Ruth has a contest going. She is offering a 1st and a 2nd prize. She bought the prizes at the National Automobile Museum in Reno, NV. This museum is deservedly Reno’s top tourist attraction. It’s opened 7 days a week. In fact, it’s opened every day of the year except for Thanksgiving and Christmas. The recipients of these prizes will either be our son or his son Patrick. Both of them dote on cars. Our son Matt has a slight edge in Ruth’s contest.
The thing that makes the National Automobile Museum so sensational is that it contains what is left of Bill Harrah’s car collection. Harrah died in 1978. At one time he owned 1,400 cars. Most of them were sold to pay off his debts after he died of an aneurysm. Harrah was fantastically wealthy when he died, but he was what you might call a big spender during his lifetime. For example, he married 7 times to 6 different women. By a whim of fate, our son Matt and I saw the Harrah car collection when it was still largely intact. Matt bought a book about it at the time and still owns it. The contest answers are surely in this book. He and his son surely know this, but finding the contest answers still involves doing research. Will they collaborate? Who, then, will win the top prize?
The National Automobile Museum opened in Reno in 1989. It has become the icon among car museums because of its uniqueness. I have not seen what remains of Harrah’s car collection since seeing it originally. The current venue containing what is left of Harrah’s collection almost always receives rapturous praise from visitors. We talked to other browsers last week, and all of them were full of enthusiasm for this car museum. It’s simply not your typical car warehouse because of Bill Harrah’s taste in selecting the cars he would buy. It’s range of autos is period driven because Harrah died almost half a century ago, and the collection stopped growing at that point. This museum remains Reno’s biggest attraction because of one man’s love for cars and his uncanny ability to buy the best ones available. Fords, Franklins, Packards, and Pierce-Arrows were his special favorites. I especially enjoyed seeing his Packards for many reasons. The especially old one below dates from 1900 and is the only one known to exist. The 1950 Eight Deluxe Packard Touring Sedan above it is a personal favorite of mine.
Harrah doted on and bought one of a kind autos, and he loved celebrity and experimental cars. There are several examples of all three in the museum, and they are extremely popular. The car just below was driven by James Dean, who became a movie idol after making only 3 films in the 1950s. He drove this Mercury in Rebel Without a Cause. Dean would surely have gone on to an illustrious movie career if he hadn’t crashed and burned in a major auto accident just after receiving a speeding ticket. At the National Automobile Museum I talked with a young man who actually knew more about Dean than I did. Like Marilyn Monroe, Dean is still well known after all these years.
The National Automobile Museum is cleverly arranged. Street scenes are re-created to feature some of the best cars. I was not aware of this detail, but this museum’s rounded walls are covered with a metal skin called Heather Fire Mist, which was a 1950s car color of note. This auto museum always has a special feature. When we were there the temporary exhibit was on racing cars. Displayed cars often represent specific eras. The progress of the automobile as a desired machine is evident in every room and clearly seen in every display. I talked to one curator who spent his COVID months redoing the biographical information display about Bill Harrah. He was very proud of what he had done and told me that it had been revised only a couple of months ago so that I would know that the information was fresh.
That’s enough for today. I hope to reveal the winner of the contest in a future essay that will contain more information about this Reno museum that should be on every car lover’s travel list to see.