Wednesday, July 13, 2011

On the Road to the Crosley Meet

Got myself all packed and ready to go for the early flight to Detroit.  I'd opted to fly into the Motor City since it's about as close to Wauseon (about 90 miles) as any major airport, and I have a couple of good friends who live there now.  I decided to fly in a day early to visit them and to check out Detroit.
Richard and Mary were my roommates exactly ten years ago.  We lived in a big warehouse where I kept all my cars and projects inside and they made big, messy, hilarious art projects.  I'd met Richard through the music scene- he was in a killer band called Rik and the Young Rogues - five kids from the burbs who played a particularly snotty brand of garage punk, featuring one guy who cracked a whip on stage.  Richard was also in art school and we ended up hitting it off, especially when I eventually transferred to the same school.  They graduated and moved to New York, but headed back west after a few exhausting months in NYC.  I just happened to have a space in the warehouse at the time, so they landed there for year or so.

These days they live in Detroit - or more properly, outside Detroit - in Birmingham, Michigan.  They both got teaching jobs in the area, so that's where they went.  In true Richard and Mary fashion they met me at the airport with a tambourine and a homemade 'Welcome to Michigan' flag accessorized with pinecones.  I'd been hearing stories of Detroit's decline but I was unprepared for the tour they took me on when we left the airport.  Two words sum it up: abandoned skyscrapers.
The next day Richard drove me around for a few hours, explaining what I was looking at.  One of the most surreal areas was a once-ritzy neighborhood, now reduced to block after block of bare lots and collapsing mansions.  Most of the homes have either burned down or fallen over, with the remaining structures seeming to be headed that way.  Downtown proper is even more depressing, with abandoned, windowless skyscrapers dominating the skyline.
Even odder are the patches of the city that are holding it together.  We stopped by Lafayette Park- a neighborhood completely designed by legendary architect Mies van der Rohe.  Less than a mile from bombed-out sections of the city, Mies' leafy modernist subdivision is incredible, and perfectly kept.  The architect designed a group of connected townhomes, two apartment towers, a school and even a strip mall!  Everything is immaculate.
I was taking pictures and noticed a sports car parked behind a truck in one of the driveways.  Further investigation revealed that it was a TVR.  I was taking a picture when the owner came out- LeRoy had owned the car since new and was just starting to think about selling it.  We chatted about cars for a bit and then we had to get moving.
Richard and Mary drove me out to pick up my rental car at the airport,  and after a quick dinner I headed south on I-75 around 7:30.   By the time I pulled into Wauseon it was just getting dark.  I found the fairgrounds and pulled in, trying to get my bearings.  Even in the dark I could see plenty of Crosleys on trailers or parked next to campers.   I saw a guy near a big RV and asked him where I could set up a tent.  The guy turned out to be the best East Coast engine builder, Barry Seel.

I've talked to Barry many times - he offered a ton of advice when I was in the planning stages of building a hopped-up Fageol motor, even suggesting the perfect cam grind.  Barry just may know more about the Crosley engine than anyone else on the planet.  We talked for a few minutes and he told me a horrifying story about buying a Bandini Torpedo, only to have the seller refuse to turn over the car, and then scrap it out of spite!  That Barry didn't strangle the guy is a testament to his self-control.
Before the conversation got very far I asked if Chuck Koehler had arrived yet, and if he'd brought his new car.  Barry said Chuck was there and pointed to the only car sitting on the show field in the dark.
The Fibersport was there, waiting.
To be continued...

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Oh you brute! Way to make this post a cliffhanger when my #1 interest in your trip report was to see if you were able to meet the Fibersport in person and get the story if you did!

Dean

smitty said...

Here's a neat article about the houses being torn down. I'd like to live for a year in Detroit. There's a couple of staff members here in Saudi Arabia from Detroit. They've both been to Beirut and they compare Detroit to it.

http://www.gq.com/news-politics/big-issues/201105/detroit-renovation

Ol' Man Foster said...

I dunno.. A year seems like a LONG time in Detroit. On the plus side, you might get to see the Gories twice.