Remember that '50s TV series called The Millionaire? Remember how Michael Anthony would ring the doorbell of some unsuspecting beneficiaries and announce that he had a cashier's check for $1 million for them? And remember Anthony's proviso: that if the recipients ever revealed the amount or the donor (eccentric multibillionaire John Beresford Tipton), they would have to forfeit whatever portion of the million was unspent? Well, Lee and Patti Brauer of Tieton, Wash, remember. They talked about that show a lot after they won $1 million in the Canadian lottery. In the best tradition of Old Man Tipton, they, too, wondered how all that money would affect the lives of ordinary folks—themselves.
Their story begins not with the ring of an unexpected visitor but with the purchase of two $10 Canadian lottery tickets, the first the Brauers had ever bought. Just before Christmas 1977 they learned they had "hit" the lottery, each ticket paying $50. "It sure was a temptation to cash those tickets in," says Lee. "That money looked pretty good with Christmas coming up. But we took the gamble and bought 10 more $10 tickets."
In the 12 years of their marriage, the Brauers' main entertainment had been going to racetracks and betting. They were used to taking risks, albeit on a modest scale. Although most of their time was spent working their 10-acre apple orchard (Red Delicious and Goldens), every chance the Brauers got, they'd go to Yakima or Portland Meadows or Longacres Racetrack. They loved horses and handicapping and dreamed one day of owning maybe 25% of a $1,600 claimer. It became their habit to wrap their winnings in aluminum foil and stash the loot in the freezer, which is what they did with the ten $10 lottery tickets.
On the whole, racetrackers are a pretty superstitious bunch, and the Brauers are no exception. They knew that the million-dollar lottery draw would be on Sunday, April 2, 1978. Patti circled the date on their kitchen calendar and wrote on it: "The day we win a million." But the only thing that happened on Sunday was that the Brauers lost all their betting money at Yakima Meadows. On Monday, Lee and Patti sat at home and tried to figure out if they had enough money to live on until their apples were harvested. "We weren't broke," Patti says. "But we figured we needed $6,000 to get us from April to September, and we didn't have that much. Lee didn't want to borrow money on our expected proceeds from the crop. So we just sat there estimating the minimum amount we needed to get through the season."
The call from Canada came on Tuesday. Patti answered the phone and heard a very polite man from the Canadian lottery ask if she would please read her ticket numbers to him. She yelled, "Hold on," and started throwing meat out of the freezer. She couldn't find the tickets. Lee found them. He read all the numbers to the man on the phone. The last ticket number was the big one. Patti's knees gave way, and she fell to the floor. Screams, cheers, tears, laughter.
Now this is the John Beresford Tipton part. What do a couple of young apple growers do with a million bucks? The Brauers stayed up for two days and three nights just talking about it. There were big decisions to be made. Should they move to Canada and get the million tax-free? Or should they stay in the U.S. and hand a staggering $750,000 over to the Internal Revenue Service? The Brauers decided to remain in Washington, but they hired a tax specialist to see what he could do about reducing the bite.
Apprehensive about what all that money would do to their life-style, they continued to work the usual 12 to 14 hours a day in their orchard. They made a few cautious purchases: a new pickup truck, a tractor and a racehorse, in that order. "We parked the new pickup in the backyard," Lee, says, "and kept driving our old clinker around. At night we'd all go out and sit in the new one and fiddle with the gadgets. But it took us weeks to get over feeling conspicuous."
In June of 1978 they contacted a friend, Dale Leach at Northwest Farms in Yakima, and said they'd like to buy a horse, preferably a bargain-basement thoroughbred. Leach showed them a yearling colt and said, "This horse is kind of a runt, but he's improved a lot." The Brauers liked his looks and his breeding (by Saltville out of TV Actress, by TV Lark), so they took another gamble and paid $5,000 for him. "You have to understand where we came from," says Lee. "We lived our whole lives on a tight budget. No matter how much money we had, $5,000 seemed an awful lot for a horse. In our minds we were still struggling. You don't go all your life just making ends meet and then change overnight."
They named their yearling Loto Canada, the title of the Canadian lottery. A few days later—perhaps because they were getting the hang of spending money—they purchased a second yearling for $7,500 and named him Canadian Express. During this period of comparatively wild monetary abandon, the Brauers remained more or less in hiding. The newspapers and wire services had broadcast the news of their million-dollar win, and people started hounding them. From all parts of the country letters from total strangers poured in asking for "loans."
That summer Lee and Patti spent their free time lying on the grass watching their yearlings graze at Northwest Farm. They became absorbed in making plans for their new "babies," as Patti called them.