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Harrah's Antique Automobile Collection?


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When I lived in the Florida Panhandle one of our AACA club members was a founding member of the California HCCA and a friend of Bill Harrah.  Panama City had a monthly Friday night car show  and I would buy him a beer and sit and listen to his stories. I wish I would have recorded them. He also had a scrap book of autographed photos of many old time movie stars and their cars.  These were taken on Bill's yearly invitation only car tour around the lake.  Bill apparently loved to race anyone up the hills driving one of his favorite cars.  Every couple of hours there would be an arranged rest stop in a local village.   Bill would have rented several private homes at each stop for his guests to freshen up, eat lunch or have drinks  Bill was apparently into illegal gambling in California, a form of Bingo,  and was arrested several times.  During his last court appearance the judge told him he had two choices, six months in jail or leave the state for good.  That's how he got to Reno.  He remembers visiting Bill in Reno when he only had three illegal slot machines in the back room of his Bingo Parlor.  His business plan worked out well!!!

Disclaimer:  I don't know if the above is fact or fiction but he had a lot of autographed photos and letters and was a past president of the California HCCA 

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Friends, Ron & Sonja Halbauer,  bought the 1913 Coey Flyer - and when done it was probably as nice of a brass car restoration as they came - that said several mechanical parts either had broken upon running it or they were put on broken   They spent a lot of time fussing with it, but it was larger than they probably could have handled anyway - it did a lot of sitting for the next 15 plus years.  I saw it out a few shows - there was a tow rope always involved. 

 

1911-Coey-Flyer-Car-Auto-Automobile-Greetings-Garrison-Minnesota-MN-Postcard

 

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Edited by John_Mereness (see edit history)
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12 hours ago, Robert G. Smits said:

He remembers visiting Bill in Reno when he only had three illegal slot machines in the back room of his Bingo Parlor.  His business plan worked out well!!!

 

This is about how I remember it as well.

Bill showed up in Reno and rented an abandoned gas station for his first bingo parlor.

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I remember seeing Harrah's collection when I was 16 years old back in 1970. WOW! I was pretty much "snowblind" for all of the rare and desirable cars and other vehicles. I wanted to get a job in their restoration shop, but I "was too young". What a place that was. I seem to remember one huge, main building for of all makes and models and two other big buildings, one that housed Franklins and one that housed Packards. There was other stuff, too. What a treat it was for a kid my age. I still have the catalog book of his cars (at that time) in my collection of stuff.

Edited by keiser31 (see edit history)
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I saw the Harrah Collection in the very late 60's or early 70's and wished I'd had more time after being there for a full day. It was trully something to take in. I think the thing that impressed me the most was the library that had information on almost every kind of car he had restored or otherwise. I was in a junkyard in the early 70's and saw a '26-'28 Buick that had been turned into a Yellow Taxi Cab. I made what I thought was a pretty fair offer for it and was turned down by the yard owner. He went on the say that a Harrah's buyer had come through ahead of me and marked the car for pickup. A day or so late and $$$ short have been the story on a few others since that have caught my eye as well.   

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There was also a pretty good collection of old slot machines in the snack bar that they would let you try once only.

And the café walls had a huge display of old guns.

If one was lucky enough to get past the last building to the outside storage area it was like being in a candy store.

I once took a ride from the downtown casino out to the collection in Sparks on some old bus that was fixed up. Free ride.

Two days minimum.

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Thanks for the Coey Flyer info, that was one of my favorite Brass cars in the Harrah collection, had the look of an American Underslung. Bob 

 

This is what i call ... a real American Underslung..!      TO: 😀 1937hd45

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Harrah was an interesting fellow. There are some good books including "Harrah's Automobile Collection" by Dean Batchelor, plus a bio "The Life and Times of A Gambling Magnate" by Leon Mandel. The collection still exists as the National Automobile Museum which includes Harrah's famous library which he kept (along with a couple full-time librarians) to facilitate his restorations. The mechanics were not allowed to touch the original literature. Everything they needed was photocopied. I wrote the Museum when I was restoring a Metz 22, knowing that Harrah's Metz remains in the collection. I was sent copies of the Harrah correspondences and notes regarding the car which were all still on file. Harrah left no will regarding his huge collection, which is another story!

 

Phil  

Edited by MochetVelo (see edit history)
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6 minutes ago, apolo1100 said:

No Will..?  that's a whooouuu..!!!

I have to ask my Uncle about that,,,!

Great story..

 

 

I remember reading that Bill Harrah wanted to put the collection in some type of trust, and keep it together. It may have been too early for something like that with cars, artwork was ok, but cars were not at that level at the time of his passing. Bob 

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One of the librarians at the collection when Bill was alive was Mike Moore, they also had Ralph Dunwoodie who had  a very fine sense of history and what was period correct and Paul Larios was a good friend who managed the collection for a long long time.They would take great pains to make sure the restoration was correct. I have a fairly extensive collection of material and I recall Mike Moore called me , said Paul Larios told him to because they were finishing up a series 12 Franklin and had a question as to pin striping and where it should be located as well as color. I told Mike I could answer that but needed to look it up to confirm what I remembered it should be . Told him he could get back to me as it would take a while, he asked - can I hold, ?  I said sure and 45 minutes later got back on the line and told him that where they wanted to stripe something should not be done , was not period correct - he said thanks  , I apologized for the length of time it took and he said it was worth it to know the answer.

Harrah's used to bring a tractor trailer to Hershey and park in the Blue Field ( anyone remember that! now it is the roller coaster area) and they had a chef complete wearing a chef's hat and all making meals for the crew and Bill Harrah too and every year they made sure to tell me " this is where you will have lunch , Mr. Harrah told us to tell you".

I do recall walking/running almost with Bill Harrah half way across two fields about a mile from their spaces with Bill as he was so excited to show me the 1911 Franklin roadster he bought that was there and was a record setting car for the most miles per gallon when it was new. I was worn out and panting by the time we got there as Bill set the pace and he was about 6 feet 4 inches tall, and I am 6 feet tall, so I had to half run to keep up with him. As we arrived there and looked at this wreck of a car he was like a little kid at Christmas time and I looked like I had just ran a race. He realized what happened and said sheepishly " Oh sorry" then we both had a good laugh.

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That Coey Flyer now belongs to Al Zamba and has been on many HCCA tours.  Whatever mechanical imperfections it may have had seem to have been fixed.

 

In 1976, the bicentennial year, I flew my kids out to the west coast and back over 3-1/2 weeks in a Cessna 182.  We stopped at Reno and spent a day the Harrah collection.  It was really too much.  When I got to the third quonset hut my reaction was:  "Good grief!  MORE old cars!"

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If recall the whole shebang was bought up by the Holiday Inn outfit.

Holiday Inn didn't see the profit in all those old cars just sitting there.

A real shame indeed.

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