The Mitchell Reel Museum: The Birth of a Dream
Dr. Todd E.A. Larson
There’s a rhetorical question that was often asked by members of a group of Catholic novitiates I used to lunch with every Friday during graduate school: “What happened to the man who got everything he ever wanted?” Between bites, each of us would launch in turn into a long, philosophical diatribe about what a particular individual’s desires actually tells us about them, and if those wants were completely met, what it would mean for them. It made for interesting meal-time conversation.
I think of this as I hear Wallace Carney, the legendary Mitchell reel collector, discuss at length the newly minted Mitchell Reel Museum, which he is happily (and busily) constructing in the mountains of Northern Arizona.
Wallace Carney has always been a kind of maverick collector and historian in that he’s done what he’s wanted, with little worries about what others think. It’s something I admire greatly about him, so when I heard rumors of a physical Mitchell Museum, I had to try and learn more about it. Fortunately, Wallace filled me in on the details, and I was able to track him down and get as many of the details out of him as I could.
The background to the museum makes for a fascinating story. “When we first opened the Mitchell Museum Web Site,” Wallace notes, “it was [co-founder] Mike Read and myself’s dream from the very beginning to do this. To open up a physical location we would call the Mitchell Reel Museum. So it was something we’ve been planning for seven years.” The problem was finding a physical location, and dealing with the significant expense. Both of these daunting hurdles kept the museum just a dream.
That is, until Victor Miller appeared on the scene. Miller started seriously collecting Mitchell reels a year ago, in an effort to replace a collection of Mitchells that had built up over time but had been stolen. “Victor went around trying to find some of his missing Mitchells, and found eBay,” Wallace notes. “He absolutely went nuts. He spent a great deal of time and effort collecting Mitchell reels in the past year. He now has upwards of a thousand reels.”
It was through eBay that he first met Wallace, and it appears that it was a match made in Mitchell heaven. Once he explained what he and Mike Read had dreamed of nearly a decade before, Victor — a man of action, as we’ll discover — simply said “why don’t we just do it?” And amazingly, just like that, the Mitchell Reel Museum went from a dream to a reality.
Victor Miller first became involved in Mitchells back in the 1960s when he was fishing them regularly. He started collecting them not long afterward, and sadly, it was these Mitchell reels that were stolen and that spawned his renewed interest in collecting Mitchell reels. A former railroad man, he had a successful career with UPS, from which he has since retired. A lifelong collector, he is a dedicated body builder who has worked with everyone from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Lou Ferrigno. He has collected everything from guns to cars to guitars during his 67 years. And once he makes up his mind to do something, it simply gets done.
This is why, to Wallace’s shock, within just a few months, he found himself in the Chino Valley of Arizona in the American Southwest, where he’s lived for over four months building and preparing the Mitchell Museum on property owned by Victor Miller. Running the Mitchell Museum Web Site certainly gave Wallace a great background in what was necessary to run a museum, but the move to a physical location, as he’s discovered, has been a tremendous amount of work. He’s basically lived and breathed Mitchell 24 hours a day since he moved out to Arizona.
Setting a museum up physically is a difficult task. The first step was to incorporate, which they did as a 501C3 which will make the Mitchell Reel Museum a non-profit organization. The incorporators were Wallace Carney, Mike Read, and Victor Miller, as equal partners. The Museum, with the three founders’ collections as a base, will evolve to include many of the rarest and most coveted Mitchell reels, as well as the common ones, from the first version Mitchell to the presentation reels.
Wallace plans to put the physical museum itself up on the Mitchell Museum Web Site, and plans for virtual reality tours, updated information, etc. “It will be a beautiful display of reels,” he noted. “Our goal is to share, and you can’t share with just a physical location. You need a web site to allow someone from Thailand to access the information.”
The Museum itself is also evolving. While it will be open to the public eventually, for now the plan is to open it by appointment only, and to groups of four or five people at a time. The physical site is being remodeled (to the tune of more than $100,000), and the complete restructuring of the property will allow for a world-class display of Mitchell reels.
Eventually, they hope to move the Mitchell Museum an hour and a half up the road to Las Vegas in to one of the many casinos. It seems like a match made in heaven, and would certainly help expose Mitchell reels, and collecting tackle in general, to a whole new world.
The goal is also to eventually host a Mitchell Museum grand opening, in conjunction with an international Mitchell conference. “It would be a great location in America for such a conference,” Wallace notes. “Vegas has such a central location, and offers so many things to families, that it should be a great location for accessibility to people from around the world.” All of the attractions of Vegas, one of the most popular destinations for families in the world, makes it a perfect destination for Mitchell collectors.
Additionally, while no final decision has been made, it appears that the Mitchell Reel Museum may one day serve as the center of a Mitchell reel collecting organization which will be hopefully help connect Mitchell fans across the globe, facilitate the research and publication of new findings, and make for a central clearing house for all things Mitchell.
I asked Wallace to sum up what he hoped to accomplish with the Mitchell Reel Museum, and he responded with infectious enthusiasm:
“I want to happen what always happens when a person of a certain age comes across a Mitchell reel, and says ‘I remember that!’ The old memories start coming back. There are two points to the museum. The first is to show people what Mitchell did, and to spark their interest into rediscovering Mitchell reels as a collectible. This is tied to the second thing, which is to get them interested in fishing with those very Mitchell reels, and help them reconnect with their children, parents, wife, husband, etc. The main goal is thus to inform people of Mitchell reels and their history behind, and to get them out fishing with them.”
Wallace was nearing the final stages of his work when we talked in mid-October. He was awaiting the carpet and tile man, and of course, the many small things that need to be done to finalize a display. But the heavy lifting, fortunately, is mostly behind them. “By the end of October we should be ready to start moving in,” Wallace notes. “We hope to have a grand opening in early 2013, or sooner.”
I personally feel this is the most important thing to happen in Mitchell reel collecting since the launch of the on-line Mitchell Museum Web Site. I absolutely cannot wait to see the results of all this hard work, which I’m sure will serve as a beacon for the Mitchell reel collecting world, a lighthouse (if you will) to help novice collectors navigate the rocky shoals of the collecting world. “I find that a lot of people, if they have a Mitchell 300, think this is the only reel Mitchell made,” Wallace notes. “When they discover Mitchell made over 300 models between 1939 and 1989, they are blown away, and want to see them. This can be a home for them.”
There is additional good news for Mitchell collectors. The outstanding on-line Mitchell Reel Museum will also be getting a complete facelift. This is the premier source of information in the world for all things Mitchell, and its latest version will be an even greater boon for collectors. Note also the Mitchell Mates web forum has moved to the Mitchell Reel Museum web site, and is a great place to stop in to ask questions or just chat about Mitchell.
Wallace Carney is one of those focused individuals who takes on a task, and like a bulldog, latches on to it until the job is complete. It’s a completely admirable trait, and perfectly suited for the creation of a museum from whole cloth. He will likely relocate to Arizona to run things for the first year.
More details will certainly emerge over time. Until it is completed and ready for access to collectors, the exact address of the Mitchell Reel Museum will be withheld, but Wallace promises all this information will be forthcoming shortly. It’s just the loveliest news I’ve heard in the collecting world all year.
Wallace and I chatted the afternoon away about various Mitchell-related subjects, and as I heard the enthusiasm and joy in his voice, the whole time that same question kept popping in to my mind that led this article: What happened to the man who got everything that he wanted?
In the case of Wallace Carney, I surely hope the answer is simply, “he lived happily ever after.” After all, how many of us get an opportunity to live out our dreams? And for collectors, there are few sweeter dreams than those of the Mitchell reel.
-- Dr. Todd