Curating a Collection

By Julia Sharp and Brenda Shafer

Once considered a man’s hobby, the art of collecting is learned and cultivated over a lifetime. And in that lifetime, the following gentlemen have gathered more than rare finds. They’ve built bonds of friendship with fellow collectors; they’ve amassed stories of extraordinary discoveries; and they’ve stored up memories they can treasure for the rest of their lives. Here, they share their carefully curated collections with us and the heart behind them. 

Tommy & Dianne White

For Tommy White, collecting cars is more than just a hobby. It’s a sport. Tommy loved cars before he could legally drive one, and now he regularly attends auctions to buy and sell the classic American cars that captivated his interest at a young age and inspired a lifetime of collecting.

“When I was 16 years old, I bought my first car even though I couldn’t drive it yet,” Tommy recalls. “It was a 1940 Ford coupe. I paid $75 then. My friend Mike Murray also had a 1940 Ford sedan then. I think he paid $50 for his. We were really cool guys then.” Tommy laughs. “And now the 1940 Ford, which I recently bought, I paid $50,000!” 

Although his interest was piqued as a teenager, Tommy didn’t begin to regularly buy and sell classic cars until about 25 years ago. “I had a car I was taking to Gatlinburg, and I pulled into the gas station on Lakeshore Drive. A man named Larry Moon was there with his car. I asked him where he was going, and he said he was headed to Gatlinburg. I said maybe I’ll see you up there, and then I pulled into our hotel – right next to Larry again! We became great friends and business partners since, and we’ve hardly ever missed an auction.”

“Tommy doesn’t buy cars to build up a large collection, so he tells me not to get too attached to the cars,” Dianne laughs. “Once he bought me a 1956 red and white Corvette, and I was so excited. But before I could even sit in it, he sold it!”

“I love the hunt,” Tommy explains. “You never know what you’ll get. When the hammer goes down and you’re the one who bought the car, lots of people don’t break a smile. I jump up and down! Larry always says when we walk into an auction and the music starts playing, chills go over us. It gets us fired up.”

The classic cars are Tommy and Dianne’s favorite. “I think it’s the fact that I grew up in them, and you can drive down the road and see one and know that it’s a ’56 Chevrolet,” Tommy shares. “Now you ride down the road and see four different manufacturers, and they all look just alike.” Dianne joins in, “We like the cars that you’d take to the drive-in where you’d all dance to the jukebox or drive to the sweet shop. There’s a lot of nostalgia for us.”

Tommy’s most exciting purchase he ever made was the Bentley he bought for Dianne. “I’ve always wanted one and didn’t think I’d ever get one. He surprised me with it last year, and I love driving it!” Dianne shares. “I can’t even describe the feeling; I just love everything about it.”

(above) Photo by Lanewood Studio

Trey White

There are football fans, and then there are football superfans like Trey White. Trey has cheered on the Vols his entire life, and he’s accumulated an impressive collection of Tennessee Volunteers memorabilia. In addition to his Rocky Top collection, he tries to wear at least one piece of orange clothing every single day. He has a story behind almost every item in his collection, and many represent great memories spent with family and friends at games, bowls, tailgates, and more.

Trey began his collection in 1971. “I got a few items that year, including a poster of the Tennessee/Auburn game. In 1972, some Tennessee players gave me a signed ball that said Sugar Bowl Champions and was signed by the whole team. But I really started collecting in the mid-80s when I found the 1939 Orange Bowl program. Now, if you put anything orange in front of me, I’ll probably buy it!” Trey jokes.

Trey is so well known for collecting Vols memorabilia that he’s had several items given (or returned) to him, even by people he didn’t know. “I have been sent old yearbooks, game films, programs; I just received a booklet from 1953 when General Neyland spoke at a dinner,” Trey shares. “One special item is my orange blanket that has a UT patch on it. The blanket was on my bed as a kid growing up in the ’70s, and I took it with me to college at UT. When I moved out, I accidentally left it in my apartment. I’d thought it was lost forever until I ran into my college roommate years later, and he’d actually kept it in his car ever since in case he ran into me. It’s funny how often I’m given Tennessee themed collectable items just by chance that way.”

While the oldest item Trey owns is a 1911 letterman jacket, the most unique item he acquired is a piece of the “Orange Zone” turf at the 20-yard line. “I wanted the 50-yard line,” Trey adds. “But the piece was so big that it wouldn’t fit in my office!” Another neat item Trey has is an orange gator from the 1957 Gator Bowl. “My mom was Miss Tennessee, and she rode in the Gator Bowl parade that year,” he shares.

His advice for budding collectors? “Start somewhere, start small, and don’t get too crazy.”

(above) Photo by Terry Henson

Jim Callaway and grandson James King with their American Flyer trains collection


Jim Callaway & James King

Jim and his grandson James are avid train collectors – but it can’t be just any train. The pair exclusively collect the original American Flyer trains that were wildly popular in the 1940s through the 1960s. For them, this brand represents quality time with family, countless hours spent learning the lifelike mechanics of electric trains, and classic American values.

Jim started collecting American Flyer trains in 1976. “I got interested in American Flyer because they were American made, and I loved the realistic part of it. Dr. A.C. Gilbert, the toymaker, made these trains as accurate and to scale as he could so that it would be educational,” Jim explains.
“I have tried to collect one of everything he manufactured. I’m sure I’ve missed some things, but I don’t want to know what they are!”

James grew up watching his grandfather operate the trains and began wanting to try it himself. “I caught the bug – the train bug!” he exclaims. Jim adds, “James helps me a lot. When the trains don’t run, we take them apart and see what’s wrong and get them fired up again. He’s as good now at getting them cleaned up and ready for service as I ever was.”

Along with collecting hundreds of train cars and their accessories, Jim cherishes the memories he has made with fellow collectors. “The people I’ve met and the camaraderie that formed is one of my most treasured memories.”

Jim also treasures several unique sets he’s had the privilege of collecting. “One of the most unique is the accessory set of men working on the railroad. As the train comes, if they’re working on the track, the train stops. When you move them off the track, the train starts to move again. It was made in 1940-41, and that was the last toy they made until 1946. They halted production during WWII.” Jim shares.

The time Jim and James spend together cleaning, fixing, and running the trains is time well spent. “American Flyer trains were made for fathers and sons to work on together. When TV came about, boys just wanted to come home and watch TV. Dads wanted to watch TV too, and the father-son relationship around building the train tables and running the engines slowly ended. As a result, A.C. Gilbert went out of business,” Jim explains.

James says, “I’ll never forget how my grandfather would run the trains when I was a boy. I will remember that till the day I die.” “We do it together,” Jim declares. “That’s the point.”

(above) Photo by Lanewood Studio

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