Hershey Lodge
8 - 9 October 2015
Lot 258

1915 Cretors Model C Popcorn Wagon


$231,000 USD | Sold

United States | Hershey, Pennsylvania



Chassis No.
Engine No.
  • The ultimate, rarest, and most valuable vintage popcorn wagon
  • One of fewer than five known survivors
  • Used for years at Harrah’s Automobile Collection
  • Recipient of a painstakingly researched Harrah’s restoration
  • Exhaustively documented, including popcorn recipes

22.5 bhp, 243 cu. in. Buda Model QU L-head four-cylinder engine with a Zenith L5 carburetor, three-speed manual transmission with single chain drive to the rear axle, front and rear semi-elliptical leaf-spring suspension, and rear two-wheel mechanical brakes. Wheelbase: 132 in.

We made popcorn today. Works very well.

- Memo from Ralph Dunwoodie to Bill Harrah, 1964

The Model C was something of the Rolls-Royce of popcorn wagons: a justifiably expensive custom-built rig on Chicago manufacturer Cretors’ own sequoia-strong steel chassis, with propulsion from a front-mounted Buda Model QU L-head, four-cylinder industrial engine. It came equipped with beautiful woodwork, brass trim, and glass chip signage, advertising the products that could be produced within its Willy Wonka-like myriad of machinery. Popcorn would burst into crunchy perfection in a sizzling bath of Cretors’ Ideal Seasoning (refined coconut oil) and was dressed with butter and salt to order. Peanuts roasted in a rotating bin over a gas flame. Crisp was produced by mixing hot seasoned popcorn with syrup that had been cooked in a gas kettle.

All of this cost the presumably well-off popcorn jockey a rather astonishing $4,165 F.O.B. Chicago, or about the cost of a new Packard. Perhaps unsurprisingly, only eight or nine are known to have been built, with Cretors records indicating that chassis number 9112, the example offered here, was sold to H.S. Herreck, of Bakersfield, California, on September 3, 1915.

The next 45 years of this Cretors’ history includes ownership by C.J. Harris and E.P. Sheldon, of San Diego, California. It eventually made its way, probably in a direct acquisition from Harris and Sheldon, into the hoard of Clinton A. Reynolds, a secretive early collector from Orange, California. After being parked in Reynolds’s yard, yet largely preserved by the sunny Southern California climate, it was sold at his 1963 estate auction, where it attracted the attention and winning bid of representatives from Harrah’s Automobile Collection.

That the world’s largest automobile collection was excited to acquire the Cretors is obvious when looking through the Harrah’s file, a copy of which accompanies the sale. A “Gold Star” restoration of the popcorn wagon was immediately authorized by William Harrah, indicating that it was to be restored to the absolute highest standards of authenticity. With their typical tenacity and attention to detail, Harrah’s researchers pursued every avenue relating to the proper restoration, maintenance, and eventual operation of a 1915 Cretors Model C. The Cretors Company supplied not only original sales materials and information on the authenticity of finishes but also original recipes, as would have been used in 1915. Photographs of period-correct popcorn vendor uniforms were found, and paper bags in the correct 1915 striping pattern were specially manufactured using an original sample acquired from a collector. The most exhaustive search went into discovering the proper formula for “crisp” and then figuring out how to produce it in quantity (something that was never fully realized, to Bill Harrah’s consternation). It is amusing to think of Harrah’s mechanically minded researchers writing questionnaires to candy companies, but such was the restoration of this vehicle.

All of this work was because the Cretors was no mere show queen or exhibit. From the time of its completion until the end of Harrah’s Automobile Collection in 1987, it was maintained in fully operational condition outside Showroom 1, selling popcorn and peanuts that had been produced with its equipment and to original Cretors recipes to HAC visitors.

After HAC was largely sold in the mid-1980s, ownership of the popcorn wagon is believed to have been transferred to Harrah’s Club. It was sold in 1993 to Dayton McDonald and then passed again in 2007 to another well-known California collector, in whose ownership it was enjoyed until its acquisition by the present owners.

The Cretors has been returned to functional condition and is offered with an utterly comprehensive history file, which incorporates both the exhaustive Harrah’s file, extensive research by later owners, and copies of original Cretors promotional materials. Importantly, the file includes fully detailed procedures for operating and cleaning the machinery, as well as recipes for various popcorn and peanut products that can be produced with it, in mass scale!

For the dedicated collector of Americana, or simply for the collector who wants a functional centerpiece to delight hungry guests at his or her next lawn party, there is no better alternative than the Harrah’s Cretors.