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Who Needs A Howitzer? Washington's Is Auctioning Off Their Kitschy Collection

The 1800s horse-drawn hearse and miniature submarine at Washington’s Sports Bar & Grill aren’t the strangest things Lee McBride has ever auctioned off. That title might go to the beloved stuffed pet Samoyed or maybe the coffin with the actual human skeleton in it (“It’s legal,” McBride assured).

The thousands of antique farm implements, movie props and just plain weird odds and ends on the walls and ceilings of the Fort Collins bar certainly are up there, though.

“There’s a market for anything,” he chuckled, looking at a creepy paper mache mask of a grinning, noseless George Washington.

McBride works for Longmont-based Pacific Auction Companies, which will auction off more than 5,000 pieces from the Wash Bar’s collection. The iconic pub closed in May and will be renovated into a music venue.

Credit Stacy Nick / KUNC

The assorted tchotchkes were accumulated by the bar’s first owners, Grand American Fare, Inc.The company -- which also owned the Dark Horse in Boulder and is no longer in operation -- was known for putting quirky antiques and Hollywood memorabilia in its restaurants. While a few items, like the stained glass window featuring George Washington, will stay, everything else, from the trolley car to the payphone, must go.

Many of the curios have their own stories, although it’s tough to verify them, McBride said. A ship mast is reportedly from the film Mutiny on the Bounty but there’s no paperwork to back that claim up. The vintage hearse? There’s a rumor it’s linked to Lincoln, but it’s just a rumor.

Credit Stacy Nick / KUNC
You'll notice that the prop on this biplane engine is taped over... and lodged in the ceiling with a telltale gash.

Regardless, there is a lot of history to be found, McBride said.

Out front is a World War I Howitzer cannon. Inside is the engine and propeller from a Beechcraft Staggerwing biplane. Part of the propeller is lodged in the ceiling.

McBride’s guess? A drunken patron tried to spin it.

There are also hundreds of vintage buggies and wagon wheels, farm implements and metal signs.

The metal advertisements for everything from Coca-Cola to John Deere are extremely collectible, and among McBride’s favorites. A large Goodrich Tire sign, estimated to be from 1955, is expected to go for as much as $1,000.

There just aren’t very many of them, McBride said of the signs. They were often repurposed for scrap metal.

Not everything is as identifiable though. Many pieces have been modified or even completely remolded from a working tool to a work of art. Along the wall of the lower level bar is a five panel sculpture McBride has dubbed “Rube Goldberg steampunk.” It features a variety of wheels, pulleys and lights, but no discernable purpose.

Credit Stacy Nick, Jim Hill / KUNC
Just what does this contraption do? No one is really sure, but it backs the bar in the basement of Washington's.

“It’s like being a modern day archeologist going through here - finding out what it is, what did it do,” he said. “There’s a lot of things I’ve never seen before and for us, that’s saying a lot.”

It’s his job to figure out how to get each panel, along with each of the hundreds of accompanying elements, down and to the winning bidder.

That’s a task he isn’t excited about, but it’s the hearse he’s dreading the most.

Credit Stacy Nick / KUNC

The 3,000-pound hearse - complete with a beveled glass window to better view the dearly departed - is currently suspended about 30 feet in the air. McBride is suspicious of the rigging that was used to get it up there, which means he has to devise his own way to get it down.

To do so safely and without damaging anything will likely take about five hours of careful rigging, he said. The actual drop will only take about 10 minutes.

“If you do it right, it’s really boring,” McBride joked. “If you do it wrong, it gets interesting.”

The auction is expected to bring in the usual antique collectors (in person and online), as well as people just wanting to get one last look - and maybe bid on that booth they carved their name in 20 years ago.

“Washington’s has a really long history, so it will be everybody that met their girlfriend or wife here, had their first beer here, whatever,” McBride said. “They’ll just want a memento from Washington’s.”

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