Saturday, July 27, 2013

Old Cars in Tacoma

So, Friday, the second day of our anniversary celebrations, we went down to Tacoma (a neat city we hardly ever go to, having visited it perhaps half a dozen times in all the years we've lived out here*) to visit the LeMay car museum. We'd been down to see this once before, back when it was in its original site. That was fascinating and quirky (an old Catholic school now filled with 1700 antique cars--gym, pool, bleachers, et al). Since then they've opened up a new museum right next to the Tacoma Dome with about 300 cars in a big, sterile, purpose-built museum that looks a lot like an airport terminal or generic convention center. Whereas the old place was jam-packed, the cars parked bumper to bumper and in some cases hoisted up into balconies, the new is spacious, with the cars spaced well apart, often allowing you to walk most of the way around them and get a good view from various angles. The new museum also constantly changes its displays: we were told a Steamer was about to return from a loan while one of their electric cars was about to head out.

One of the features shared by both LeMays is that they mix up cars of all eras together. Rather than start with a room full of their earliest cars, then move on to the explosion of automobiles in the teens, to their coming of age in the twenties and thirties, to the excesses of the forties and fifties, and so forth, they might have a Model T next to a Thunderbird. We decided to join a guided tour that last about an hour and a half. That turned out to be a good call, since the guide was enthusiastic and knowledgable,** and while he was talking about one particular car I had time to look around at some of the others nearby that caught my eye.

Some of the take-aways:

--electric cars were associated with women, being easy to start and with a quiet, smooth ride. Some of the ones they had on display actually included flower vases in the passenger compartment. The most popular electric car was the Baker. They didn't have a Tesla on display, alas -- guess they're all out being driven around rather than sitting in museums.

--what makes a car a limousine is having a separate compartment for the driver, cut off by a window or something of the sort from the passenger compartment.

--the museum's pride and joy is their Tucker (one of 48 1/2 in the world). I'd have preferred less about the Tucker and more about their Cord (now that's a beautiful car), their Ford Model N (which I bought a great photo of last time I was there which I still have), etc.

--Packards were truly elegant cars back in the day. But even they were matched by the Pierce Arrows. Seeing a Packard and Pierce Arrow side-by-side really showed just how beautiful cars can be. They also had a Dusseldorf, but didn't mention that car's being featured in the recent GREAT GATSBY movie (which we'd just seen earlier in the week).

--expensive cars cost a fortune, even back then: they had one (a Silver Ghost, I think) that cost ten thousand for the works and another twenty thousand for the coach. A lot of rich folks back in the day had their coaches custom made.

--when I see a car, I sometimes have a flash of song associated with it ("Cadillac doing 'bout ninety-five . . . nothing outrun my V8 Ford" "Gee our old LaSalle ran great")

--the older a car is, the more I like it. I loved the early cars (from the aughts and teens), and also the ones from the twenties and thirties. Those from the forties were okay, while the fifties models look freakish. And most of what comes after that is just cars.

--the limousines were great, but I'd really love to have a Model A or Model T to go tootling around in. I think that's because that's the sort of car my ancestors wd have had, not the top-of-the-line rich folks' cars.

--one of my favorite cars from the earlier visit wasn't to be seen: the Moon Windsor (a picture of which mounted on a magnet has decorated our refrigerator since our previous visit to the old LeMay); assume it's at the old museum or possibly loaned out somewhere.

--they had some v. old motorcycles on display, which were also interesting. We also saw a Pennyfarthing bike that wasn't yet ready; it conjured up thoughts of a steampunk character with a souped-up pennyfarthing (as Janice pointed out, those goggles wd finally be gd for something). I liked learning that they have an old two-door coupe (didn't make a note as to type, but from the 1920s I think) put together from three cars (all of the same model and make, of course) that they're eventually going to put out where kids can climb up on it, sit behind the wheel, and get a sense of what a car like this was like.  Now that's the kid of hands-on display I think wd be great.***

--got to see two Crosleys, and was able to figure out which one was likelier to have been like my father's first car.

Another time it wd have been nice to go through the museum store, but just as we were coming out four schoolbuses pulled up and a flood of Chinese students (foreign exchange) can running in. So rather than buck the tide, thought we'd leave that for another time and headed over to the next stop of the day's itinerary: The Secret Garden teahouse over in Sumner.  We arrived at a busy time for them -- apparently quite a few people in Sumner have the charming tradition of mother-daughter tea parties (with the daughters being early grade school and younger). So we poked around the souvenir shop till they had a table ready; bought some grown-in-America tea from Charleston.**** I'd been told by a tea expert at the Tea Festival a year or two back that tea cdn't be made in America because it was too labor intensive; I guess this was someone trying to make a go of it as a high-end boutique product. After that came tea, and scones, and more tea, and a second round of scones, and us leaving more slowly than we came, full with cramsome tea.

And then home to a quiet evening, watching the extras on the NARNIA CODE dvd (including a ten-minute segment with Walter Hooper) and reading; finally finished up the Harry Lee Poe/James Ray Veneman INKLINGS OF OXFORD [#II.3093]

One more day of anniversary celebrations to go!

--John R

*not counting times we've passed through on our way to the Point Defiance zoo.

**the only time he got rattled was when showing the Flintstones' car to the kids on the tour, none of whom had any idea who the Flintstones are (maybe they didn't connect it w. the Fred-and-Barney cereal commercials?).

***speaking of which, in the lobby of the EMP they had the 'Throne of Swords' people cd sit in and have their picture taken.


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