Tires – Motoring Moment

Today’s tenuous transportation topic is tires. You probably know quite a lot about tires… there are at least 4 to the average car and really necessary for a number of reasons. Depending on your personal auto interest, and the older your car, the more you know. Tires by design and manufacture have greatly improved in the last 100 years.

Self-propelled vehicles began with traditional wagon or buggy wheels and most were hard rubber rimmed. I have never had such a vehicle personally… but there are several in the club. Some years ago Kip Mathews, sometimes VAE member, did and had tire trouble. The Amish came to his rescue I believe. This group still believes in hard rubber and they do great work. I did have a Model “T” once with hard rubber “tires” but that’s another story.

After riding on hard rubber for a fairly short time somebody invented pneumatic tires. There were a couple of experimental flexible wheels tried but the air filled tire won out. From early on there were 3 types of tire “beads” that would allow the tire to be attached to the rim – removable to repair the inner tube or to replace the tire itself.

The 3 types were: plain clincher, quick detachable clincher, and straight side. If you are a Ford, 490 Chevy or Overland person, you are familiar with the clincher rim and “Clincher tire”. The tire in cross section looks like a horseshoe with the ends bent back up. These bent up ends secure themselves in a rim permanently mounted to the wheel. This rim looks like the letter “C” lying on its back. You changed tires and repaired leaks with the one-piece rim/wheel right on the car. At least it was held steady.

In order to be mountable, the plain clincher tire was quite flexible and could be man handled onto and into the rim. The quick detachable clincher tires were hard, not flexible and were supposed to be a lot tougher. With luck they also mounted easier as the outer side of the clincher rim was bent so as to allow two lock rings to fit together to hold the outside tire bead after the tire was slid onto the rim.

The inner bead and rim stayed on as the plain clincher and now all you had to do was get the darn rings into place and quickly get some air into the assembly. If not properly seated, lock rings could (and would) blow off and inflect serious damage. Remember that tire pressure in the old days often ran to 80 pounds or more.

Straight sides came next… thank goodness. These tires looked pretty much like today’s with the tire bead forming just a regular horseshoe shape in cross section. Straight-sided tires needed to fit quite closely into a “U” shaped rim. By now rims were pretty much demountable… and collapsible. The split rim came off the car’s wheel and then folded in on itself to decrease the diameter and allow the straight-sided tire to be easily mounted.

With the tire in place you expanded the rim, which snapped together in a perfect circle – you hoped – and with air you were back in business. All this has passed, however, and today we enjoy the “drop center” rim, a straight-sided tire is started over the rim, which is now the entire wheel as well. The mounted edge falls into the valley of the rim allowing more tire to be available to be stretched over the other side of the rim.

This works great and for the last 75 years has been what we’ve used. More on tire sizes later… and that is another “tired” motoring moment from your old car club.

Rambling Rose

Armond Menard of Oxford, NY (south of Norwich) owned a collection of approximately 70 collector cars and over 200 parts cars. That is until he auctioned them off in September 2002. Armond is known, in part, for his collection of Crosleys. The Crosley was the first production sports car made in the USA between 1939 and 1952. However, this story is not about Mr. Menard and his car collection, although it would make a great story. It is about one very special car and his granddaughter, Lisa Rissberger from Lake Placid.

When Armond decided to divest himself of his collection and as you can imagine, it was a difficult decision in many ways, certain members of his family wanted specific cars. Through several family discussions, it was agreed that the fairest way for all was to create an equal playing field by letting the family bid on the cars they wanted at the auction. Lisa said, “In retrospect, this really was the best way to deal with this.”

As a child, Lisa has fond memories of playing at her grandfather’s business – Menard’s Garage in Oxford. She remembers playing in and around the many different cars and creating make-believe houses in them. Throughout her childhood, there was always one special car to her, the pink and black 1958 Rambler Custom 4-Door Sedan. Lisa believes the attraction is based on the simple fact that pink is her favorite color. As Lisa grew older, her memories are of attending her high school prom in the Rambler and riding in it on her wedding day with her husband Todd. She said, “This is a car I always wanted to own someday.”

The Rambler was a featured car in the national advertisements for the auction and it attracted a great deal of interest, given its outstanding condition. When the bidding for the Rambler began, Lisa was too nervous to bid. Todd bid for her. As they stood next to the car, the bidding was down to them and one other person. Lisa and Todd had a limit. They had scraped together all the discretionary money they had to buy the car. They were sure they were not going to get the car when suddenly the competition between them and the other person ended.

They were successful. Overcome with the emotion of the event, Lisa and other family members broke out in tears at their victory. As Lisa made her way through the crowd, drying her eyes as she moved along, the man bidding against the Rissbergers stopped her and said, “I came here from Indiana just to buy this car. During the bidding, I asked my wife – “Why is that young lady bidding against me?” – The woman behind me, over hearing my comment said that the car was your grand father’s. I stopped bidding at that point.”

The Rambler is a perfect example of a 1958 car in outstanding condition. The seats still have the factory installed plastic covers on them. The interior is so nice, it received an award for best original interior. Lisa is technically the second owner of the car. It was purchased new in Utica. When her grandfather bought it, it was never registered. He always drove it with his dealer plates.

There is a rather nice list of equipment on the car. It includes a push button automatic transmission, AM radio, power brakes, power steering, fog-lights and a feature common to Ramblers of this era, a fully reclining front passenger seat.

The only work that has been done to the car since it was purchased was the installation of a new heater core. This is a task Lisa did herself, much to the surprise and delight of her uncles who still operate the Menard Garage. Spare parts for the Rambler come from a parts car that was part of the sale. Other work will be the installation of seat belt so their son Curtis (6) and daughter Carsyn (2) can ride safely in the back seat. Lisa also needs to determine the correct color of the wheels – pink or black. They are pink now.

The Rambler will be making its trip from Oxford to Lake Placid in June where I’m sure the Rissbergers will make a statement as they cruise the North Country roads. One thing that would make this beauty stand out even more would be a nice wooden boat being towed behind it. This could be a reality.

Todd owns TLC Restorations in Lake Placid. He specializes in classic wooden boat restorations. Until then, Lisa has begun a collection of anything with the name Pink Rambler attached to it. Her first purchase, appropriately, a Pink Rambler Rose Bush.

I hope you enjoyed the preceding article by our special guest author – Gary Wilkinson. Gary is a car enthusiast and collector who writes a weekly column that appears in many local papers in NY and Vermont. Gary would be very happy to meet some of our members and showcase them, our group and our vehicles. You just need to get in touch with him and let him know you are interested. You can reach Gary at 315-682-2315 or 315-447-8396 or by email at

Car Show Preparations

Can you believe that we are half way through March, and that in three short months we will be getting our cars out of the winter abode and dusting off the winter grime? At some point winter seems to never be ending, and spring is just around the corner at lot faster than we can think about it.

Car show committees have been working extremely hard to present even better shows for our participation this year. As members of the VAE, we are extremely lucky to have two wonderful car shows each year, along with all the other events to help us enjoy the old car hobby. We are also fortunate to have two fashion shows each year that express and give examples of times gone past.

Last year, there were 17 participants in the Shelburne show, and expectations are even higher this year. The setting on the Ticonderoga is extremely lovely and elegant, and makes any outfit just that much more special. If you haven’t given it much thought, now is the time to start considering just what you might wear for the era that interests you the most. We went from the early 1900’s to the early 70’s and had lots of fun modeling the fashions. The shows would even by nicer if more of the masculine side would participate. After all, the fashion world did include fashion for the man, and was driven by the auto industry to some extent.

If modeling doesn’t appeal to you, how about becoming a judge. I’m sure that there are many of you out there that have a good eye for color and style. Won’t you join us?

2003 President’s Award

Winner of the 2003 President’s Award for Best Member-Restored Vehicle

As is VAE custom each year the President of the years gets to award a special trophy for a member-restored car that he/she feels is a great restoration… and quite often a car of period that the President is somewhat partial to.

2003’s winner is hereby announced by 2003’s VAE President and in light of the above it may come as a surprise of sorts. Rumor has it that Gael believes that no car younger than he is, is really an “old car”. He has also disparaged some quite respectable marques, especially those with flat head six cylinder engines. This is probably more to tease some specific club members… doesn’t 2004 President Ray dote on those Mopar marvels?

Back to what may be a surprise. 2003’s winning car wasn’t off the assembly line when Gael graduated (yes, he did), from high school. But time has passed and 1957 was an interesting car year. The trophy goes to Gary Sassi of Barre, Vermont for the super restoration of his 1957 Studebaker Golden Hawk. You’ve seen his Stude Speedster and admired its perfection… well the Hawk is even better.

Gary claims that he learned a lot on the speedster to the Hawk’s benefit. Gary’s enthusiasm is contagious and I’m sure that he would welcome you, as he did me, into his garage and workspace and let you see just what kind of concerted effort he invests in his cars.

He does a majority of the work himself and gets a hand with paint, plating and other things that are hard to do in a garage that is actually an extension of his living room. So thanks Gary, congratulations, and a tip of the VAE hat for a great job on a neat car. What’s next?

A British Car Tale

Reference to persons is purely coincidental. Edited and enhanced from Brit Car Week email

Once upon a time, there were three people very much alike. Harry, Jennifer and George. They lived in different parts of the State but shared a common link in that they liked to tinker with the car, spending time at home, have an occasional Bar-B-Q and channel surf the TV or the Web. But, they each knew that something was missing. They were all in the doldrums of life.

After a day’s work, they each drove home in their family type car and would think of what there would be to do when they got home. Each realized the options were somewhat limited, they thought. So, they would decide to have an early supper, take care of the kids, watch some TV and go to bed.

But this day, during this repetitive and rather boring routine, Harry spotted a slick little sports car heading toward him. As it drew nearer, Harry could see the driver was wearing not only a baseball cap turned backwards but also a massive smile on his face. Just about the same time, Jennifer saw a similar car. Neither had seen a car like that in years, actually Harry hadn’t seen one since his military days. “WOW”, they thought to themselves. “That guy looks like he is having the time of his life.” Harry waved as the little car passed and the car’s driver gave him a thumbs-up and a bigger smile. Jennifer did likewise. “Boy, I could sure have fun in a little car like that”, they thought.

Over the next week, both spotted the cars again, but this time they noticed many other little sports cars with women and men drivers. Their drivers looked just as happy as the original fellow they had seen. By now each was starting to get curious. The following week, as luck would have it, Harry spotted four cars at an outdoors restaurant and being a little curious, he decided to stop and talk to the owners. Jennifer saw a similar group the next day and experienced the same curiosity. They stopped in their individual towns and met the car’s drivers and their passengers. Harry and Jennifer wanted to know all kinds of things, like “where can you buy one, what the costs were, were parts available, how to find a good one” and so on.

They learned that there were several British specific car clubs and a club for all makes in the area. Both were invited to attend meetings where they spoke to club members and decided to join the club that was for all makes and two British specific make clubs, one local and the other an international club. They made new friends at the meetings, found books on the car hobby and learned more about British cars. The next project was to locate a car, which Harry found listed in a club newsletter and Jennifer found through one of the members. Harry became a proud “owner” (but, he looked at this as not an ownership but as a historical artifact’s caretaker) and serious participant, as did Jennifer.

Later they learned what got all those little British cars on the road the day they saw the first one. It was Drive Your British Car Week. So now there was no longer any doubt as to what they would find to do after a day’s work and on many weekends by themselves or with family.

Oh yes, George. Well George is still at home after returning from another humdrum day’s work, having had an early dinner he is sitting on the sofa watching TV and thinking about getting ready for bed. Be sure to mark your calendars and tell your friends that the 9th annual Drive Your British Car Week is the week of May 22nd through May 30th, 2004.

Visible Gas Pumps

I came across this old photo recently and it got me to reminiscing about visible gas dispensers. We have all seen them in museums or may have one on display in our own shop or garage. They were the most convenient way to dispense gasoline before the calculating electric pump came into use. Probably not many of our VAE members have been served from one of these tall rugged beauties. I have used these actual pump as I worked as a very young boy at this busy little gas station in my hometown of Hartshorne in southeastern Oklahoma.

This station was across the street from my home and a natural hangout for me, so the owner, a very old and lame man, put me to work whenever I showed up after school and weekends. That was in the 1940s. When I left for Vermont all three pumps were of the old visible gravity flow type. This photo was taken on a return visit in 1951 and one electric pump had been installed in my absence.

The clear glass container on top held 10 gallons and the drill was to replace gas sold by pumping the large handle after each sale as the attendant in the photo is doing. To prevent theft all the pumps were drained back into the underground tanks each night and the pumping handles were padlocked. Of course, we had to pump a total of 30 gallons back up on opening the next morning, which was a good workout.

Numbers to measure the gallons were visible through the glass starting with zero at the top and number 1 through 10 in gallon increments down to the bottom. The most common sale was 5 gallons and a gravity feed hose with nozzle similar to today’s nozzles controlled the flow. You had to keep your eye on the gas level and stop the flow exactly on the marker for the desired number of gallons sold.

During the time I worked there, the price of gas never changed. It was 16 cents for white gas, 17 cents for regular (we called it bronze), and 18 cents for Ethyl. To calculate a sale there was a piece of paper taped to each pump listing the gallons multiplied by price for the attendant and customer to refer to. Speaking of prices, everything was much less in Oklahoma than I found in Vermont. We sold bulk motor oil in those refillable glass bottles with the metal pour spout.

That oil went for 35 cents per quart of 3 for a dollar and many of those old cars would take 3 quarts when they came in. We sold kerosene for 10 cents a gallon and soda pop out of the icebox for a nickel. Other items of interest were that no cash register was used and the attendants carried and made change out of their pockets, as was the norm with the other stations in town.

We were paid daily. The full time attendants were paid one dollar a day and the part timers got 35 cents with free sodas but everyone got a 25 cent bonus for each flat tire repaired. There was very little bookkeeping.

The climate was warm so the lube and oil change rack was an outdoor wooden drive-on ramp on the other side of the building. The war was on and tires were unavailable. To keep the cars on the road amidst frequent blowouts, vulcanizing, reinforcement boots and inner liners were used.

Though only a kid, I became proficient in repairing large blowout holes in tires and inner tubes. Every evening there was a rash of flat tires to fix when customers returned home from work at the bomb and ammunition factory in nearby McAlester. To change a tire many attendants never bothered to remove the wheel from the car. We just jacked it up and with tire irons pried a tire off the wheel and levered the repaired tire or replacement back on. Great time saver.
The majority of our customers were driving Model A Fords, Chevys, Dodges and Plymouths of the 30s and 40s. I never saw a Model T drive in as they went out of favor quickly in the wide open spaces of the West. Antifreeze? We never heard of it. If a rare cold night was expected, cautions people drained their radiators overnight. I never heard of a cracked block due to freezing.

Happily, when I took over my own station in Wells River in 1956 for a 41 1/2 year run, things were a lot more modern. Many of the basics I learned in that old place came in handy and perhaps that’s why I can relate so well to the antique car hobby.

The man in the 1951 photo is Johnny Zelnick who had become owner of the station with his brother known only as “Smiley”. They were both employees when I worked there. The car is my Uncle Earnest’s 1948 Chevy.

Cruisin’ Around Shanghai

Living in Shanghai is simply a hoot! This city can best be described as a combination of Adventureland, Saturday Night Live, and Who Wants to be a Millionaire? It’s the fastest growing city in the world, and playing “catch up” in all the products, services, and lifestyle creature comforts that we as Americans have taken for granted for many years. With all the neat things about Shanghai, what it lacks for a car collector is collector cars, and all the spinoffs that go with our hobby.

Yet, there is still some interesting “car stuff” going on here and we’ll explore some of it in this periodic column. The only way to explain China’s current automobile industry is the word “explosive”. Chinese auto production was up 81% in 2003 from the previous year, and is expected to grow by “only” 52% this year. As Chinese incomes increase, rather dramatically in some cases, the demand for cars has mushroomed. Shanghai is now a city of contrasts, with bicycles as the major mode of transportation now sharing the road with motor scooters, motorcycles, and numerous Chinese and foreign built vehicles. There are many auto assembly plants in China, building both domestic branded as well as foreign brand cars and other vehicles.

In the Shanghai region, both Volkswagen and GM operate facilities. A quick glance at the car scene here, and one immediately notices that probably half the vehicles on the road are VW Santanas, a model I don’t recall seeing in the US. It’s a “tight” 5-passenger vehicle, and compact by American standards. Why so many on the road? Well, first of all when VW was considering a China plant the city of Shanghai went all out to land the plant. “All out” in this case meant the City fathers promising top VW officials that if they chose Shanghai, every taxi in the city would be required to be a Santana! There are 42,500 taxicabs in Shanghai; there are 42,500 Santana taxi’s in Shanghai… well almost. [More on that later.] Added to that is the fact that the Santana is a reasonably well-built vehicle, right sized for a big city like Shanghai, competitively priced and they have become a popular choice for many car buyers as well.

Two models are seen… a 4 door sedan, by far the most popular choice, and a nifty 4 door wagon. Now, why almost all the cabs being Santanas instead of all of them? Well, for years it was a Santana cab, or no cab. But last fall, the Shanghai City Fathers responded to a growing number of Westerners visiting the city, people who, like this writer are rather cramped in the rear cabin of a Santana. As a test, the city is permitting a limited number of small model Mercedes and a few Buick [made by Shanghai GM] taxis to hit the road. To date, I’ve seen two of the cute Mercedes, and one of the Buick cabs. In one of the city’s many efforts to ease the air pollution problem in Shanghai, every single cab in this city is fueled by lp gas… as well as many busses. That’s it for this installment… until next time, keep Crusin’ Shanghai!

Teaching Children to Drive

I’m sure that many of you have far more wonderful and harrowing experiences teaching your children to drive but I would like to tell you ours. Most families seem to go to the nearest shopping centers to let the youngster learn the art of driving a car. Our three daughters had a slightly different training, along with going to the shopping center.

We always seem to have lots and lots of wood to move, both the kind you burn and the kind you build with, and we all had our share of moving it. It’s a great source of conversation when we all get together! One of the ways we moved the endless stacks was with our old one ton Ford truck.

We had a large field that was nice and flat, and was not obstructed with any buildings. We would fill up the old truck, putting the oldest daughter then 12, behind the wheel, and let her “move” the wood. Keeping it in low gear, she had a great time getting that pile of wood from one location to the other. Of course, the move took three times as long, but each one of our three daughters had the opportunity to feel trusted to drive the truck, and we had lots of fun watching.

When it came time for the girls to actually go out on the road, we found that their driving experience behind the wheel of the truck had paid off, and the job of teaching them the rules of the road was far easier. Since the Driving Ed classes were only teaching on automatic cars, we insisted that each daughter learn how to drive a standard shift. They all took that lesson on our 1948 Studebaker column shift car.

Each daughter also had their general maintenance training in the driveway with Dad, learning how to change a tire, check the oil, water and battery. The girls are all good drivers, and now can drive just about anything their husbands set in front of them.

Cylinders – Motoring Moment

One-cylinder cars weren’t unusual. Many great marques began that way – like Cadillac and Olds. Two cylinder cars were a natural follow up. There are a number of both in the club. Three cylinder cars were less common but you can think of a few: Older ones like the Compound, newer ones like the Saab and GEO. There are all kinds of examples of four cylinder cars… and at least one person in the club has a five cylinder Mercedes. The inline six cylinder car has probably been the world’s best… think “cast iron wonder”. And then there are seven cylinders, which we will skip for the moment. Eights are everywhere, inline and “V”… and then there is the nine… or is there? Ford has the ten, BMW and all the oldies have the twelve, and there has been the occasional sixteen. But what about the 7, 9 and 11? Apart from radial engines, which you are probably thinking of right now, you probably can’t identify a car with that number of cylinders.

Today’s Motoring Moment will change that because there was a car using one of those “odd-numbered” engines. The place was Maywood, Illinois and it was 1927. The guy was Durward E. Willis and the vision was a nine cylinder engine. This unusual creation was cast in blocks of three and was timed somewhat independently with a firing order much like a radial engine. In February of 1927 a Chicago laboratory bench tested this departure from the usual and rated it highly. Durward then acquired a Gardner sedan, changed the radiator shell and had a new Willis. He incorporated the Willis Motors Corporation and a full line of Willis cars (all nine cylinder models) were projected… up to $5400 in price. Willis also had plans for three and five cylinder cars ready for future use.

Research in the Standard Catalog of American Cars mentions Willis, his cars and their fate. The Catalog tells us that in 1963 Mr. Willis returned to the market with a three-cylinder car under the corporate name of Cougar Motors. The new sporty car would be the “Cub”. As the Catalog suggests: “production was doubtful”. So, there was a nine cylinder car… sort of a Willis / Gardner. VAE Member Bob Jones had a Gardner that you might remember – a “Radio Special” but it wasn’t a “9”. Now – what about the seven and the eleven? Keep us posted.

Model A Ford Winter Driving

All this cold weather that we’ve been having makes me very thankful for the winter clothing that we now have.

My grandmother told many stories of her driving adventures in the winter months. For some unknown reason my grandfather never got his drivers license until later in life. He was employed as a foreman for the Missisquoi Pulp Mill in Sheldon Springs Vermont, which was 8 miles from their home.

One particularly cold winter, much like we are experiencing this winter, my grandmother had the dubious job of driving him to work mornings. She had a 1928 Model A Ford Roadster, with no heat! Eight miles one way is a long ways to go with no heat in sub zero weather.

As you can imagine, the trip to Sheldon Springs was no piece of cake, and the return trip back was pure misery. Gram had on the standard mode of fashion for the day…dress, stockings, shoes stuffed in stadium boots, and a wool coat with fur collar and gloves. Wool coats were heavy, but didn’t offer much warmth at times. Grandfather wore long-johns, wool pants, flannel shirt, wool socks, wool jacket, wool cap and gloves.

Fingers nearly frozen, it was impossible to grip the wheel, so she stuck her arms through the steering wheel to steer the car, managing to get home before she became a block of ice. Fashion be darned, that one experience was enough for Gram. She started wearing a pair of men’s pants, socks, flannel shirt, and made a pair of three finger mittens from sheep’s skin that would allow her to grip the wheel better.

That very next spring the Model A was traded for a closed car with a heater. If Gram was going to be on the road, she was going to be warm!