Cars, Planes, Boats & Trains
by Terry Hogan
If it is old and has an engine,
We restore old cars to remind us how we felt when we were young. Either we had that type of car when we were young (really lucky), or we wanted that type of car when we were young (the majority of us). Many of these old restored or kit cars are lovingly put together with chromed engines and paint jobs that make Detroit (and Japan) envious. Once they are put together, usually after years of painful work and strains on the budget and the family, they are carefully driven and shown off. Often there is a favorite hangout where they lineup and park, pull out the lawn chairs, and raise the hoods. They talk with others who have brought their cars. They talk shop. They also answer questions from those who admire the cars, but donÕt have the time, money, skills, or tolerant wife to indulge in anything beyond admiring such artwork or wheels.
I talked with one proud owner. It took six years to restore the old 1952 Pontiac. I walked up to the car and the owner and guessed a Ô53. He said that it was a Ō52 and then I saw the Ō52Ķ as part of the custom pinstripe down the side of the car. I asked about the paint job. It was outstanding brownish gray with a pearl luster overspray on the rounded fenders to catch the sunlight. He did it all. The engine wasnÕt anywhere near original, either. A very large and seriously chromed engine gave the car a very nice rumble.
On the other end of the scale were a couple of Cobras proudly displayed. I doubt if Galesburg ever had one of these prowl the brick streets when they were new. But they are a beauty to behold.
The funny thing about all this is that these guys and their cars are not young. TheyÕre gray and overweight. Their wives look like grandmothers, and probably are. Where I go to see the cars on display, the police drive by slowly to check on the behavior of the group and the admirers. It is pretty funny as the cops are about 1/3 of the age of the car owners. Personally, IÕve not seen anything stronger consumed at this weekly event than really dark ice tea. The car owners have too much at stake to drive fast or to drive under the influence. They didnÕt survive to grow old by being stupid.
Yes, you know what this is about. For a mere $80K to $125K you too can curse the Red Baron and lift off to the Prairie skies in your very own Stearman. The restoration of the Stearman probably makes the old car restoration seem like childÕs play. After all, if you screw-up on the car, you find yourself embarrassed, sitting along the shoulder of the highway. If you screw-up on the Stearman, you get to practice on your crash landing skills. But for clarity, I should note that the Stearman wasnÕt in the skies with the Red Baron. It is post-WWI. It was used primarily as a trainer for WWII pilots, but did see a little combat in odd sorts of way. The Stearman was also used as a crop duster.
Galesburg is lucky to have the opportunity to see the worldÕs largest gathering of Stearman every year. If the sight and sound of these planes flying overhead doesnÕt stir your soul, you need to do a little soul-searching. You may have left it somewhere. There is nothing like flying in a plane that is mostly wood, cloth, and engine, streaking across the tops of corn fields at 80 or so miles per hour. That is, unless you are lucky enough to get a pilot who likes to do acrobatics. I think I rearranged my innards while flying upside down in an open cockpit Stearman. It was thrilling, but a little unsettling. (Roller coasters scare me).
Most of the folks IÕve talked with over the years who own Stearman arenÕt old enough to have flown them as trainers in WWII days. They are younger folks who value the best of the past and the romance of open cockpit biplanes. I have, however, seen and talked with a few older men who did fly them way back when. They came to Galesburg to see them once again and to relive a little of their early lives when they wore a younger manÕs clothes. I am also pleased to report that these generally frail old men were carefully helped into the cockpit for one more ride in a Stearman. My hat goes off to these owners who help fulfill old menÕs dreams to fly again.
Mark your calendar now and start saving some money for the return of the Stearman. There has been a Stearman at the Galesburg fly-in in recent years that will take riders for a fee. It is something you will remember for the rest of your life. What else can I say? What else needs to be said?
Vintage wood boats are probably a small subset of the restoration world. But with metal and fiberglass hulls dominating the world of small boats, there is nothing like the glistening hull of a restored wood boat. Mahogany glistens in the sun and beads the water. It takes the vibration of a 500hp V-8 that rumbles from within. A single brass propeller takes all this power and drives the boat in excess of 70 mph. These vintage wood boats may be hydroplanes or my personal favorite, Gar wood boats that were made in Detroit. Restoration on many of these boats almost amounts to a total rebuild from the power plant to the frame and the wood on the frame.
The Obsession is a good example of a restored Gar wood boat. IÕve seen and admired it for several years now at the Madison, Indiana hydroplane races that will again be held on the 4th of July weekend on the Ohio River. This boat is a wonder to see and it makes your heart beat faster to hear the rumble of the 500 plus hp V-8 that is carefully tucked away. The owners have a web site that you can go to and view the restoration of the Obsession over the years. It is worth the viewing. You can find it on the Internet at http://www.vintageraceboatshop.com/Obsession.htm
Restoring a hydroplane or an old Gar leads you to the next step- vintage racing. And if you are not lucky enough to own one, you can see, and hear, these boats in action. This is the disadvantage of writing for a paper. You cannot hear these boats run in a newspaper article. As they say, ŌYou just have to be there.Ķ
Old steam locomotives have stirred young boysÕ hearts as long as there have been young boys and steam locomotives. I believe that this will continue until one or the other cease to be around. Old steam locomotives bound the young country together. The railroads created new towns and killed old ones. Commerce was at the side of the tracks. Towns brought the tracks to them, or failing that, often moved to the tracks.
The whistle of a steam locomotive is filled with mystery, adventure, and the hope for a better life. Or a new start. It stirs something fundamental; something deep in our primordial memory that predates trains. I donÕt know why. I only know it does.
Young boys, fathers, and grandfathers look forward to climbing into a ratty old passenger car hooked behind a real steam locomotive for a ride to anywhere. It is the trip, not the destination.
But very few can afford to individually restore a steam locomotive or a passenger car. So clubs are formed for the restoration of big trains. Others go to model trains with elaborate settings that may portray their home town and their home town trains of 50 years or more ago.
GalesburgÕs Railroad Days survives on the strength of this fascination; on this fundamental emotional attachment to steam power and what was once the tool that made America one nation.
Mark Your Calendar.
June 25-26. Galesburg Railroad Days
July 1-3 Madison Indiana Hydroplane Races (Vintage boats and unlimited hydroplanes)
September 5-11- 34th National Stearman Fly-in at Galesburg