When Christopher Lloyd walked through the doors of a remote barn in Central Massachusetts around two years ago, he couldn’t believe his eyes.
“Great Scott!” exclaimed the actor, who played Dr. Emmett “Doc” Brown in the “Back to the Future” trilogy.
Before him was one of the largest known collections of memorabilia from the sci-fi comedy franchise that once dominated the big screen and amassed a cult following that has spanned generations.
“A way only he can say it,” recalled Patrick Shea, who with his father, Bill Shea, owns and operates the museum-like collection, tucked away in Hubbardston. “A natural reaction; surprise kind of thing. I mean — how can you beat that?”
For years, the nondescript barn — chock-full of props from the blockbuster movies that debuted in the late 1980s and 1990 — has been a hidden gem of sorts, primarily known among locals, devout fans, and dedicated collectors.
But that all changed last year.
In one episode of a four-part Discovery Channel series called “Expedition: Back To The Future,” hosts Josh Gates and Lloyd made a pitstop to check out what the Sheas have accumulated over the past decade.
Lloyd, who delivered his signature catchphrase upon seeing it, was immediately impressed.
Since the feature aired, requests for tours — offered for years now — have picked up momentum like a DeLorean reaching 88 miles-per-hour. Their calendar, said Patrick, 55, is almost fully booked heading into October.
“We have a couple openings here and there, but for the most part, every weekend is booked,” said Patrick, who lives in nearby Royalston. “But anybody that’s interested can certainly email” to ask about tours.
Bill Shea said the pair owns more than 100 props that they “know were part of the movie trilogy,” either having been used during production or making a brief appearance in the films.
Their sprawling collection includes enough memorabilia to pack an entire barn, which they refer to as the “BTTF barn,” with items lining the walls, floors, and a loft upstairs, Patrick said.
“It’s tight up there,” he added.
Some of their most-prized possessions in the lot include the original costumes worn by the female police officers in the second film; Doc’s mind-reading helmet (otherwise known as his “brain wave analyzer”); and the two panthers on the clock tower from the first movie (one was featured onscreen, and the other is a restored model).
But both Bill and Patrick agreed that it’s their DeLoreans that are the main draw.
Since childhood, Bill, 77, has collected everything from comic books to baseball cards to coins. But as he grew up, cars emerged as his key interest.
“I’ve always loved things that have a story,” he said.
He purchased his first DeLorean in 1995. The vehicle was so rare that when Bill took it to car shows, he was frequently asked if it was the same one from “Back to the Future.”
It wasn’t — but over time the fascination of others convinced the pair to take things to epic proportions.
“We decided to take the plunge and then build that first [replica] car in 2010,” installing a mock-up of the “flux capacitor” that they purchased online, Patrick said.
They finished the project in 2011, and then “things started to get a little more crazy,” he said.
When the DeLorean from the “Back to the Future Part III” became available at an auction for Hollywood memorabilia that December, Bill tapped into his knowledge as a consultant for auction houses and museums, deciding it was worth the $541,000 to own it.
“That’s when I think people started to recognize that we were serious about having the best collection on the planet,” Patrick said. “And we’re still striving to achieve that.”
These days they have five vehicles in their barn, including the replica that they built. The four other vehicles — a DeLorean known as the “B” stunt car; the DeLorean Time Machine featured in the third film; a 1985 Toyota Sr5 Xtra Cab 4x4 driven by Marty McFly; and a 1949 Packard Custom 8 Victoria Convertible driven by Doc — were all used in the making of the movies.
Patrick has embraced taking over the role of being the “hunter-gatherer” of items from his father, and as memorabilia becomes available, other collectors or auctioneers often reach out to them to gauge their interest.
But Bill said they’re meticulous about verifying the “pedigree and originality” of every object purchased, due to the plethora of fakes and duplicates on the market.
What was once perhaps a risky reconstruction of an elusive vehicle has now evolved into the dream museum of any “Back to the Future” fan, with people traveling from as far as the United Kingdom to visit, Patrick said.
Items like Marty’s Mattel Hoverboard and the shirt Doc wore in all three films are scatted throughout the barn. There’s a hand-painted mural of the clock tower and life-sized mannequins of Doc dressed in his white suit, and Marty in his puffy orange vest. Most recently, the Sheas recreated the opening clock scene from the first movie, an effort that took years to complete with the help from others.
And it’s not just Lloyd who has taken notice of the collection.
Although Fox has never seen it personally, the Sheas met him in 2015, when the DeLorean time machine they built was used on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the original film, a moment Bill called “very, very special.”
Later this month, Claudia Wells, Harry Waters Jr., and Donald Fullilove — three of the original cast members — are also expected to visit the barn.
The pair asks (but does not require) that visitors make a donation when dropping in, with proceeds going to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, Bill said.
Patrick handles the weekday tours, while Bill takes on the weekend shifts. Each visit lasts a few hours, and when groups enter the barn, the lights are always shut off. Only the recognizable cars are illuminated in a fluorescent glow.
The Sheas usually have to wait a few minutes for people to catch their breath as they take in the scenery.
“It’s almost like too much to see,” Bill said.