Sharing an affection for historical relics
Summit County resident Tom Wheeler enjoys classic cars and historical buildings.
“I’m kind of a restoration guy,” he said.
In 2006, Wheeler spotted a 1917 Studebaker Convertible 7-passenger touring car stashed in a barn near Erie. Two years later he purchased the vehicle at a farm auction.
“I worked on restoring it for 3 or 4 years,” he said.
After retiring in 1993, Wheeler relocated to Summit County from the Chicago area.
He served as director of the Summit Historical Society for about 15 years. Prior to moving to Colorado, Wheeler was president of the Northbrook (IL) Historical Society.
He oversaw the restoration of an 1883 roadhouse in the Chicago area while working with the Northbrook group.
“The original estimate was about $600,000, “ he said.
Unfortunately that level of funding was not available so Wheeler said his group took control of the project.
“We learned how to use a lathe and repair plaster,” he explained.
The group completed the project for a fraction of the initial bid Wheeler said.
During his time with the SHS, among other projects, Wheeler spent about five years overseeing repairs on a one-room schoolhouse in Montezuma.
“It was only five months of work, but it took five years from start to end,” he said.
The amount of bureaucratic red tape discouraged his continued involvement.
“They wanted me to start another project,” he explained. “But I said I’m 83 and might not have five more years.”
The Studebakers Drivers Club was formed in 1962 by Harry Barnes, Norah Barnes, Tony Caralla, Howard Kraft, Authur McIntyre, Ronald Nelson and Robert Schaffrath.
Caralla was a mechanic and car dealer in NYC who sold and serviced Studebakers.
“When the Studebaker factories began scaling down, he thought to gather people of like interests,” Zaner explained. The club has an estimated membership of approximately 12,500 members with chapters in the U.S., Canada and Austraila.
Studebaker began manufacturing wagons, carriages and horse-drawn buggies in 1852, and built war components, like cannon carts, for the civil war. In fact President and Mrs. Lincoln rode in a Studebaker carriage to the Ford Theatre the night of his assassination. The company ceased automobile production in the U.S. during 1964 but continued manufacturing cars for two more years in Canada.
Roger Zaner, former president of the Conestoga chapter, said the company made about 800,000 trucks during the World Wars, which were largely imported to Russia. They continued supplying vehicles for military campaigns through the Korean War.
The Conestoga chapter, which gathered in Frisco for its Annual Color Tour, provided an opportunity for Studebaker fans to share stories and repair tips.
Will Sander, from Eaton, offered a unique solution to a vapor lock problem.
“Put grape fruit on the carburetor and a clothes pin on the fuel line,” he suggested.
In addition to about a dozen road-ready Studebakers, Sander owns numerous project cars and parts vehicles.
“We have enough for about 3 or 4 lifetimes,” he laughed.
Jerry Hackman and his wife Valarie Miller Hackman, drove their 1964 Studebaker Hawke Gran Turismo, which the couple purchased in 1985 at a repair shop in Boulder.
“It’s great to have someone recognize that you have a great classic car,” he said. “Everybody seems to have a story about a Studebaker.”
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