn.

"It’s remarkable, the number of vehicles," Jordan said. One of the things, it’s amazing how close you can get to the cars. And the value…"

He especially enjoyed seeing a Shelby.

Bradenn was impressed with the pulleys and inner workings of a steam engine.

Bob Most of Tampa, Fla. had come to collect his 1914 Model T touring car from the nearby garage of a friend.

He and other enthusiasts – a group of 54 cars in all – had left New York City in mid-June driving Model Ts, and most of them arrived in Washington 4,200 miles and just over three weeks later.

From Tacoma, Most and his friend Norm Haley of Monrovia, Calif. will drive their Model Ts down Highway 101 and then curve east, into the mountain West.

Alongside displays of the LeMay collection, scores of other collectors gathered Saturday to show their own vehicles – a ’64 Ford Falcon, a ’37 Chevy, a ’63 Pontiac Catalina and a ’56 Dodge "La Femme" all lilac-colored with shiny chrome bumpers and sailfish tail fins.

David White, a civil engineer from West Seattle, brought his turquoise ’56 Chevy Bel Air four-door Sports Sedan hardtop.

As he talked about the history of his car, he gently wiped away the ghosts of earlier raindrops. And he sounded like the kind of a person Harold LeMay would have enjoyed speaking with.

Back at the home, Nancy LeMay discussed the 500 volunteers who helped organize and staff the event.

"Harold loved these people," she said. "He just absolutely loved this. He would drive the bus, and talk to everybody. People come from everywhere," she said.

Someone asked if she was tired.

"No, I’m not," she said. "It’s just fun."

C.R. Roberts: 253-597-8535


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