Good Times Rolled Out at Museum

By Charlotte Balcomb Lane
Albuquerque Journal

Friday, October 12, 2001
Between “Miss Lilly,” a pistol-packing pooch, and a brisk live auction, this year’s WHEELS Museum benefit was the most fun — and most profitable — gala yet for the group hoping to build a transportation museum and exposition center in Downtown.

The event Saturday at the Hyatt Regency Albuquerque raised an estimated $55,000 for the WHEELS Museum. It is one of the attractions planned for the abandoned Santa Fe Railroad yards Downtown.

Leba Freed, president of the WHEELS Museum board of directors and the indefatigable spark behind the project, all but crowed with delight over the earnings.

“We’re so excited. For us paupers, this is a lot of money,” she said.

It was the third year the Friends of WHEELS have staged a fund-raising gala and the event seems to be gathering steam. More than 500 people attended the “anything but black tie” party that was chaired by Sandy Ginsberg, secretary of the board of directors.

Local performers, dressed in Old West attire and train paraphernalia, got guests in the mood. Code of the West, a living theater group, walked through the audience with Miss Lilly, who “begged” for bucks with her owner, Linda R. Young.

Dave Saunders, a rancher who plays the Old West hero Red Ryder, was on hand to reminisce about Albuquerque’s days of yore.

But the big attraction of the evening was a spirited live auction, featuring a number of unusual items, including a private moonlight train ride and a BB gun autographed by Saunders.

A pair of snowmobile jackets were donated and modeled by three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Unser and his wife, Lisa Unser.

The one Lisa wore was new, but the one Bobby wore was previously worn in 1998 by Unser’s snowmobile companion, Robert Gayton, during an incident when the pair were lost for two days in a blizzard in northern New Mexico. Later, Unser was fined $75 for trespassing on Forest Service wilderness while lost.

Used or not, the jacket fetched an impressive $400.

“We had a ball,” Unser said later, speaking of the WHEELS party.

“I think the WHEELS Museum is one of the nicest things that could happen to Downtown Albuquerque.”

Making merry among the guests were Rep. Heather Wilson, her husband Jay Hone, and the couple’s two red-haired children, Josh and Caitlin Hone. Wilson has been a big supporter of the project.