Pilot Staff Writer

GOLD BEACH - The groundbreaking ceremony for Sheriff John's Classic Cars museum at the Port of Gold Beach Saturday afternoon attracted about 60 friends, relatives and supporters of John and Carol Gillespie.

The Gillespies' original museum opened during the summer of 2000 in the boat storage building of Mail Boat Hydro Jets in Wedderburn.

Featuring automobiles from all eras, period costumes and sets, and Hollywood memorabilia, Sheriff's John's Classic Cars quickly became a local favorite, and also gave those waiting for jet boat rides a way to pass the time.

Carol spent most of her summer days decked out in a genuine poodle skirt and bobby-socks, bringing the 1950s to life for those touring the museum.

The number of cars and displays grew every year from 2000 to 2002, but they also had to be taken out and stored each fall when the jet boats returned to their storage building.

When the jet boat company was sold this spring, John said, the new owner was not interested in continuing the museum.

Worse, Carol's health took a nosedive, including five heart attacks in six months. Every major holiday or event seemed to coincide with another heart attack, including July 4.

Carol, at the groundbreaking, credited Dr. Kelly Lowther for saving her life. Lowther was there to cheer her on.

John said Carol feared the approach of Labor Day, but she enjoyed good health then and since. The Gillespies' confidence began to return.

Carol missed performing at her museum, and John considered building a new one on property leased from the Port of Gold Beach.

Carol said Lowther encouraged her to do the museum, if she really wanted to do it and felt up to it. The decision was made.

Armed with one gold-painted shovel, and a rusty one, the Gillespies officially broke ground Saturday, and hoped construction would begin within two weeks. They are planning a grand opening for May.

Project developer Tony Jakacky will oversee the construction, while BJ's Construction of Coos Bay will do the actual work.

The groundbreaking party featured door prizes, champagne, snacks and a special cheese made by Washington State University.

Five classic vehicles owned by the Gillespies and their friends were on display. Carol wore her full poodle skirt regalia.

In matching costume was niece Nacole Miles, 13, who also plays wide receiver and corner back on the undefeated boys football team at her school in California.

Miles would appear to be the exception to the rule that football stars should never be seen in poodle skirts.

John said the new museum building would be 70 feet by 120 feet. It will feature 30 cars, including a 1941 Lincoln coupe once owned by Barbra Streisand and used in the film andquot;The Way We Were.andquot;

In keeping with the Hollywood theme, John plans a 15-seat theater for the museum, which will feature Marx Brothers, Li'l Rascals and Shirley Temple films.

A diner will evoke the 1950s, while a Tribute to Las Vegas display will do the same for the 1960s.

The Gillespies collect a lot more than cars and Hollywood memorabilia. Carol's extensive doll collection will also be on display at the new museum.

John said the museum could even be rented out for special events. He said a woman has already asked to celebrate her 75th birthday there.

John said he would try to assemble memorabilia, including a car, from the year she was born.