It all started with a claim to have one of the few remaining Duryea cars.
Now that would be an important piece of Springfield history.
Sadly, it isn’t a Duryea.
OK. How about a 1947 Indian motorcycle? Oh, and there’s this 1930 Indian outboard motor. And a few Smith & Wesson revolvers that may be of interest. And don’t forget the Spalding golf balls that were produced in Chicopee.
Now, you have my attention.
Jack Adkins is curator at the Tallahassee Automobile Museum, repository for one man’s penchant for collecting “one-of-a-kind pieces of Americana.”
“Every piece in the collection is a work of art,” Adkins said.
Adkins’ boss is DeVoe L. Moore, who began collecting pocket knives at age 9. As a teen, Moore’s interests turned to cars and things kind-of got out of hand. Moore soon found himself at automobile auctions, bidding against the likes of the Smithsonian Institution and celebrities such as Jay Leno, Adkins said.
Today, Moore owns hundreds of automobiles and thousands of other objects of interest, such as the horse-drawn hearse that carried the body of Abraham Lincoln. He also holds the largest private collection of Case knives.
And wait ‘til you get to the Steinways.
Over the next seven decades, the results of Moore’s passion for collecting are “displayed, celebrated and shared with the public” at Tallahassee Automobile Museum, a sprawling, 100,000-square-foot “green” complex off Interstate 10 on the outskirts of Florida’s state capital. It is alternately known as the Tallahassee Automobile & Collectibles Museum, hence the “C” in the website address, tacm.com.
“This is more than a museum,” Adkins said; “It’s a journey through American history.”
This “journey” involves upwards of 200 automobiles (including three Batmobiles), pedal cars, bicycles, motorcycles, knives, boats, outboard motors, fishing lures, sports memorabilia, adding machines, cash registers, brass fans, dolls (300 Barbies), American-Indian artifacts, and what piano manufacturer Steinway & Sons has designated the world’s “finest private collection of Steinways.”
“For a time,” Adkins said, “Mr. Moore was into golf,” hence the 25 sets of golf clubs that are among “tens of thousands ” of golf-related objects including tees, cards, statues, bags, shoes and more, Adkins said. The golf-ball collection includes a leather ball stuffed with feathers and “several iterations” of balls that trace the evolution of golf-ball design and production.
Among those “several iterations” are balls that came out of the Spalding factory on Meadow Street, Chicopee. Operated today by Callaway Golf Co., balls have been rolling out of that plant since 1896.
“We have many examples of Spalding equipment in our golf collection,” Adkins said, adding, “Some golf balls can go as high as $5,000.”
Moore made his fortune in property development. Now in his mid-80s, he’s still collecting.
“Mr. Moore recently purchased a 2022 Corvette C8.R,” Adkins said. With a sticker price north of $113,000, the Stingray will take its place among some 175 cars on the museum floor “and many more cars are in storage and in various stages of restoration,” Adkins said.
But, wait, what about the Duryea?
Well, in 2003, Moore spent a sizeable sum and traded “10 or a dozen other vehicles” for the Duryea. It was thought to be a vehicle built in 1894 by brothers Charles and Frank Duryea in their machine shop at 47 Taylor St. in Springfield. The Duryea Motor Wagon, a one-cylinder, four-horsepower car, is considered the first successful gasoline-engine vehicle built in the United States.
As curator, Adkins began research in 2013 to appraise the current value of the “Duryea.” He succeeded in 2020 by using “three different sources, studying photographs and checking articles spanning many decades.” It is actually a 1900 Snell, the only motor vehicle built by mechanic Frank Snell of Watertown, New York.
But enough of what the museum doesn’t have.
On the second level of the museum, in a prime location among dozens of motorcycles, sits the 1947 Indian Chief Roadmaster Deluxe, a gleaming assembly of polished metallic elements topped by the “rare Chum-Me” saddle, which would accommodate a passenger. Developed and built at the Indian factory on Wilbraham Road, the Chief sold new for $847 and is valued today at “about $40,000,” Adkins said.
This Chief has a 42-horsepower side-valve, 42-degree, V-Twin “Flathead” motor, which sounds impressive. But weighing in at 572-pounds, the vehicle’s performance was considered sluggish. Still, the Chief is considered “the last true Indian.”
Once the largest manufacturer of motorcycles in the world, Indian Motocycle (without the “r”) Manufacturing Co. became famous for the Indian Scout, made from 1920 to 1946, and the Chief, built from 1922 until 1953, when the company declared bankruptcy.
Adjacent to the Chief, the highly polished 1930 Indian Silver Arrow outboard motor is clamped to a display cart. Across the showroom, 313 more outboard motors are exhibited, “ranging from 1907 to 1984; most from 1915 to 1955,” Adkins said.
Like almost everything else, motorcycles were not selling well during the Great Depression, so Indian sought ways to diversify manufacturing. In late 1929, the company purchased Gray & Poor Machine Co. of Hartford, Connecticut, and began modifying the 10-horsepower “Hartford Sturdy Twin” outboard.
Indian engineers spent the latter part of 1929 redesigning the “fancy muffler,” Adkins said, which likely reduced efficiency of the original Hartford design. Some 1,500 Silver Arrow outboards were manufactured through August 1930, when Indian’s then-owner and president E. Paul DuPont made the decision to return to building motorcycles. DuPont is credited with saving Indian from financial ruin.
Adkins said the Indian Chief and Silver Arrow are “both exceptional and the outboard motor is rare.” He valued the Silver Arrow at “$15,000 or more.”
The ground-floor gallery features a collection of handguns that caught DeVoe Moore’s attention. Among more than 300 firearms he collected are about 100 Smith & Wesson revolvers that dangle from chains within secured display cases.
Highlight of this collection is the “Smith & Wesson Model 1 First-Issue” revolver manufactured in Springfield between 1857 and 1882. It was produced a year after Horace Smith and Daniel B. Wesson teamed up to form the Smith & Wesson Revolver Co. in Springfield.
The handgun is considered the first commercially successful revolver to use rimfire cartridges instead of black powder and percussion caps. This Smith & Wesson model was in great demand at the outbreak of the American Civil War as soldiers on both sides of the conflict bought handguns for personal defense.
The museum is also home to a collection of eight rare Steinway pianos including the “Whitehouse “Gold,” one of the most famous and ornate instruments ever created by the manufacturer. Others include a recreation of the Alma-Tadema Steinway, considered the “grandest grand piano of all time,” and the 500,000th Steinway, which has been described as looking “more like the altar of a 20th-century postmodern cathedral than a piano.” That instrument bears the etched signatures of more than 800 “Steinway artists” ranging from Vladimir Horowitz and Van Cliburn to Elton John. Estimated value is $500,000.
And there’s a Bay State angle here, too. The manufacturer’s parent company, Steinway Musical Instruments, is headquartered in Waltham.
Adkins said he believes the oddest item in the museum is what was thought to be a printing press or a massive hay baler. Adkins’ research identified the device as a means of compressing military clothing into shipping crates.
“It isn’t what it was thought to be but it is an interesting piece of American history,” Adkins said.
But among Moore’s vast collections, Adkins is something of a treasure, himself.
Walking on the museum floors, Adkins greets visitors warmly and responds easily to their questions. Then, he elaborates with statistics of encyclopedic depth. When it comes to Moore’s collections, Adkins is a smiling, welcoming, mobile trove of trivia.
His career in law enforcement, mostly in Houston and Tallahassee, trained him for this. His impressive and lengthy resume involves 21 years on bomb squads and tactical teams, and “roughly 26 years” as an investigator and supervisor.
“All cops are detectives,” Adkins said, so gathering clues and researching details about items in museum collections are a welcome challenge. He’s a stickler for detail and a champion of maintaining the museum’s reputation for accuracy.
It’s why he was able to figure out that the horseless carriage – long-believed to be a Duryea – is actually the Snell.
It hearkens back to what Adkins said about the hay baler that turned out to be a clothing press.
“It isn’t what it was thought to be but it is an interesting piece of American history.”
Norm Roy, a retired copy editor for The Republican, lives in Florida and travels extensively in an RV. He is eager to hear from readers about their own travel adventures. His e-mail address is: [email protected]