Going Back In Time At Bill's Backyard Classics
Bill Pratt, Bill's Backyard Classics
MRV: The Buzz, Your RV Lifestyle Insider. Written by: David Irvin
A Trip Back In Time: Bill's Backyard Classics
Founded By Bill Pratt In 2015 And Is A Museum Dedicated To American Mechanical Masterpieces
Bill Pratt was just 14 years old when he bought his first car. He paid $126 for the 1931 Ford Model A Victoria. From that moment on, he was hooked.
Pratt, a successful businessman has cobbled together an eclectic collection of American classics that now numbers 170 cars. In a couple showrooms on the south side of Amarillo, the collector keeps and maintains a caboodle of town cars, hot rods, trucks, and limousines. In January 2015, Bill’s Backyard Classics, Pratt’s museum dedicated to these American mechanical masterpieces, opened to the public.
“The minute [people] see these cars, [with] all the styles and everything, they are just astonished. That shows you that we have a nice collection,” Pratt said. “People at the end of each tour – some of them will just cry…literally.”
In his collection are 56 Cadillacs, 13 Chevrolets, 20 Oldsmobiles, 20 Pontiacs, 6 Buicks, 16 Lincoln Continentals, and 1 Willys Army Jeep … among numerous others. His personal favorite? A 1955 Crown Victoria, painted velveteen purple and white. Only 400 were ever made.
“We have to save these cars. We are losing them and they will never be [made] again,” continues Pratt. When looking for vehicles to add, he states, “I am looking for curves, fenders, styling."
A native of Oklahoma, Pratt made his fortune in Texas after founding and running Micro Beef Technologies for 43 years. At Micro Beef, Pratt accumulated a total of 88 national and international patents in the beef industry. Principally, his inventions were computer systems that improved the operational efficiency of large animal agriculture businesses across the world.
He had more than 200 employees when he sold out in 2012. All of a sudden though, he felt that he needed a new project.
“He is a businessman who likes to stay busy – so he said, ‘Well, what do I do now?’” said Patti Martin, Pratt’s longtime executive assistant, who now works at Bill’s Backyard Classics. “He said, ‘I build businesses and I love cars.’ So that’s how this got going,”
When Pratt sold Micro Beef, Pratt had only about 20 cars. He slowly started accumulating more vehicles, until he had about 90 in March 2015. After that, he went on a virtual buying bonanza, nearly doubling the size of his collection in the past year. In fact, he bought so many vehicles that he exceeded the capacity of his showrooms. About 35 classic cars are sitting in off-site storage at any one time, although he has them rotated in and out.
Adult tickets are $10 but kids 12 and under can go into the museum for free. Twenty percent of ticket proceeds go to the Children’s Miracle Network, the organization that raises funds for children’s hospitals and medical research.
“The feeling that Bill wanted to project – inside both showrooms ... is that you are in someone’s back yard,” Martin said, explaining why there are paintings of wooden fences encircling the collection. “He wants this to be a happy place, where people walk in and smile.”
Besides being an inventor and businessman, Pratt spent 13 years as a race car driver in the SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) circuit. He was quick around the track too, thundering past competitors at speeds up to 150 mph, racking up first place finishes and circuit titles over a period of years. His 13 year SCCA racing span lasted from 1988 through 2001. He raced again twice in 2014 (at age 72), to prove he could still do it.
This love of fast cars is represented in his collection. The back showroom specifically is complete with street rods and various muscle cars.
Coincidentally, the car collection is located just five miles from the historic Route 66, one of the original highways in the U.S. system which runs more than 2,400 miles from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California. Amarillo sits about half-way along that stretch.
A trip to Bill’s Backyard is a trip back in time. While there is a certain nostalgia to the collection, it is one of tremendous value as well. While the owner won’t divulge the full value of the cars, it is clearly in the millions of dollars.
“Everything is little bitty cars today and little bitty people in them. The kids today don’t really know what a [true] car is. They don’t think of them like we did in the old days,” Pratt said.
That gets to the heart of the matter. Bill’s collection is about preserving beautifully designed American cars, but it is also about conveying a sense of history. Reaching out to the next generation, Pratt hopes those who visit his garage will be inspired by the beauty of the fenders, the bumpers, and the curves of America’s Golden Era in automobile production.
A graduate with a Masters Of Science from the
University Of North Texas, David has written on many beats including
crime and business for such outlets as the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette,
the Montgomery Advertiser & USA. He enjoys RVing and surfing the