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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Kitschy fair souvenirs, a carousel and a super fast tiny car: Spokane’s presence at the Henry Ford Museum

DEARBORN, Mich. –There’s a lot of what you might expect to find of Spokane in the extensive collections of the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.

Expo ’74. Check.

A carousel? Check. (But not that carrousel.)

Bloomsday? Yup.

But there’s some items from the Inland Northwest you wouldn’t have guessed landed in a museum.

Like the photo of a toilet truck at a gas station.

And the adorable crayon drawings of dream vehicles from car-obsessed elementary students of the mid-1960s.

Besides the turbine pulled from the Monroe Street Dam that’s been on display at the museum for more than 30 years, here are some other Spokane-area items housed at the Henry Ford.

The Taylor-Guthrie Special

Before there were remote-control cars, there were tether cars, and in the years after World War II, they got super fast.

Tether cars went in circles and were attached by a cable at a point in the middle.

“They were never toys,” said Matt Anderson, the Henry Ford’s curator of transportation. “They were for adults, primarily.”

The Henry Ford Museum has a collection of about 200 tether cars. About 75 are on display, including Spokane’s own “Taylor-Guthrie Special” Teardrop Streamliner Gas-Powered Racing Tether Car.

It was built in 1949 by Ray Guthrie and Everett Taylor. The Spokesman-Review reported in 1949 that Guthrie was the president of the Inland Empire Miniature Car Association and Taylor was the state director for the International Miniature Racing Association. The Henry Ford acquired the car from a private collector in 2013.

Taylor, a former Air Force pilot, bought land for a track along Newport Highway in 1948, according to the Spokane Daily Chronicle. The concrete track, 84 feet in diameter, was in operation by the next year. The Spokesman-Review reported that Guthrie had the track record with a car reaching 128 mph as of July 1949.

But there’s not much reporting in Spokane newspapers about the miniature racing cars after the early 1950s.

“Tether cars themselves were in a strange way victims of their own success,” Anderson said. “As they got faster and faster it became almost absurd to try to watch one go around. It was just a blur.”

Letters from Car Club in Colville

In April 1965, the members of a “car club” at an elementary school in Colville voted the 1965 Thunderbird as the car of the year.

In what by today’s standards appears to be immaculate cursive, a couple members wrote the design team at Ford to bestow the honor, including a plastic trophy, which doesn’t appear to remain in the archives.

“Even though it doesn’t have the floor shift we like, the dash and the whole car is beautiful,” wrote Ronnie, the club president.

Another member of the club strayed a bit from the point.

“Is it true Mustangs have aluminum trunks? My friends say aluminum trunks are cheap,” wrote a club member named Scotty. “I don’t think so.”

They also sent the Ford design team some ideas in the form of crayon drawings.

They got a letter returned thanking them for the honor and the drawings signed by Eugene Bordinat, who was a Ford vice president and the director of styling. (He was a big deal.)

A memorandum to Bordinat said “recommendations on disposition of the trophy will be cheerfully accepted.”

The letters were part of the Ford Motor Co.’s archives. The older parts of the company’s archives are now part of the Henry Ford Museum’s collections.

“So these were treated as routine correspondence and the company held on to them and then passed them along to us, and now they’re a great little time capsule of what kinds of things kids were interested in and how kids interacted with people,” Anderson said.

Herschell-Spillman Carousel

The Looff Carrousel at Riverfront Park isn’t the only historic merry-go-round that was in operation in Spokane County 100 years ago that still remains an attraction in modern times.

Another one spent decades at Liberty Lake Park on the northwest shores of Liberty Lake before it was purchased by the Henry Ford and installed at Greenfield Village, the museum’s adjacent historical park that has a working roundhouse, train, Thomas Edison’s laboratory and bicycle shop run by the Wright brothers.

The carousel (spelled the usual way, not the Looff way) was made by the Herschell-Spillman Co. That’s the same company that made the Coeur d’Alene Carousel, which was on that city’s Playland Pier from 1942 to 1974 and got a new Coeur d’Alene home in 2017.

Liberty Lake Park was started by the Spokane Inland Empire Electric Railroad in 1909, said Jayne Singleton, Spokane Valley historian and the director of the Spokane Valley Heritage Museum. The park was bought and sold numerous times over the years, and by the mid-1920s had started to have a carnival atmosphere.

The Henry Ford’s records say the carousel was built in 1913 and was first installed in San Francisco. It was shipped to Liberty Lake and operated there from 1923 until the 1950s, according to the Henry Ford. It sat in storage for a time before it was acquired by the Henry Ford. It was installed in the Village in the early 1970s. Riders can choose more than horses. There’s a frog, a rooster, a dog, a lion, a zebra and a cat.

Liberty Lake Park no longer exists. It’s been developed into housing.

Bloomsday photo

Among the Henry Ford’s photo collection is one showing a common scene along the Bloomsday course: onlookers spraying down the runners to help cool them down.

In this case from the 1993 race, the photographer, Kathleen Kelly, captured a boy using what then was a relatively new phenomenon sweeping American childhoods: the Super Soaker.

Expo stuff

Several Spokane items at the museum are ones familiar to estate sale enthusiasts in Spokane or shoppers of the former White Elephant, the long-time official retailer of over-produced Expo ’74 kitsch.

The Henry Ford has several items from Expo ’74.

There’s a snow globe highlighting the Washington State Pavilion (now First Interstate Center for the Arts). And there are souvenir medallions, matchbooks, drinking glasses and a Washington state license plate with a 1974 car tab sticker, which was adorned by the Expo ’74 logo.

Most of the expo items were gifts to the museum from the estate of a world fair souvenirs collector.

Toilet truck photo

Another photo in the collection from Spokane not on display is one credited to the Ford Motor Co.’s photo department. It shows a Ford V8 van truck used by the Spokane Toilet Supply Company at a gas station owned by Cliff Faubion. Faubion’s station was on Sunset Highway, according to The Spokesman-Review archives.

The photo’s importance to the Ford Motor Co. isn’t entirely clear, but the museum notes it as an example of a canopy roof gas station. And it doesn’t appear that the toilet truck would easily fit under the gas station’s roof.

”Canopy roofs were common on gas stations by 1920 but fell out of favor in the mid-1930s,” according to museum notes about the photo. “They added to the construction cost of a new station and, unless they were sufficiently high, prevented tall trucks from reaching the pumps. The transition to self-service pumps in the 1970s, and the need to attract customers even in bad weather, made canopies popular again.”