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Enthusiast of the Month: Rod Rice

[ December 2003 ]

Rod Rice 2003 Hopefully our readers have followed the monthly “Big E” (E for enthusiasm as in the VAE) awards and have enjoyed remembering or meeting ojust a few of the outstanding people that have made our club the super organization that we all enjoy. All awarded are deserving… and many others are as well, but there can be no disputing this month’s winner.

From founding father to dependable cheerleader, this month’s winner tops any list. To find out “who” and “why” read now what Founder and First VAE President Ken Gypson has to say about our Enthusiast of the Month, Year, Decade, Golden Anniversary and hopefully for life.

Ken writes:

“As we go through life we, of course, meet and get to know many individuals. Some that in all honesty we could do without and others that make you glad knowing them and make life pleasurable. Happily, there are also those who, in knowing them, become extra special and close friends.

When Anne and I moved to Vermont – my taking a job with the now long defunct Burlington Daily News and Vermont Sunday News; we of course, severed geographic ties with the Automobilists of the Upper Hudson Valley. One day when seeking to sell some display advertising space to a concern I somehow got introduced to a local automobile enthusiast who happened to be there.

After all these years I can’t recall the details of how it all came about, but it was to become the meeting of one of those extra special individuals.

As time passed and the friendship grew, the most interesting events began to unfold. One of the first, of course, was this gentleman’s help getting a birthday party organized by inviting fellow automobile enthusiasts. As most know, the party gave birth to the VAE. This camaraderie, naturally paved the way for even greater indulgence in the hobby.

Immersion in the hobby is bound to get one involved in all kinds of goings on – frustrating, humorous, expensive, interesting (to say the least) and rewarding – all to be shared with fellow enthusiasts. The gentleman I noted earlier and who became “extra special” had a keen sense of humor. When sometimes I would be deep in trying to sort out a problem on the Franklin, the silence would be broken by this gentleman proclaiming “Glad to see you doing something even if it’s wrong”.

As time passed I got blamed for being the one that got him interested in British machinery. Noting the Brit entanglement, one evening our family dined with the gentleman and his family. It was in the middle of winter and after dinner the kids were bedded down for a nap. Being a dutiful father I ventured out to warm up the Hillman Minx.

The Minx had a pull cable to engage the starter… so I pulled the knob on the facia (Brit for dashboard) and lo and behold, the cable just kept coming out! Our gentleman (smart too) despite the sub-zero weather got things hooked back up and soon we were able to head home.

Handling the fledgling VAE as its first President offered many challenges and fortunately this gentleman was always at hand to help give advice and step up to any given task. Every club has need for a newsletter. Our gentleman helped recruit the needed workers and spent many hours at the Daily News offices to put together the printed communications. (At this point I’ve got to add in reference to the newsletter – “You’ve come a long way baby”).

This gentleman had a bit of land and buildings in Starksboro. During one winter he wanted to “check” things there so off we went – I knew snow could get deep – but that deep?! It took so long just to navigate in and out of the territory that we needed nourishment. Finding a local shop open we regained our spirit eating Fig Newtons. It’s the one time in my life I’ve been able to stomach them but our gentleman relished them! One happening that clearly shows the mettle of this man began one evening…

Once again we were there for dinner when a phone call came from a mutual friend. It seems the friend had spotted a vehicle in a Vergennes commercial car shop that he believed was one that our gentleman had purchased – but was supposed to be still with the seller and to be picked up later. This vehicle was not one that could be called “mint” by even the slickest used car salesman but this was a situation that demanded action.

Rapidly collecting spares that might be needed, our gentleman, the mutual friend and I headed for Vergennes. It seems that one of those individuals we could do without had told a “cock and bull” story to the seller and had the Vergennes garage retrieve it–bringing it to the garage where our mutual friend had spotted it.

Arriving at the garage our (honest) gentleman tried to convince the garage proprietor that it was his car – not the fellow who had given him the order to tow it in. The proprietor was not about to agree with our gentleman but during the ongoing discussion feverish work on the vehicle was in progress. The proprietor finally went charging out noting he was going to get the gendarmes! With all quickly in order and our gentleman at the helm it was like the green flag dropped for “go”.

Naturally, nothing like this could take place unless the weather was bad. It was raining real hard, but our intrepid gentleman put on his leather helmet and goggles and headed for back roads. This vehicle had no top and if I recall correctly, no doors. It really was a parts car, period! We followed to provide some light for navigation. The sight from our dry comfortable seats was something to behold. Here, a picture would be worth a thousand words. I never knew so many back (and muddy) roads existed.

Finally our gentleman came to a friend’s farm – pulled in and tucked it behind a barn. We found out later that there was a search for our gentleman by the gendarmes – but obviously to no avail. There were many, many other times and events that could be recounted but it would need more space than Wheel Tracks can provide. The events described here, as with the unwritten ones, have a very special meaning because of sharing them with our gentleman.

He is a true enthusiast having served the VAE very well over the years and is extra special in every other way. I, of course, am talking about none other than Rod Rice.”

Lots of other members could share many interesting and fun things about Rod. Doris Bailey (Burlington’s first commercial lady automobile mechanic – story later) is a neighbor of the Rice Autoworks and offers the following:

“To me, Rod Rice has always been the quintessential automobile enthusiast. Over many years he has acquired a number of wonderful cars, from a 1913 Stevens-Duryea Phaeton (my favorite) to the 1954 MG-TF and including his redoubtable 1933 Harley. Being a good, careful mechanic, he has maintained his collection well. If you talk with Rod about your own automotive trials and triumphs, he will always bring a fund of relevant information or an anecdote pertaining to your particular vehicle. Our members are very grateful to both Rod and Ken Gypson for creating the Vermont Automobile Enthusiasts in the format that has endured til today.”

Take a tip from Doris and when given the chance to talk with Rod do so. He is at many VAE activities and is knowledgeable, interesting and has a great sense of humor. And now from all the members, officers, and board let us join Ken and Doris, and with three cheers and one cheer more, award our 50th Year “Biggest E” Award to our friend and founder, Rod Rice. We really mean it.

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