http://www.gannett-cdn.com/-mm-/e039...per-KW-003.JPG Speedway to hold weirdest auction ever
Horse-drawn firefighting pumper among museum’s non-racing memorabilia to be put on the block
The people at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum went into their basement, looked around at the strange stuff they’d acquired and decided they no longer wanted much of it.
Like that Conestoga wagon, or that Jules Verne-style diving helmet, or that American Star high-wheel bicycle that was used to play bicycle polo in the 1880s. And so on Saturday, the Speedway will hold one of history’s weirder auctions.
No race cars will be sold, nor any racing memorabilia, said Betsy Smith, director of the nonprofit foundation that runs the museum. The huge brass and cast iron bells, however, must go. The museum has 16 of them. The cigar store Indian statues must go. The museum has
three. To auto racing enthusiasts, the Speedway museum’s basement is a mythic place, a sort of King Tut’s tomb where fantastical treasures are said to lay hidden from view. A lot of those treasures, it turns out, had nothing to do with auto racing, and it is this stuff that will be sold. Stuff like: a Decap organ, a sort of player-piano- type organ the size of a Chevrolet Suburban; a horse-drawn hansom cab; dozens of wooden carousel horses.
“There are quite a few items that we’ve been storing that have nothing to do with our mission,” said Smith, “so what we’re doing is streamlining, simplifying.” How much money the sale might raise, Smith could not say. But the bigger question is: How did all this stuff get here? Smith said it was probably part of a vision to build an amusement park near the track, although “we’ve not found documentation on what exactly that vision was.”
Four decades ago, IMS and the town of Speedway had a plan to make Speedway a “year-round tourist destination” by building “a theme park with transportation museum and pavilions,” according to an IndyStar story on the March 14, 1975. The story said tourists might be carted around on the monorail used in the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Tony Hulman, IMS’ longtime president and owner, had an option to buy it.
A committee was formed, meetings were held. A name for the enterprise was arrived at: “Speedway Unlimited.” But nothing came of it.
It didn’t help that Hulman died in 1977.
It isn’t clear if Hulman ever bought the monorail. It’s not in the basement, in any case. But he did buy items that would have made sense in a transportation museum, such as the prairie schooner and the high-wheel bike. The two carousels smack of a theme park, as do the two old miniature trains.
“I don’t know if (the transportation museum) was in his mind,” said Donald Davidson, the long-time Speedway historian who knew Hulman. “I don’t know if he planned to do an amusement park or not. He might have, but also he was a collector, and this was just stuff that he liked.” The whims of a private collector may be the best explanation for the diving helmet, the cigar store Indians, a machine used to power irrigation systems in the western U.S., a giant organ made in Antwerp, Belgium, and the several pieces of antique firefighting equipment, including a horse-drawn American LaFrance pumper built in 1889.
The Speedway loaned the LaFrance to the Indianapolis Firefighters Museum, 748 Massachuowns setts Ave., when the museum opened in 1994. With its 5-foot tall, woodenspoked wheels, its hodgepodge of valves and hoses and its giant cauldron amidship, the LaFrance looks like something Dr. Seuss would have imagined had Dr. Seuss been into steampunk.
The Speedway retrieved the LaFrance on Tuesday and will sell it Saturday. It was the firefighters’ museum’s most talked-about item, said museum director Brian Killilea. When the museum posted on Facebook that it was losing its prize, several people posted comments critical of the Speedway’s decision. But Killilea said he was grateful to have been able to display the historic pumper for 23 years. “It was a pleasure to have it,” he said The money from Saturday’s sale will go to the Speedway museum, for which there are big plans. Built in 1976, the museum has 30,000 square feet, enough room to display about 60 cars. In January, a design firm was hired to develop a plan for a major expansion, possibly a $100million expansion, Smith said.
Filling the space will not be a problem even after Saturday’s purge. The Speedway’s basement is far from empty.
There are some 300 cars down there.
✭ Contact IndyStar reporter Will Higgins at (317) 444-6043. Follow him on Twitter @WillRHiggins.