When he was 14 years old, Bill Pratt bought a 1934 Ford Model A and spent two years in his backyard getting the car back into running condition so he could drive it to high school as soon as he turned 16.
“That was the genesis of the idea that today is Bill’s Backyard Classics,” Pratt’s son, Glen, said of a car collection-turned-car museum in Amarillo, Texas.
But because the collection has overrun not one but two buildings, and because it needs to update its vehicle mix, 52 cars from Bill Pratt’s collection will cross the auction block when Mecum Auctions opens its annual sale early Wednesday morning in the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center in downtown Dallas.
That’s right, the first 52 cars across the block will all be from Bill’s Backyard Classics, and they range in age from a resto-mod 1946 Mercury coupe to a 2012 Chevrolet Corvette, though the majority are carefully preserved Detroit products from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s.
“Our typical visitors are people doing Route 66,” Glen Pratt said, adding that among the most frequent visitors are people from Europe and Australia who fly into Chicago, rent a car or motorcycle, drive a Mother Road pilgrimage to Santa Monica, California, and then fly back home.
That’s fitting since Bill Pratt’s early interest in cars also involves the famed route that has its midpoint just west of Amarillo. Bill remembers his father, who’s health isn’t the best these days, telling stories about childhood family trips on Route 66 from small-town Oklahoma to California, where Bill Pratt’s grandmother and aunts lived.
“They’d go to the beach,” Bill said. “What an adventure it was, and that experience really stuck with him.”
Thus most of the cars in the museum are from the 1930s and from the late ’40s into the early ’60s, the heyday years for Route 66.
But that mix is in the process of change, Glen Pratt added.
His parents, Bill and Linda, both came from generations of people involved in the cattle business. When Glen was a child, Bill and Linda moved from Oklahoma to Texas, where Bill established Micro Beef Technologies, a company that provided computerized management systems for the beef industry.
“My father has 88 patents,” Glen said, adding that people in the cattle business refer to Bill Pratt as “the Thomas Edison of the beef industry.”
“He’s the most famous person in the beef industry you’ve never heard of,” Glen added. “But that’s his personality. He’s a private, shy person. He never says look at me, but look at this system. It’s the same with the cars, ‘look at the cars’.”
During lulls in the cattle business, Bill Pratt would buy more cars. He found another ’34 Ford, and a 1956 Chevy like he had later in high school. And a maroon ’67 Chevy like Linda’s first car. And a ’61 Pontiac like the one he owned when they first were married.
“He presented it to my mother in the same condition as when they first got married,” Glen said. “When they got married, they moved to go to college but they were really poor. They couldn’t afford even to leave the ironing board behind, so they wedged it between the seats.
“Sure enough,” when Bill presented the restored Pontiac to Linda, “he had an ironing board between the seats.”
Bill Pratt also raced cars, competing in the Sports Car Club of America’s Formula Atlantic open-wheel class, “and he won most of those races,” Glen noted.
Bill Pratt really got serious about his car collection after selling Micro Beef in 2011, and in 2015, he and Linda opened the collection to the public as Bill’s Backyard Classics museum.
“What he wanted was people of all ages, including grandparents and grandchildren, to see these cars and to use them as a catalyst to evoke good memories, and to show how technology changed,” Glen said. “He’s had a good time talking with people from all over the world about the open road and the vastness of the American West.
“His idea was to buy, sell and trade some cars, but until now he’s only been in the acquisition mode.”
But with the collection pushing 180 cars, and spilling out of a second building literally into the backyard, the time has come to sell some — and to buy some others to freshen and diversify the museum’s display.
“We get approached by visitor who want to buy cars,” Glen said. “We hadn’t been willing to let them go, for sentimental reasons. But now people can access cars from Bill’s collection.”