Lot 117

2013   |   Pebble Beach Auctions 2013

1915 Cretors Model C Popcorn Wagon

SOLD $374,000


$200,000 - $275,000



Car Highlights

Formerly Part of Bill Harrah’s Auto Collection
Believed to be One of Three in Existence
Cretors’ Ultimate Model
Exceptionally Rare Piece of American History

Technical Specs

243 CID 4-Cylinder Buda Engine
22.5 HP
3-Speed Manual Transmission
2-Wheel Mechanical Brakes
Live Axle Suspension with Semi-Elliptical Leaf Springs
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Formerly the Property of Harrah’s Automobile Collection

Cretors & Company

The concept of a traveling vehicle that could produce fresh popped corn and hot roasted peanuts was conceived in 1885 by Charles Cretors, the innovative founder of C. Cretors & Company, a concessionaires and street vending supplier in Chicago. Originally, the newly patented steam-powered machine was housed in a horse-drawn vehicle, known fondly as the “Circus Wagon,” but in the early 1900s it was mated with a gasoline-driven design, dubbed the “Model C.”

The avant-garde Popcorn Wagon was a huge hit, especially during the early Depression years, as it provided the public with a cheap but exquisitely fragrant snack and is said to have significantly increased movie theater attendance as a spectacle in its own right.

This Vehicle

This amazing Cretors Popcorn Wagon was built in 1915 and remains highly authentic today. When an automobile is classified as rare, it usually means there were only a few hundred built. This vehicle, however, is truly rare – one of only nine produced and believed to be one of just three in existence today. The Model C, which will soon celebrate its centennial, represents a piece of Americana – a relic belonging to a bygone era.

This popcorn wagon was produced using time-honored craftsmanship. Built on an all-steel chassis with mahogany window frames, the wagon weighs a mighty 6,100 lbs., is 17-feet long, and stands nearly 10-feet high. The vehicle is powered by a Buda four-cylinder gasoline 3 3/4" bore and 5 1/2" stroke engine, with a chain drive and Hess differential jackshaft. The internal corn popper and peanut roaster is a complete and independent steam plant, deriving its power from a copper gas-fired boiler, controlled by a fly-ball governor. The system was designed so that the exhaust steam was piped through storage cabinets to keep the popcorn and peanuts warm in the holding bins.

This time-warp anomaly was first purchased brand new by a Mr. H.S. Herreck of Bakersfield, California, for $4,165. It then passed through the hands of two collectors before finding its way to the Harrah’s Automobile Collection of Reno, Nevada. Bill Harrah, the casino magnate, had launched an exhaustive nationwide search for an iconic Model C and finally located the wagon in the estate sale of Clinton Reynolds of Anaheim, California, in 1963. The wagon was in a dilapidated state of repair and Mr. Harrah paid just $2,250 for it.

Under Mr. Harrah’s personal tutelage, a team of more than 12 researchers and restoration experts at Harrah’s Automobile Collection orchestrated a 100-point Gold Star restoration, which is documented in the tome of paperwork accompanying the sale of this vehicle.

Not only were the aesthetics and motor elements of the vehicle restored, but the mechanisms and systems within as well, using the correct materials and hardware whenever possible, so that by 1965, this Cretors Popcorn Wagon was able to take part in several events at which corn was popped and peanuts were roasted, just as they were 50 years before. Even the popcorn bags were painstakingly researched to locate the exact scalloped edge and color striping used in 1915. The wagon was certainly one of Mr. Harrah’s favorite vehicles in the collection and was featured on the plaques presented to participants in the Harrah’s Club car meets of the 1960s, one of which accompanies the sale of this wagon.

The Model C remained in storage until 1993, when Dayton McDonald of Reno, Nevada, purchased it. Its current caretaker acquired it 14 years later, and it has been lovingly guarded and maintained as a highlight in a distinguished private automobile collection ever since. Following some minor cosmetic work, including nickel buffing, the repainting of the window frames, wheels, and fenders, plus fresh gold leaf pinstriping, this 1915 Popcorn Wagon bears an elegant patina of decades of cherished maintenance. It runs and drives and its steam plant can still pop corn.

This vehicle is simply marvelous. Not only does it come to the Gooding & Co. stage with significant provenance, but it represents a piece of American heritage, and is accompanied by a thorough file of documentation, including all manner of photographs, bills of sale, personal memos to Mr. Harrah, as well as a letter from C. Cretors & Company to Mr. Harrah confirming the wagon’s rarity and describing it as “a treasure.”

As one of three in existence and the only Popcorn Wagon available today, it represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to own and conserve a kernel of American history, which is irrefutably respected, well preserved, and above all – priceless.