Jul. 14—Jeff Orwig learned the hard way.
During an annual Founder's Day on Paris Hill, Orwig was asked if Bob Bahre was in the area.
"He is right there," Orwig said, pointing to Bahre.
Orwig never did that again.
Bahre approached Orwig and said, "It's not about me Jeff. It's about the cars."
Bahre will not be at Founder's Day on Saturday, but his exceptional collection of cars will be.
Bahre passed away one year ago at the age of 93.
"Bob loved great cars," said Orwig, the curator of The Bahre Collection. He called it "one of the finest car collections in the world."
The Bahre family will open the doors from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the 42nd annual Founder's Day and Classic Car Exhibit on Paris Hill.
On display will be the 1934 Packard 1108 Sports Sedan by Dietrich that was featured at the 1933 World's Fair in Chicago. The car was one of four of that model built by the former Detroit automaker. Only three remain.
A 1934 Duesenberg SJ Torpedo Convertible Victoria by Rollston is one of seven Duesenbergs in the collection. The car was built in Indianapolis and the supercharged motor packs 320 horsepower. A typical Ford at that time delivered 80 horsepower.
"Bob became fascinated and never stopped," Orwig said about the collector's love for classic cars.
Packards were built from 1899 to 1958, but it was the Packards that were built during the classic era (1915-1948) that made Bahre smile the most.
"These are the ultimate of that (classic) era," Orwig said. "They are literally the best of the best."
Not one car in the collection was for sale when Bahre took notice. "He would see something and say that is one hell of a car," Orwig said.
"Finding and acquiring the cars that he could not have" was part of what inspired him, Orwig said.
"Bob built relationships with people," he said. "And he offered their cars a good home."
"He knew about the blue 1932 Packard for 27 years. Bob kept in touch that whole time and when the owner was ready to sell" — Bob got the car.
Another success story involved a car owner from Florida calling Bahre to come down South to have lunch. Before flying to Florida, an excited Bahre told his wife, Sandy, "I think I'm going to get that car." The two car enthusiasts had lunch and not one word about the car Bahre wanted was mentioned.
Bahre flew back to Maine, and Orwig remembered Bahre saying: "'That was the most expensive lunch I ever had.'"
He eventually purchased the car from Florida.
"I honestly believe it was a test," Orwig said about the luncheon. The owner wanted to make sure the car was going to a good place, he said.
Calling every Kelso in the phone book and holding two paper bags full of cash landed Bahre a black Duesenberg. Orwig is short on more details but he did mention the man was not convinced to sell until his wife saw the pile of money on the living room table. The Kelso car will be on display Saturday.
"'Some guys chase women. I chase cars,'" Orwig remembers Bahre saying.
Bahre also had a passion for books. "He read a lot of books about cars," Orwig said.
While The Bahre Collection will be the big draw for Founder's Day, books will also be on many minds because the donation to walk through the collection of cars will benefit the Hamlin Memorial Library and Museum, which is within walking distance of Bahre's collection.
"Every penny goes to the library," Orwig said about the $10 donation. Children 12 and under can see the cars for $2.
"We were really hoping that the family would continue with Founder's Day," library and museum curator Brandan Roberts said.
Bahre passed away in 2020, the year the event was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We are very excited to be able to keep doing it," Roberts said.
The library building was constructed as the Oxford County Jail and was used from 1822 to 1896. When it was put up for sale, Augustus Hamlin purchased it with the intention of creating a library and museum. Hamlin, the nephew of former U.S. Vice President Hannibal Hamlin, is the "Founder" in Founder's Day.
Every third Saturday in July the Bahre family opens the collection to the public to raise funds for the library.
"Founder's Day is the bulk of what we have," Roberts said about the money raised.
Inside the library is a collection of posters from each of the 41 Founder's Day events held before 2020. Each poster features an image of a classic car from Bahre's collection. Posters from the early years are hard to find and coveted by collectors, Roberts said. Missing is a poster from 2020, the first year that Founder's Day was canceled.
The two-story building that houses the car collection was built in 1980.
"Bob had this building built not knowing that one of the finest car collections in the world would be kept inside," Orwig said. "He never dreamed he would have such a collection. He just wanted a place to put his cool cars in."
The building was not ideal for the one day each year people could come inside for a visit. The lighting was poor and visitors could not walk around and see the backs of cars.
"The cars deserved better," Orwig said.
Renovations were complete in September with new floors, new lights and bare walls. It's not about what's on the walls, according to Orwig. "It's about the cars."
The collection has cars that are restored and cars that are not restored, cars that look as if they were driven around town and cars that look as new as they did on the showroom floor.
"We have a stunning collection of unrestored cars," Orwig said, explaining some cars deserve to be left as is.
Cars will not be the only thing worth checking out Saturday. "We also have mind-boggling other things," Orwig said.
An antique doll collection, horse-drawn carriages, antique firetrucks and a 1912 popcorn truck will be on display.
The 1912 Cretors Automobile Machine popcorn truck with three motors is one of three complete trucks left in the world.
The 1921 race car Chitty Chitty II, which inspired the children's book and movie "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," will also be on display.
"It's not the car in the movie," Orwig explained. "That car flies. This car does not fly."
Chitty Chitty II does happen to have an engine from a World War I airplane, though.
The car that attracts the most attention each Founder's Day is the 1948 Tucker Model 48 Sedan. "People go nuts over this car," Orwig said. "Everyone has a Tucker connection."
Only 50 Tuckers plus one prototype were built by the Chicago-based company before production stopped. The story of Preston Tucker was featured in the movie "Tucker: The Man and His Dream," and it's why many get excited to see a Tucker, Orwig said.
"You don't have to be a car enthusiast to enjoy Founder's Day and have a good time," he said.
"I'm not big on cars, but it's hugely impressive," Roberts said of the collection. "It's enjoyable."
Orwig has been involved with The Bahre Collection for 33 years. He started working for the collector on a Duesenberg restoration and now oversees the entire collection of over 60 vehicles.
"That car is two years of my life," Orwig said.
Orwig has his own collection. "It's a disease," he said. "I own 29 vehicles, also known as 28 too many."
But one thing missing from his collection is a picture of him and Bahre together in front of a car. When Bahre passed away, Orwig looked everywhere for one and could not find one.
Orwig thinks that's because of the lesson Bahre taught him during that Saturday on Paris Hill: "'It's not about me, Jeff. It's about the cars.'"
"There are a lot of car collectors out there, but only one Bob Bahre," Orwig said.
The 42nd annual Founder's Day and Classic Car Exhibit will also include food and art vendors set up on the village green.
Posters from previous Founder's Days are displayed at the Hamlin Memorial Library and Museum on Paris Hill. Posters from the early Founder's Days when posters could not be mass produced are hard to find, Brandan Roberts, Hamlin Memorial Library and Museum curator, said. Founder's Day is held annually to raise money for the library and museum. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal
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