This morning we got up way too early, at least I considered it too early. Mike seems to think it’s perfectly acceptable to be packed and eating breakfast by 6:30am when the place we’re visiting doesn’t open until 10. Needless to say, we had a bit of time to explore the area.
We drove around Puyallup a bit, finding their State fairgrounds, which was quite impressive compared to the rapidly shrinking and lamer Oregon version. Most impressive to me is their assortment of fixed rides, including this beautiful little wooden coaster which was originally built in 1935. I think we need to come back and visit during the fair.
Mike, of course, searched for Antique stores. He found a few (boo).
Fortunately they were closed (yay!). Finally, it was 9:30 and time to head up to Marymount.
In Tacoma there are two museums with connections to the LeMay family and their cars. Mr. Lemay amassed such a quantity of classic cars that no single location could readily house them all. The vanguard of the collection is shown across the street from the Tacoma Dome at America’s Car Museum, which we love, but a greater portion of the collection (about 500 cars) are crammed together in three very large buildings at the old Marymount Military Academy.
The LeMay Family Museum is the polar opposite of the beautifully presented and carefully curated America’s Car Museum.
Visiting the Family museum gives you a strong feeling of walking into a collector’s garage and back yard, looking through his gems and castoffs, his favorites he’ll keep forever, and those he’s ready to trade for something else.
Harold LeMay was a garbage collector, which tells you what he did, but not what he was – he was, above all, a consummate businessman. He turned a decidedly blue-collar job into an empire worthy of Allen and Gates status. Instead of rolling his hard-earned cash into professional sports teams or charity foundations, LeMay poured his love into vehicles. These two museums are the culmination of years of collecting by a tenacious dealer with money, intelligence, time, and energy.
Harold passed away in 2000, and his vision is now being carried on by his wife and son along with a cadre of impressively knowledgeable and friendly volunteers.
And, after spending the entire day wandering through this collection, what were our favorite finds? First, an adorable two-seater from the early days of automobiling that had the passenger sitting behind the driver and a width small enough to fit in the bike lane.
But for Mike the most astonishing find was a batch of 10 very old UPS trucks out in the back lot moldering away into the green grass and berry vines. UPS does not sell their old rigs, they crush them, de-identifying them beforehand. These rigs were not only intact (still had the wooden shelves in the back!), but many still had their logos affixed!
This back forty area housed quite a few artistically decrepit hunks of departed auto-dom. I’m sure folks are rolling their eyes at what’s rusting away here, but in many ways I think it’s beautiful.
Okay, enough about the old junk pile out back, you’re probably wondering why this place is even considered a museum. Well, to be honest, we took a little detour that’s not on the regular museum map, so most folks visiting probably will never see this area. We weren’t being scofflaws, we had the blessings of Battery Bob.
Anyway, back in the civilized world, we’ve got 3 basic sections to this museum, the main building which houses the entrance and a bunch of smaller rooms. This is one of the original buildings from the Military School, and the space works nicely with few modifications to showcase a variety of cars and bikes, plus a bunch of fun little trinkets.
This part of the tour requires a guide. Ours was Steve, a retired engine engineer from Ford. Smart, knowledgeable, and friendly, he was an excellent companion and was able to answer every question we put to him.
Next up is the Green building, housing mainly post WWII-era machines.
Once the formal tour was over, Steve was nice enough to let us take a look at the motorcycle building which is normally not a part of the tour. Makes you wonder what else is hiding on this campus, doesn’t it?
So, if you’re in Tacoma and only have time for one car museum, which one would I recommend? For rarity and beauty beautifully displayed, go to America’s Car Museum. For motorheads who like to get up close and personal with a massive variety of vehicles, head out to the Family compound and be amazed. Or take two days and see them both!