1.29.2005

Logan man electrifies history

The Herald Journal - 11.01.03
By David Nelson


At 4 p.m. sharp, Ray Somers asked if I'd like the "10-minute tour" of his "Electronics Museum" in the back room of Somer's Video in downtown Logan.

"Don't write that down," the old man chided as I started to take notes on the collection of antique radios, computers, player pianos and anything else electronic he has accumulated during the 66 years he's lived in Logan. "Just listen to the story. You can ask questions later."

So Somers begins the stories, looking out through a pair of thick frames that slide down his nose as he talks. He repeatedly postpones the questions, shuffling through his museum with a well-worn brown hat that never leaves his head.

Somers likes stories. As we make our way down the first aisle in the room crowded with nearly 500 pieces of electric history, he launches into one tale after another. The big wooden radios on the floors, smaller ones stacked on top of those and shelves of electronics stacked to the 15-foot high ceiling listen, like they always have, to his stories.

He pauses periodically to let each claim of "this is the first ..." or "this is the oldest ..." sink in, but never long enough for me to respond appropriately or ask a follow-up question.

At last, he relents and lets me write some of it down.

He begins the 10-minute tour by pointing out a physical timeline of the evolution from wire to reel-to-reel to cassette recorders along one wall. He pulls me by the elbow over to a row of "the three great video games" -- the original arcade versions of Space Invaders, Donkey Kong Jr. and Asteroids.

He pulls out a seven-inch-long blue tube, explains that it's an antique record, puts it on a black cylinder phonograph from 1900 and flips the switch. But Somers only lets the old-time music play for 15 seconds or so -- there are more treasures to explain and we're eating up the promised 10 minutes quickly.

So we move to a Victor phonograph that had a purchase price of $1,500 in 1927. Up next is a heavy wooden cabinet, labeled "Duesenberg," that Somers called "the biggest, finest radio ever made." Then he points up to a shelf that holds the same type of radio that received the SOS call from a sinking Titanic in 1912.

"Now that's history," he said, about the same time I realize the idea of getting through the exhibit in 10 minutes is also lost in the past. "There's pieces in here you can't beg, borrow or steal anywhere."

The 86-year-old Somers is history, too. He's a collector, a historian, an author, a fix-it man, a businessman and a Cache Valley personality.

He drove into Logan in 1937 in a Model-T Ford. The plan was to attend Utah State Agricultural College, but a year later he had a radio repair shop set up on Center Street. He bought a collection of records in 1940, and has haunted bid sales, estate auctions and everything else since then to find more pieces to fix or refurbish. Then he bought the Somer's Video building at 70 W. Center St. in 1947, and the back room eventually became home to the collection.

It's the one subject that takes Somers away from giving the history lesson. The video store building sold last June, and while the collection is still intact in the room behind a glass sliding door at the rear of the building, there's no guarantee it will stay there.

"How long we can stay, I don't know," Somers said of the sale agreement that doesn't have a timeframe for moving his pet project.

He wants the pieces to stay together as a collection, but knows he can't find or afford a new home big enough for them. He laments that Logan city has no museum to keep the pieces, which he would happily donate. And he gets sentimental contemplating the future, because he's happy to have built the museum, but sad that more people don't share the place that gives Somers joy.

"The time of reality is now," said Somers, and then he repeats the cryptic statement about the undecided future for emphasis.

We finally make it through four aisles of equipment, from 1920s radios to old penny slot machines from Northern Utah's general stores to an Apple computer from 1985. It's entertaining, and exhausting, to hear the endless stories that mix radio expertise, knowledge of Cache Valley and the experiences from 86 years on Earth. I thank Somers for his time, needing to get going after receiving much more than the 10 minutes I was originally offered.

"One more story?" he asks, my left foot already out the door.

"Well, OK Ray."

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