Thursday, June 9, 2011

Joe goes to school

Joe in front of the old Superior School building
Taken 6/3/2011 in Superior, Montana

NOTE: Clicking on any photo will open it in a new window. Clicking on the photo in the new window, will expand the photo to full-screen size. Also, all links open in a new window. With the single exception of the photo above, all photographs were taken on Saturday, June 4th, 2011, in Superior, Montana.

Superior, Montana, the county seat of Mineral County, holds the distinction of being the place where the first Gideon Bible was placed in a hotel room, back in 1908. I recommend reading the Wikipedia article on the Gideons, if only to see just how ubiquitous that maroon book has become in our popular culture. Almost a century after that first Bible placement, two local families started an annual car show in town, and this year marked the twelfth annual Old Schoolhouse Rock Car Show, now run by the Mineral County Community Foundation.

Having brought the Frazer home on Monday, I headed to Superior on Wednesday morning to open our shop there. (We are only open one day a week in Superior.) Of course I took my pictures of the "new" car as I love to show off such beauties. As I was bragging about my good fortune, several people told me that there would be a car show in town that weekend. Now I've attended lots of car shows over the years, but I'd never heard of the one in Superior. Small town meant small show, I figured, and where better to make the car's debut. There wouldn't be a lot of pressure, and a fun time should be had by all. That is assuming that the car was up for a 60-mile one way drive. At this point, I'd only driven around the block a few times.

Parenthetical note: My cars almost always tell me their names. The most insistant was my 1986 midnight blue Cougar who let me know in no uncertain terms that his name was Curt, unless we are all dolled up and headed for the Opera in which case he was to be called Curtis. The Frazer was no exception. Once I started on my way to Superior, he let me know his name was "Joe." Not "Joseph" or "Joey" or anything else but "Joe." And that's how I'll refer to the car from this point forward.

Now I've never really driven anything as old as Joe before. Back in college I tried to buy a 1953 Packard, and I test drove it. I also test drove a 1940 Plymouth--boy was that a test on me. To start the thing, you needed to have a foot on the brake, a foot on the clutch, a foot on the accelerator, and a foot free to press the starter button located on the floor. I didn't have that many feet, so didn't get very far with my "test" drive. My biggest fear in buying Joe was that I wouldn't get the hang of driving the car, and indeed, the first few times we started him up, I had to have Kevin get him running. But now, I think I understand the tricks necessary to wake him up, and we'll find out this morning when I sit behind the wheel for the first time since Monday.

Jeff Stephens' 1959 Ford Fairlane Skyliner is always a show-stopper

Doing some on-line research, I learned that the show in Superior was scheduled for two days, Friday and Saturday, the first weekend in June. I decided I'd drive out on Friday, register the car, participate in any activities that afternoon/evening, spend the night, and be there all day Saturday for the actual show, the awards and the closing pig roast. I called Mary Jo Berry who has a shop, Iron Mountain Graphics, right across from our shop. Mary Jo runs the local Chamber of Commerce, and was one of the contacts listed for the Old Schoolhouse Rock Car Show. I wondered if it was too late to sign up, and she assured me that there would be no trouble. I, in turn, assured her that as long as Joe could get me to Superior in one piece, we'd be there Friday afternoon.

By Friday morning, I'd driven Joe to our Missoula shop a couple of times, and around the block here at home a couple of times, but that was it. The shop is one mile from home, and while Joe hadn't given me any trouble, I just wasn't sure what would happen when I got on Interstate 90 and approached highway speeds for sixty miles. I figured I'd take it easy, let everything on the road pass me, and if I had any problems, well I had my cell phone with me. But you can't go to a car show without seeing the proud owners working on their cars in every spare minute, buffing, shining, tinkering, or else sitting in the shade with a cooler close by. So, before hitting the road, I headed to Walmart.

A bit more about Joe--specifically his dash. There are six round ivory colored knobs on Joe's dash. They are marked, from right to left, "V," "H," "L," "T," "AC," and "OD." There are also two knurled chrome knobs just under the windshield, on either side of the center pillar. And two black knobs on either side of the in-dash AM radio. On the floor, to the left of the clutch, there are two metal buttons, one closer to the firewall than the other. There is no owner's manual that I have yet found. So what do all these buttons and knobs do? Well, just guessing now, but let's assume that "V" stands for "Vent," and "H" stands for "Heater." "L" should be "Lights," but "T"? Might it be some kind of throttle control? Not sure. And since there isn't any Air Conditioning, the "AC" must stand for something like "auxiliary choke." The one closest to the driver, marked "OD" really had me scratching my head. In the first place, the knob is the only one in the car that is dirty--seemingly covered in some kind of oil residue. The letters are only partially visible and could as easily read "Oil" as "OD." And since nothing I had found on-line to date indicated that this model ever had overdrive, I had dismissed that possibility. Of the two knurled knobs, the one on the right seemed to control the defroster vents, and my guess is that the one on the left controls the windshield wipers, but that remains a guess as the wipers don't work and the knob doesn't seem to do anything except sit there and look pretty. The buttons around the radio were pretty obvious, even though the radio doesn't work. Finally, of the two buttons on the floor, I was pretty sure that the one closest to the driver was the dimmer switch, and it did work, but what the heck was the other one?

Jeff Carlson's 1940 Oldsmobile, now owned by a couple in Missoula

I mention the dash because I was truly stumped by some of these gadgets and just how they worked. I'm also spoiled because both of my daily drivers, the Volvo and the Saab, have lights that come on when I start the engine, and go off when I turn off the engine. I don't worry about my lights these days. If I'm driving, they're on. If I'm parked, they're off. I don't have to think about them. Driving the three miles from the house to Walmart, I pulled the "L" knob and Joe's lights came on. Hurray! Got to Walmart, found a place to park where I didn't think anyone would hit the car (out by where all the campers are parked), and went into the store. I headed immediately for the car care section to buy polishing cloth, cleaner, air freshener, a basket to hold it all, some Armor All, etc., etc., etc., then to the camping section where I got a folding chair, a new air mattress, pillows and sheets, and a case to carry them all in, to men's wear for a new fedora (ya gotta wear a fedora when you drive something like Joe), and then to checkout. Back out in the parking lot, I couldn't find Joe. How can you lose something that large and distinctive? Ah, there, behind that SUV. Sigh of relief. A fellow seated in his pickup in the next lane, called out to me. "Nice car. You're blind in one eye." Oh fun, I forgot and left the lights on. Will Joe start for me? The fellow watching said, "No problem. I'll make sure you get started." "But it has a six-volt system," I cried. "We'll figure something out," he replied. After packing everything away in the trunk, I climbed in, put in the key, pushed the starter, and prayed. Joe coughed a bit, but he started, and we were on our way.

1966? AMC Marlin, a "Personal Luxury Car"

Heading out of town, while stopped at a red light on Reserve Street, I got into a conversation with a young man in the next lane. He must have been all of eight years old. "Neat car! Did you know green is my favorite color?" It's just amazing how people of all ages respond to a car like Joe. Once on Interstate 90, I kept up my resolve, stayed in the right lane, and let everyone else pass me--even the semis. Joe's speedometer doesn't work, but I drive this stretch of road every Wednesday, and I have my mileposts down cold. I figure that because of the time it took me to reach Frenchtown (1/4 of the way), Alberton (1/2 the way), and Tarkio (3/4 of the way), I was driving pretty close to a steady 60 mph. From Tarkio to west of Superior, the highway is under re-construction, and travel is restricted to one lane in each direction. The speed limit for this zone is 55, and I wasn't holding anyone up. Joe got me to Superior in fine shape, and I headed straight to the old schoolhouse to register my car.

Once registered as number 23 (there were 21 pre-registrations), I took my packet and went back outside where I met Liz Gupton, one of the event's organizers. Liz asked me to park on the lawn in front of the school, and introduced me to Jeff Carlson, one of the founders of the show. Jeff proceeded to go over Joe from top to bottom, and I learned more from listening to him (and yes, I took notes), than all my on-line research had taught me. Jeff confirmed that I was right in my guesses about the knobs marked "V," "T," and "AC." I had personal experience with "H" and "L" by that time. And the oily knob that wouldn't move? Yes, indeed, this car had factory installed, extra cost, overdrive--and the car was stuck in overdrive. A good transmission shop should be able to fix that problem in five minutes, according to Jeff. I was correct in my guesses about the knurled knobs, and that other button on the floor? Well it's your windshield washer, of course. I had noted that the car had washer jets, but I hadn't figured out how to activate them. Now I knew.

I had great fun listening to Jeff and a couple of other "old codgers" tell me about my car, and the afternoon passed quickly and pleasantly. The schedule called for a "cruise" out to St. Regis, fifteen miles west, where Jasper's Restaurant had planned a special dinner just for the car show registrants. The cruise started at 6 pm, according to the schedule, but so far I was the only car on the schoolhouse lawn. I saw other classic and custom cars driving around town, but none of them stopped at the school. Liz came outside and asked if I was planning on participating in the "Cruise." When I said yes, she explained that as no one else had shown up, I would probably be the only car involved. I would have graciously backed out myself, but Liz suggested that if I were willing to wait for her to close things up, she'd go with me and some of the other organizers would meet us at the restaurant. How could I say no? On the way out to St. Regis, Liz explained that she'd never been able to go on a "cruise" as she was always handing the registration duties. On the way back, after a delicious enchilada dinner, Liz told me the history of the Old Schoolhouse, and how it came into her possession. It was a fascinating story, one that should be told, but I won't do it here. Suffice it to say that a lot of small-town politics came into play. 'Nuff said.

The owner of this car didn't register it, so I have no idea what it is.

Saturday presented us with the nicest weather we've seen in western Montana this year, and I parked Joe next to a 1948 Studebaker pickup owned by a fellow from Helena. All told, some 70 cars were registered for the show, but a number of folk parked their cars on the grounds, but didn't register them. Even more classics were parked on the street around the venue, unregistered, but with "For Sale" signs in their windshields. With a registration fee of only $35, why wouldn't people cough up the bucks for a good cause? I just don't understand. Late in the afternoon, Kevin arrived, got to talk with Jeff about the car, and joined me for the best roast pig I've had.

I had a blast at the Old Schoolhouse Rock Car Show. Lots of folk stopped to talk to me about Joe. Most were very impressed by his history, and by the fact that I had owned the car less than a week. I got some nice photographs, met very interesting people, and learned a lot. This was my first time as a car show participant, but it won't be the last. This coming Friday and Saturday, I'll have Joe here in Missoula at the Montana Benefit Car Show hosted by Karl Tyler Chevrolet. I'm pre-registered for that event as number 152 (they're expecting over 400 cars). In closing, I want to use this forum to fill out the feed-back form included in my registration packet.

What I like about the show: The small town friendliness and the chance to talk with people knowledgeable in the mysteries of old cars.

What I disliked about the show: This has nothing to do with the show's organization, but I was very disappointed to be the only car in the Friday night "cruise." I honestly don't know what could have been done to get more participation.

What I would like to see included in next year's show: More of the same. It was a great event and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

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