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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Sam Rayburn’s Cadillac Returns Home to Bonham

By Anne Ruppert, Sam Rayburn House Museum staff

After a year-long mechanical restoration, Sam Rayburn’s 1947 Cadillac Fleetwood is once again on display at the Sam Rayburn House Museum in Bonham. The vintage vehicle specialists at Hatfield Restorations in Canton, Texas repaired the engine and brake system, and the car is now on exhibit and ready to participate in local parades and appearances at festivals and events.

Following a generous donation to the Friends of Sam Rayburn, restoration work began on the Cadillac in September 2009. While the Cadillac was off-site, the Texas Historical Commission and the Sam Rayburn House Museum contracted with several companies to retrofit the historic garage where the vehicle is housed. Deterioration of the historic 1916 structure, combined with the need to preserve the Cadillac, led to the garage restoration. Work on the structure included replacing rotten wood, replacing the exterior doors, installing heating and cooling elements, and installation of interior lighting and a fire and security system. Visitors now have better access to the Cadillac, with the addition of a viewing space and exhibit area on the west side of the garage. With the new mobility of the vehicle, the museum staff can move it out of the garage during special events and drive it in local parades.

Garage exterior pre-renovation

Garage exterior post-renovation
Garage interior pre-renovation
Garage interior and Cadillac post-renovation
Mr. Sam’s Cadillac has been a part of the Sam Rayburn House Museum since 1975, and its story begins with Mr. Sam’s election to Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1940. One of his perks as speaker was a congressionally funded limousine and chauffer.

After losing his position as speaker in 1947, Rayburn also lost the limousine. Preferring to save his money rather than buy himself a new car, Mr. Sam chose to take cab rides and walk to and from the Capitol building. Several fellow House Democrats offered to buy him a car, but he rejected their offers, citing his many years as an honest public servant, never taking large gifts that could be misconstrued as bribes. If a gift were to be accepted, Mr. Sam stipulated that no one could pay more than $25. Rayburn’s friend, Congressman Frank Boykin of Alabama, asked all the Democrats in the House of Representatives to each donate $25, and 142 members obliged, making Mr. Sam the proud owner of a new Cadillac Fleetwood.

After Mr. Sam’s death, his family sold the car to E.B. Chapman of Sherman, Texas. When the Sam Rayburn House Museum opened in 1975, Chapman donated the car to the museum, where it has remained on display.

The Sam Rayburn House Museum has a new exhibit that showcases photographs of the garage and Cadillac before, during, and after restoration. The exhibit will also detail the planned house renovation that is scheduled to begin in May 2011.

The Sam Rayburn House Museum is located at 890 W. State Hwy. 56, two miles west of Bonham, in the Texas Lakes Trail Region.

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