Wheels Donors on a Roll

By Charlotte Balcomb Lane
Of the Journal

Friday, October 18, 2002

Count on Leba Freed-Pierce and the other folks at the WHEELS Museum to come up with a little something different for Saturday’s “Romancing the Wheel” benefit. In addition to a silent auction, dinner and dancing, this fund-raiser offered a live performance by internationally known escape artist Rick Maisel of Albuquerque.

Maisel impressed the audience of about 400 at the Hyatt Regency by dangling upside down from a 20-foot ladder and wriggling free of a straitjacket in less than a minute. Earlier, he managed to pop out of a pair of handcuffs in seconds flat.

Racing great Bobby Unser and his wife, Lisa Unser, were among the guests applauding Maisel’s show. The Unsers won their own applause later in the event when Freed-Pierce announced the couple have agreed to lend the WHEELS Museum their huge personal collection of auto-racing memorabilia, including cars, uniforms and films of historic races.

WHEELS, of course, stands for “we have everything everyone loves spinning,” and seeks to preserve and highlight Albuquerque’s role in transportation history.

Also at the fete was Mayor Martin Chávez, who made an impassioned plea to restore the Santa Fe Railroad Rail Shops in Barelas, where the WHEELS Museum will eventually be built.

Chávez also praised the work of another guest, former Mayor Harry Kinney. Chávez said when he is faced with a tough problem, he thinks “how would Harry do it?”

Organizers estimate the gala raised about $50,000. The museum has grants from city, county, state and federal sources but still needs to raise an extimated $25 million. The museum is building a circle of private donors in Albuquerque, including antiques dealers Bob and Cyndy Gallegos, who presented “Miss Wheels” to the museum. Miss Wheels is an antique carousel horse on a bicycle designed to simulate the running movements of a race horse.

Other guests were board member Julia Seligman; tireless volunteer Bernice Young, who organized the vast silent auction; and accountant Mikel Bornfield, who dressed up — and down — for the occasion in a tuxedo jacket, sport shorts and tennis shoes. At 6 feet 8 inches tall, he created quite a sight.