Monday, October 7, 2013

Report: 2013 West Coast Crosley Club Meet in Sutter Creek

Hard to believe it's been two weeks since the annual West Coast regional meet - it already seems like ancient history, kinda the way it is the week after Christmas.

This was kind of a weird meet.  We'd planned on going to Morro Bay this year to keep the norcal/socal (well, central cal) balance, but after months of research we couldn't find an appropriate site in that area.  So, club Prez Rick Alexander asked me if the same Sutter Creek site as last year was available - it was, so back we went.  That's OK, it's a great site for the meet - I just don't want people to burn out on it.
Another thing that made the meet odd was the absence of Mike Bainter, one of the club's founders and an indefatigable Crosley nut who has only missed one other meet in 27 years.   It turned out that the date conflicted with his High School reunion - of which he was the scheduled MC - so he was in Clear Lake, Iowa as we Crosleyed through the Gold Country.

Part III of weirdness was that this was the first meet in a long time that I didn't bring a Crosley.  I've been buried in work and house projects (regular readers may have noticed that my blog posts have all but stopped lately) and I just couldn't get any of the cars unearthed from storage in time for the meet.  It was ridiculous that the show was 50 miles from my house, yet I couldn't get a car there, but the truth is that I was scrambling just to get ME there on time!
I did manage to arrive early enough on Friday to help Rick assemble registration packets which included hot-off-the-press copies of the new Tin Block Times which I'd barely gotten finished in time.  We had the packets done for the meet-and-greet, and wow, what a gathering!  This was probably the most people I've ever seen at the Friday potluck.  As always, Friday is a great time to reconnect with people I don't talk to nearly enough, and there were several folks on hand I hadn't seen in years, so it was super fun.  And there were quite a few new people I'd never met in person before, all of whom were really nice.
As usual, we gravitated out to the parking lot to check out the assorted cars, and I noticed that there weren't as many Crosleys on hand as there had been the year before.  Of course part of that was that the Liebherr family alone had brought FIVE cars last year, and this time it was just Dale and Sherri and their '49 wagon - which they had driven solo from Minden to the meet.   I also couldn't help noticing that ominous clouds were gathering to the west.
I was out the door by 7AM and a light drizzle had already coated the parking lot meet site by the time we got there to start setting up.  Luckily we'd brought a bunch of Easy-ups that we thought we'd use as sun shades, but they were great for keeping the occasional drops off the registration table and raffle items.  From the look of things, sunburn would be the least of our worries.
I was floored by how much stuff people brought for the swap meet - it was by far the largest I've ever seen at a regional meet.  One benefit of all the house projects I've been doing lately is that as I've moved Crosley parts out of my way for months I've realized exactly how much I've squirreled away over the years.  That realization is how I managed to NOT load up on swap meet goodies like NOS fenders, spare gauges, wheels, complete engines, Hot Shot headlight buckets, Braje parts... you name it, it was probably there.  I couldn't say no to a vintage Crosley license plate frame and a $5 Crosley engine block.
Cars started rolling in about 8AM, and it soon became clear that this was going to be the year of the Farm-O-Road.  Crosley's oddball farm implement was rare from the start - it's believed that less than 500 were made - and they are rarely seen, even in Crosley circles.  By 9AM we had four of them lined up in the lot!
A brand new Nevada member named Reed brought the very original F-O-R he'd bought off Ebay a few months back - an amazing time capsule with a dump bed.  My friend Nick Shelley brought the custom Farm-O-Road that had been in his family since the sixties - he'd floored me last year when he casually mentioned that his Uncle had a Crosley in the barn!   Of course Mike and Robin Stoner brought their beautiful F-O-R, always a contender for Best Crosley at the show.   They bring it in the back of a huge truck and it's hair-raising watching Mike back it down the spindly little ramps.

The star of the show was Bob Chase's Farm-O-Road-based firetruck - a special-order vehicle that came from the factory equipped to fight fires in tight spaces.  Aerojet's Sacto headquarters ordered one, and it stayed in service until it was retired circa 1970.  Fire Captain Bob Chase got it in 1971 but only recently completed a full restoration.   He took the fire engine to the national Crosley meet in Wauseon, Ohio this year and swept the awards, including 'Best of Show.'   I don't think I'm spoiling any drama by saying it swept our awards too - it's an amazing, amazing restoration and is very likely the only one of its kind built by Crosley.
Considering the weather, we had a pretty good turnout - about 15 cars - well, vehicles, since the Crosley-powered forklift isn't technically a car - and there were four more cars that started out but didn't make it:  Skorpion owner Glen Brynsvold's tow vehicle lost a fuel pump on the way to the meet from San Jose; Mike Blackburn's '51 Crosley panel lost ITS fuel pump about five miles from the meet - he'd hauled it all the way from San Diego, but he didn't have time to get the car back on the trailer and then over to Sutter Creek - he ended up taking a taxi to get around;  Marty Stein's Siata was loaded up in the trailer in Jackson, but he wasn't comfortable bringing out an open car in the rain;  and, there was a mystery station wagon on a trailer - a project car - that never left the hotel parking lot.  We never did figure out who owned it.  If it hadn't been for bad fuel pumps and rain we'd have had a killer turnout!
We all eyed the grey skies as we had lunch and ran through the raffle.  It sprinkled here and there, but we stayed dry for the most part.  The rain may have kept some cars out of the meet, but we ended up with a lot of members in attendance, and a lot of raffle stuff, which is great since it's the biggest fundraiser for the club every year.  Marty Stein and I huddled in the back, checking the weather report and scheming on what to do about the Cruise.
After the uproar over last year's 'fast and furious' Crosley Cruise, Marty was determined to find a more mellow route for this year's trip.  He'd explored backroads surrounding Sutter Creek and had come up with a scenic 10 mile drive that went through the tiny town of Amador City and then wound back to Sutter Creek on one lane country roads.  Liv and I went up a few weeks ago and the three of us drove the route - I gave it the official 'Crosley-friendly' thumbs up.
The raffle wrapped up at about 2PM, and Marty and I hemmed and hawed about whether or not we should attempt the Cruise.  And then, the decision was made for us.  It DUMPED.  The clouds that had been sprinkling suddenly let go, pouring rain.  A wind whipped up at the same time and almost everyone in the lot just scattered.  People struggled to get cars on trailers and anyone not moving a car huddled under the remaining Easy-ups, watching the parking lot start to flood.  The Stoners were having a heck of a time getting their Farm-O-Road back on the truck when someone had the idea of walking an Easy-up over to them.  Four of us each grabbed a corner and moved the tent over the Stoners so they'd be covered as they got the car situated on the truck.  It worked like a giant umbrella, but I wished we'd thought of it a little earlier since they were totally soaked by the time we got there.
I got back to the hotel before 3PM, meaning I had three hours to kill before the banquet.  Liv and her sister had come up to the Meet with me, but they had gone shopping just as the raffle wrapped up.  I decided to kill time before the banquet checking out some of the local second hand stores, and I found a 1935 Spicy Detective pulp magazine, one of the rarest - and raciest - pulps of the era.  I remembered Spicy Detective being an expensive title back when I was collecting comics in the '80s and '90s, but the internet has changed the value of so many things that I wasn't sure what something like that would be worth these days.  I flipped through it, marveling at the drawings of topless women being whipped by masked men and figured it had to be worth more than the $5 asking price.  I'm glad I decided to pick it up: I put it on Ebay the day I got home and it just sold for $237!
We held the banquet at a local institution: Teresa's Place in Jackson.  Despite the rain, people were in high spirits and the general sense was that it had been a really fun meet.  I was relieved - after such a great meet last year I was worried that Sutter Creek II might be a big letdown, but that didn't seem to be the case, even with the ridiculous weather.

It was nice to chat with several new members, including two who had inherited Crosleys their parents had bought new or near-new! I'd spoken with both of them on the phone before but it was nice to put faces to the names.  Paula Whitney's dad had bought his Crosley new, drove it for about five years and then did what he did with all of his cars eventually: parked it in his garage when he got a new car.  There it sat for over 50 years, until she moved it to her own garage; she and her husband have never restored a car, but they hope to get it running again soon.  Mark Beauchamp's story is more bittersweet: his mom's Crosley was parked in the barn when she died in 1962, when he was just nine years old.  Amazingly, he still has the car - and a color photo of it, showing it nearly new - although 50 years in a barn has been hard on his Crosley.  He was incredibly enthusiastic and is already working on the restoration - he is gung ho to be driving it at the next meet.  Both couples were very sweet and it was really nice to meet them in person.
I also had a nice talk with Dale Liebherr - maybe the most Crosley-obsessed person in the whole West Coast Club.  Dale not only thinks nothing of driving a Crosley across the Sierra, he also races one at Bonneville and has a side business building or rebuilding anything Crosley.  He's hardcore.

As we chatted, he mentioned a concern: had I noticed how old the average Crosley Club member was?

I couldn't help it, I laughed.  The truth is that West Coast Crosley Club membership has gotten quite a bit younger since I joined in 1997.   When I joined, almost every member of the club remembered Crosleys being brand new - most of them had owned Crosleys back in the forties or fifties.  One member, Bob Heinze, had actually been a Crosley dealer!  In '97 I was probably one of only a few members who had been born after Crosley halted production; now, many, if not most, of our club members are younger than their Crosleys.
I had offered that info as a reassurance to Dale that the club isn't exactly heading off into the sunset, but as I looked around the banquet hall, it really hit me how many of the old time guys were gone.   Frank Bell, Nick Brajevich, Gordon Becher, Bob Carson, Dez Telmont, Dick and Ed Scanlan, and a lot more.... all gone.

Talking to Dale it suddenly struck me that the paradigm had shifted. When I first got into Crosleys, most of the people I knew that were into them had owned one back when Crosleys were new, or nearly new.  Now, many club members got into them because their parents had owned a Crosley.
Of course things change, and I think it's great that new people are discovering Crosleys - obviously I don't remember Crosleys being new cars either, so I was once that same 'newbie.'  Still, there is always a melancholy aspect to the end of an era, and it hit me that we're approaching a time where no one will remember buying a brand new Crosley off the lot, or watching #19 win at Sebring, or the day that Crosley announced that it was shutting down.

Sad, strange, but.. normal.  Things change, and the world spins, and we all have to make room for the next generations - that's the nature of existence and that's the way it always will be.  But still weird.


bkrsdoz said...

Great pisc Tim. Thanks for sharing with those on the "other coast".

nick shelley said...

The meet was an adventure. FarmORoads galore. Swingin' in the rain.