01.19.2004 | 01.01.2004 | 10.01.2003 |


Everyone knows Laughing Sal-the fun house fortune teller with a maniacal laugh-the star attraction at the Musée Mécanique in San Francisco. But fewer people know that Sal shares the stage with a rare steam motorcycle. Built in 1912 by a Sacramento man named Gillingwater, the red motorcycle the "Steam Flyer" joined the Musée after a loving restoration that put it in perfect running condition.

Like all the mechanical machines, games, and instruments at the Musée, the steam motorcycle and its acquisition have a fascinating story behind them. Ed Zelinsky, a long-time San Franciscan and owner of Musée Mécanique, has been an inveterate collector since childhood. He acquired many of the machines-including Laughing Sal-from George Whitney Sr., owner of Playland-At-The-Beach, San Francisco's landmark amusement park, which closed in 1972.

Zelinksy's acquisition of the motorcycle came as a result of a wily trade. Ed and George Whitney used to have lunch together every third Thursday of the month, and although Ed seldom sells any of his collection, he loves to trade. Back then, he did a lot of trading with George Whitney. "We traded music boxes and pianos back and forth," Ed recalls, "but I'll never forget the day that I traded for the steam motorcycle. I remember he had a scotch over ice, shrimp cocktail, and a minute steak. I tried to copy him, but I couldn't keep up with him on the drinks.

"Well, I had quite a few drinks, and I was feeling no pain, and George said, 'Ed, you have a 1904 Franklin. Do you want to trade it?'

"And I said, 'George, what will you give me for it?' Well, I don't really remember the conversation, but I do remember shaking hands with him, and Mr. Whitney telling me, 'Ed, you are the proud owner of a steam motorcycle.'"

Later, the two men had dinner again, and Whitney asked Ed who got the best deal in the trade. "I don't know, George, you tell me," Ed recalls.

Then Whitney said, "Ed, I got the best deal. I got a Franklin that's running and you got a motorcycle that isn't, and needs repair."

Ed told him, "That's funny, George. I thought I got the best of the deal because I got the only steam motorcycle, perhaps, in the whole world."

Whitney then called Ed a few weeks later and asked if he wanted to trade back again. "That's when I knew I had a good deal," Ed says.

Time has proved Zelinsky right. Recently, the peripatetic collector received an unsolicited offer of $250,000 for the motorcycle. "Now I know I really got the best deal!" he says.

The Musée Mécanique is a unique San Francisco attraction. Located at Pier 45, in the heart of Fisherman's Wharf, the museum features more than 200 antique, coin-operated entertainment machines-one of the largest privately held collections of its kind in the world. Admission to the museum is free, but visitors who want to enjoy these automated mechanical games and musical instruments as they were originally intended, can drop in a few coins and see them spring to life.

Located at the corner of Taylor Street and the Embarcadero, Musée Mécanique is open daily, year-round. It is easily accessible via the "F" line trolleys, which run from Market Street to the Wharf along the Embarcadero, and the Powell Street cable car line from Union Square. Public parking is also available at Pier 45. For more information about the Musée Mécanique, call (415) 346-2000 or visit www.museemecanique.com.


Ed Zelinsky is available for interviews about Musée Mécanique and his other collections.
To arrange an interview, contact Terry Koenig, Koenig & Associates, (415) 883-5198
High resolution digital photographs are available upon request.

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