1931 Buick Series 91

Editor’s note….The B&W picture of the body, on the front page, was taken during a visit to the Auto Shoppe in June of 2011. It was a bit of a shock when I walked into Bill’s garage for this story. I knew I was going to see something very nice but the reality was unbelievable! I hope the rest of the club will see this beautiful Buick, in real-life, someday. 

From what you see to the left… To the “Buick Beauty” above…. With just two flicks of Bill Billado’s fingers! Well, maybe not just 2-flicks of Bill’s fingers…. 

Bill Billado’s Buick project really started, some 40 to 45 years ago. Dale Lake was a VAE member from the early 50s. He lived in the house he was born in, on a mountain road in Ripton, not far from Middlebury, VT. Over the years, Mr. Lake had accumulated a good number of old vehicles in and around his barns, across the road from his home. One of those vehicles was Bill’s 1931 Series 91 Buick (sitting outside). Dale Lake’s VAE titles back then was “Mr. Buick”. 

In a 2003 Wheel Tracks column, Gail Boardman writes about Dale Lake and quotes Bill Billado…….. 

“As time passed, things changed in Dale’s remote neighborhood. Folks from “down-country” started buying up parcels of the beautiful acreage and when in sufficient numbers, they decided that they were not impressed with Mr. Lake’s hobby interest, so the battle began. As you can surmise, Dale was not the victor in this legal scrap.” 

The story goes on to describe a VAE gathering where Mr. Lake made a “tearful plea for the membership to ’come and get ’em’ before the crusher deadline arrives. Bill described the summer where every single weekend, good and bad weather, the gang was at Dale’s place, competing and negotiating for his “Old Iron”. The gang included Bill, Tom Beebe, Larry Johnson, Doug Kelly, Roy Martin, Kip Matthews, Tom McHugh, Rod Rice, Gardner Spencer, Ray Unsworth, Al Ward, Ed Welch, Clark Wright, and probably others. Gail’s column describes a side benefit for the “gang” that summer was Dale Lake’s story telling and tips on caring for old vehicles. Mr. Lake always drove old vehicles, some that might not be pretty to look at, but they were all in tip-top mechanical condition. Bill said Dale Lake’s property was cleared of “old Iron” when the gang was finished. Gail Boardman’s 2003 Wheel Tracks column was written after Mr. Lake’s passing. 

Bill Billado

The next period of the Buick’s history was Bill Billado’s description of its ride north, from Ripton. Tom McHugh had purchased the Buick from Dale and a few of his friends had helped him load the many parts and pieces of the Buick onto a trailer. Bill writes…… 

“It was so fragile that it was necessary to tie the rotted wood body to the chassis with rope before setting out on the trip north on the back roads (fewer cops) to Burlington. The car made it all the way to Charlotte (just north of Mt.Philo) when the web of rope called it quits. All hell had broken loose with 4 doors and the rest of the body panels spilling out all over the road. The crew consisting of myself, Tom, Tom’s brother Joe, Clark Wright and Kip Matthews managed to re-load the pieces, haphazardly, back on to the chassis and we then re-tied the whole mess. We decided at that juncture to take the car to my place in Shelburne (without wife’s approval). The chassis was dragged into the woods and the body pieces were then transported to Tom’s place. The car then did a Rip Van Winkle number until many years later.” 

Bill says, to this day, some great memories come back every time he passes that area near Mt. Philo, the day the Buick was spread onto the roadway. 

After many years with part of the car at Tom McHughs house and the rest in Bill’s woods, Tom asked Bill if he would like to take ownership of the Buick. That is when the restoration phase began. 

1931 Buick Series 91

General Motors in the Port Elizabeth plant in South Africa had reconfigured one Series 91 Buick into a “dual-cowl phaeton in 1930 and that is what Bill decided he would like to do to his ‘31. The only difference is theirs was based on the 6-cylinder engine and Bill’s is based on the newer 1931 straight-8 model. 

He drew one eighth scale drawings of his dual-cowl idea to see what it would look like, then began the project. Fourteen inches was added to the frame and the body was shortened by 1/4 of an inch to accommodate the “close couple” rear seat area. He said there were too many great businesses involved to list, that helped him create the Buick that we see today, but one key business was the Auto Shoppe in South Burlington. 

The level of detail in this automobile is amazing, and we doubt there is not a detail or measurement that Bill can not give you from memory today. 

Standard Catalog of American Cars 1805-1942

There were 7,853 Series 91 Buicks built in 1931. They weigh 4340 pounds and cost $4340 (over seven times the cost of a Model A Ford). 

* In-line 8-cylinders 
* Overhead valves 
* Cast iron block 
* 3.31x 5 bore & stroke 
* 344.8 CID 
* Compression ratio– 4.5to 1 
* 104 HP @ 2800RPM 
* Main bearing-5 
* Mechanical valve lifters 
* Marvel Carburator 
* 3F/1R sliding gear transmission 
*Rear-end ratio 
* Double dry-plate clutch 

The Shafer 8 Buick in 1931 qualified in the Indy 500 and came in 12th place. 

Fix Your Old Starter

Guest W. Jones this month shows you how to….. 

The starter motor is heavy, sturdy and unlikely to get much attention, but a faulty one will be a real headache. Often located in the depths of the engine bay, making it hard to access even in a workshop, it’s not the sort of component that you want to be trying to remove and dismantle at the roadside. There are two types of starter motors: inertia and pre-engaged. Inertia units are common to most 1960s (and earlier) classics, and work by spinning a Bendix gear that drives itself up the main shaft and engages with the ring gear. If it doesn’t engage, you’ll hear a distinctive metallic grating sound – it cranks the ring gear around. As the engine fires, the excess speed forces the Bendix gear out and a spring re-turns it home. 

Pre-engaged starters are more sophisticated, with a solenoid that pushes the Bendix to engage with the ring gear, before another solenoid supplies power to the starter and gets it to turn over. We’re focusing on the inertia version here, but the procedure is largely similar for either variant. With a tear-down, a cleaning and inspection, plus a fresh set of bushings and brushes, your starter should be good to crank away for years to come. 

First take off the brush cover plate and pry the brush spring clips from their posts in the brush cage. Two brushes will be connected to the backplate and another pair to the coil windings. Undo the nuts from the electrical connection tower and make a note of any insulator collars for reassembly. 

Remove the two long bolts on the rear of the starter and both cover plates and casing should come away from the arma-ture, which will be secured to the front plate. Be sure to mark with a prick punch for reassembly. Take it apart carefully and make a note of the number and location of any shims, thrust washers or nylon collars that come out with the shaft. 

Compress the Bendix spring using grips and pry out the retaining circlip and locating pin. The assembly should slide off, but may have a Woodruff key that can fall out. Note the order of assembly for later. The armature should now be removable through the front plate. Thoroughly clean off any grease. 

Inspect the condition of the insulation on the coil windings, which should be intact and free from moisture or corrosion. A specialist can re-varnish the windings if needed. The pole shoes around the coil should be clean and rust-free, and can be bead-blasted, but take care not to damage the windings. 

If there’s any movement between the armature shaft and the bushings, then the latter need to be replaced. Carefully drive out the old bushings with a socket that’s roughly the same size. Soak the new ones in oil for 24 hours before gently pressing them in with a vice. Ensure that the shaft spins freely in the new bushings. 

Using emery paper, clean the surface of both the winding ‘pack’ (the shiny steel area towards the center of image left) and the commutator ring (to the right). Spinning them in a lathe is best, but be careful not to take off more than light surface corrosion. Clear the end casings of any grease or oil. 

Brushes often have a maximum wear mark, typically about 1/3 inch deep. They need to be unsoldered from the terminal post, with the brushes often paired. They’re identical, but ‘earth’ brushes usually go on the end casing and don’t need to be insulated, while the ‘field’ coil brushes are on the main casing. 

Carefully inspect the Bendix gear. It’s a wearable item (made from mild steel, unlike the hardened flywheel ring gear), but the teeth should all be intact. You can clean worn edges on a grinder, but replacement is best. 

Spring Anxiety

It’s that time of year again, when I feel overwhelmed with chores. This happens every year about this time. What few spring cleaning chores I feel I need to do in the house always have to wait until mud season is over. 

Muddy boots and muddy dogs make it difficult to accomplish much in the house and I usually want to wait ‘til I’m not running the wood stove 24/7. So, I put these housecleaning projects on the back burner and go back to my book. The problem with that is, once mud season is over, I wander outdoors and here is where I am overwhelmed. The yard is a mess, with leaves that never got taken care of, thanks to the oak trees that don’t drop their leaves until I’ve put the rakes, etc., away and little branches that have come down when the wind blew. 

Then there are the ruts from vehicles driving over soft spots and leaving a nice mess on the lawn. There is the remainder of the wood on the back porch that needs to be moved so I can put the furniture back on the porch, but I can’t do that until the wood wagon gets welded or the manure is removed from the back of the truck. Can’t do that until the lawn dries up a bit more. The weather becomes a factor. We get four inches of snow and the wood stove is back in use. The snow then melts but the lawn, once again, is too wet to drive over. On a warm sunny day I’ll start to notice all the things that need doing…another list to start. 

Clean gutters, reseed places that got dug up because of the snow plowing, rake stones that are on the lawn by the side of the road, repair things, paint things, replace things. 

The list goes on and on. Is the lawn mower ready for mowing? Does my little tiller start? Is the tire flat on my garden cart? Are my garden tools sharp? 

Do I start bringing in the bird feeders (bears)? Snow tires taken off? Suddenly the spring housecleaning chores get crossed off the list. They can wait until next year. Again. 

Then, one day I notice the colts foot along the road is in bloom and I start looking for the dutchman’s breeches. A neighbor stops by and tells me that her daffodils are ready to bloom and I discover the trillium in bloom. 

My wandering around outside often finds me in the old chair down in front of the barn where I’ll sit while organizing my thoughts. This is where I meet neighbors out walking and enjoying those early warm sunny days and everyone’s dogs are out wading in the pond and puddles. If I can cross one thing off one of my lists, no matter how small, that makes my day. My spring season anxiety diminishes and everything starts looking a little better. 

The mud on the couch from the dog’s feet will dry and get vacuumed . 

No big deal. 

1967 Plymouth Belvedere II Convertible

A new addition in the family of Angle and Jeff Vos. One of 1552 Belvedere II Convertibles now lives in St. Albans, Vermont.

Jeff Vos 1967 Plymouth Belvedere II Convertible

You can see the pride in Jeff Vos’ face anytime he mentions his ‘67 Belvedere. Most likely, when he was growing up in the North East Kingdom of Vermont, this red convertible was on his mind.

After many years as a carpenter and his present career with his own house inspection business, he finally owns one. Thanks to the Hemmings publication, he found the rust-free Plymouth in Florida.

Chrysler made the Belvedere from 1954 to 1970. The Belvedere name was first used for a new hardtop body style in the Plymouth Cranbrook line for the 1951 model year. In 1954 the Belvedere replaced the Cranbrook as the top trim and became a full model line with sedans, station wagons and convertible body styles. The Belvedere continued as Plymouth’s full-sized car until 1965, when it became an intermediate, and was replaced after the 1970 model year by the Satellite, a name originally used for the top-trim level Belvederes. Jeff’s Belvedere is a II. The Belvedere I was the lower sub-model in 1967 and the next two up from Jeff’s was the Satellite and the high performance GTX added just that year.

1967 Plymouth Belvedere II engine bay

When first meeting Jeff’s Plymouth, especially if the engine is running, “high performance” is what you hear. Most likely because the 440 engine is telling you “it is ready to go! The smaller engine the car came out of the factory with, was replaced by the former owner, along with the normal carb and exhaust additions that come with a major change like that.

Jeff’s understanding is the Florida owner made a really good decision when he decided to sell the vehicle, but a very unfortunate outcome came from it. The carburator and intake manifold was replaced to better match the engine.

During the inspection that Jeff commissioned, the car performed wonderfully, and the decision was made to purchase it and have it shipped to St Albans. During the unloading in St Albans, the car’s engine started to show signs there was something wrong. When Jeff took the car to an engine shop, the first thing they did was take the oil filter off and the problem was found. The engine had been destroyed because someone had not removed a cloth rag in the manifold when they installed the new carburetor. If you have been part of discussions among VAEers over the years, you will hear similar stories of close calls. One story comes to mind of a mouse nest that was swallowed by an engine.

Jeff’s Plymouth is fine now and better than ever. The engine has been rebuilt by one of the top shops in Vermont. While he was at it, Jeff decided to add power steering and front disc brakes. So, the Belvedere Con-ertible that he has dreamed about is now in his garage and purring.

1967 Plymouth Belvedere II Convertible tail
1967 Plymouth Belvedere ad

The pilot episode for the television show
Adam-12 featured a 1967 Belvedere as the standard LAPD police cruiser.
Belvederes were used in police service from the 1960s to the early 1970s, when they were replaced by the Plymouth Gran Fury. They were prominent in both the LAPD and New York Police Department.

It uses the Plymouth B-body platform, 3120 pounds, 116 inch Wheelbase, 203.4 inches long, the 440RB 7.2L engine produces 375 HP at 4400 RPMs.
New price $2695

Rebuilding Brake Calipers

Years ago I would routinely rebuild brake calipers. Caliper rebuild kits seemed to approach the cost of purchasing a rebuilt caliper. For decades I would routinely purchase rebuilt calipers and exchange my old caliper as a core.

Over the past few years, I have had rebuilt calipers fail, and I have been less than impressed with the quality of the rebuilds. I have noticed an increase in quality in the past year, but I have also noticed a large price increase with this increase in quality.

With rebuild kits easily and inexpensively available on line, I have gone back to rebuilding my own calipers. Rockauto has both rebuild kits and new pistons for very reasonable prices. This has become more necessary with a drastic reduction in availability of rebuilt calipers. Most of my Saab calipers are no longer available, either as a rebuilt or a new unit.

To rebuild a caliper, I remove it, clean it, wire brush it, remove the piston and let it soak in a bucket of “Evap-O-Rust” for a day or so. If the piston is frozen, often I can coax it out by pumping the brake pedal. To remove a frozen piston on a caliper that is off the vehicle I have used a grease gun threaded in to the hose hole on the caliper.

Once the caliper is clean and rust free, I paint it. For a bare cast iron look, I use a lacquer paint called “Cast Blast.” It looks just like bare cast iron, but it won’t rust.

I have been very lucky with the condition of the bore. It has been years since I have had a bore that was so rusty it wouldn’t clean up with a cylinder hone.

Once the caliper is painted and honed, it is time to reassemble it. If the piston is scratched or rusty, it must be replaced. I use a thin smear of red brake hydraulic grease on the piston and the seal to prevent damage to the new seal. Sometimes the dust boot can be a bit tricky to install. Most often they are either held in place with a metal ring, or by the piston itself. If held in place with the piston, it needs to be installed before the piston is installed.
The piston should slide in easily. I have a handy tool to push the piston in. I lube the slides and the pins with synthetic caliper lube. Always replace the rubber hose, and use a little never seize on the bleeder screw and the hose threads.

This and That

It’s May – yeah! “April showers bring May flowers” and, hopefully, a lot of old “normal” for all of us.

Did you know that phrase, according to George Latimer Apperson’s “Dictionary of Proverbs,” can be traced back to an 1886 saying “March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers”?

But if you do a little more sleuthing, some say the phrase originated in the United Kingdom or Ireland where the month of April, as we know, lends itself to rainy, cool weather which pushes back the arrival of the many spring flowers we so look forward to seeing.

Then, even more digging reveals that a poet named Thomas Tusser in the 1500s wrote “Sweet April showers do spring May flowers,” about looking on the bright side of things at life in general. And haven’t we all earned that bright side of life now?!

Life in general this past year brought us the “COVID 19,” a take-off of the “Freshman 15,” synonymous with a person’s first year of college weight gain. Well, it seems to be true if you read WebMD, which polled 1,000 people, and their very unscientific results showed people who ended up working from home were way too close to the cupboards and all those tasty snacks inside.

Those same people, in order to comply with restrictions, stopped going to the gym, ordered takeout at an unprecedented rate but also used their kitchens for its intended purpose: making/cooking three meals a day as compared to the on-the-go lifestyle of a quick or nothing breakfast and lunch.

Many have taken their gym memberships for granted as a way of keeping the weight off, but if we went back to the “olden days” of expending energy, we could come up with a list of things in our everyday lives that helped us keep moving more, such as……….

We don’t get up to answer the phone in the kitchen because everyone has their cell phones locked to the palm of their hands.

How about when we go out to pick up that pizza, we push the button to the garage door instead of manually raising and lowering it. And if you want to change the channel on the boob tube? Just keep that remote handy so you don’t have to get out of your Barcalounger (for you young people, that’s a brand of a really comfy recliner).
Need ice in that tall glass of lemonade? Just slip the glass under the spout of the ice maker on your fridge door. You don’t even have to push the lever; that sensor does all the work. No more getting the ice cube tray out, cracking the tray, and then having to refill it with water and then taking it back to the freezer.

A bicycle ride? Those eBikes will set you back $1200+, but you won’t break a sweat.

Does that lawn need mowing? Just hop on your John Deere and it’s done!

And one more for good measure: Raking up your leaves or sweeping the grass off your driveway just got easier with the Dewalt DCBL722P1 20V MAX XR Lithium-Ion Brushless Handheld Cordless Blower Kit because Santa Claus came through this past Christmas. I am so looking forward to using it any day now!

Are you one of the COVID 19 gainers? I’m proud to say I lost weight this past year. So, what direction will you take?

1905 Orient Buckboard Engine

I am finally running again! Some say it has been sixty years. Others say closer to 85 years. 

Good Morning…. I think this is called “first person”, when it comes to writing style. Well, this a little different and I am calling it “first engine” and I will be telling you this story. 

I was built in 1905, in Waltham, Massachusetts, one of around 2500 built from 1902 through 1907. I produce 4 HP and since I push only 525 pounds, I can go a fast of 35MPH. 

My owner is Gary and Nancy Olney of Derby Line in northern Vermont. Gary’s dad, Harry, found me in the 1950s, in a barn, in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. I spent many years in that barn with a Studebaker that was 6 years younger than me. My memories of the years before Mr. Olney found me, are very fuzzy. 

I do know, I did not start out life on the 1906 body that is waiting for my installation in Gary’s barn, because my exhaust is different from the ’06s. Theirs point toward the right and mine shoots straight back. We know the body is a 1906, because of the controls. I also know I have not run in a long while, because I have found I had a very rough life in the old-days. 

A while back, Mr. Olney made a deal with a restoration shop in East Fairfield, Vermont that is run byMr. Dennis Dodd, and you would not believe what he found. My cylinder space that my one piston was in, was egg-shaped! That is the main reason, Mr. Dodd believes, I had not run, since at least the 1930s or 40s, because my compression could be nothing more than zero in this condition. When Mr. Dodd finished with me, I now have a compression of 84 pounds, not bad huh? 

My back-side

My connecting rod was twisted and bent, and my piston was broken into pieces. My exhaust valve was shot and the seat needed to be bored out completely and replaced. I am now sporting a Caterpillar valve with a brand new seat and feeling very macho! All of my bearings were bad and have been replaced with new ones made of bronze. It was scary, but a shop by the name of RPM, was able to bore the egg-shape out of my cylinder and Mr. Rick, at RPM, found a 1940s Dodge cylinder, and new rings that fits me perfectly. Mr. Dodd did have to rework the piston a bit. The skirt had to be cut off and the wrist pin needed to be relocated a little lower because the piston was not going up high enough. 

My head was warped and that got fixed. I have two balanced flywheels and guess what…I was way out of balance and my main pins were toast. After some mill work and some time in a special jig made just for me, my balance is now perfect. I have a brand new push rod so the fuel and exhaust can work the way they are supposed to. And, speaking about fuel, my old carburator is now in a box. It never worked good even when it was new and after many hours, Mr. Dodd decided to put on a really nice Schebler carb, I now purr like a kitten. 

Mr. Dodd balanced the face of my transmission real nice. Someone had repaired the disc at one time and made me jump a lot when I was going down the road. About the only thing I had going for me was my timer. A little cleaning and adjusting, and it was ready to go! 


This is my timer. Someone forgot to put on my brand new cover that Mr. Dodd made from a big block of aluminum. 

There is a story from my fuzzy past, when a jeweler in Nova Scotia owned me. They say he was a very pious man, but would use lots of swear words while getting me started. I had lots of problems even back then. All I need today is a tickle on my new carburator and a half turn of the crank, and I am ready to go to work.

I would like to thank Gary Olney for sending me to the shop, and his wife Nancy for her patience (not with me, but with her husband). Mr. Rick Paya at RPM for his professional attention and Mr. Dodd for his not giving up on me. A gent by the name of Skip Minor was also at the other end of the phone line many times when Mr. Dodd had trouble figuring me out. Skip is a master at motor cycle engines and that is basically what I am. I will see you in the movies. 

The Dymaxion Car

From Dave’s guest this month, Don Tenerowicz 

The Dymaxion car was designed by American inventor Buckminster Fuller during the Great Depression and featured prominently at Chicago’s 1933/1934 World’s Fair. Fuller built three experimental prototypes with naval architect Starling Burgess – using donated money, as well as a family inheritance. This was the ground-taxiing phase of a vehicle that might one day be designed to fly, land and drive. 

The Dymaxion’s aerodynamic bodywork was designed for increased fuel efficiency and top speed Its platform featured a lightweight hinged chassis, rear-mounted V8 engine, front-wheel drive, and three wheels. With steering via its third wheel at the rear (capable of 90° steering lock), the vehicle could steer itself in a tight circle, often causing a sensation. 

Fuller noted severe limitations in its handling, especially at high speed or in high wind, due to its rear-wheel steering (highly unsuitable for anything but low speeds) The limited understanding of the effects of lift and turbulence on automobile bodies in that era, allowing only trained staff to drive the car. Shortly after its launch, a prototype crashed after being hit by another car, killing the Dymaxion’s driver. Subsequent investigations exonerated the prototype. 

Despite courting publicity and the interest of auto manufacturers, Fuller used his inheritance to finish the second and third prototypes, selling all three, and dissolving Dymaxion Corporation. One of the three original prototypes survives, and two semi-faithful replicas have recently been constructed. 

Editor’s note….. Don Tenerowicz also sends Wheel Tracks the “Trivia Column” each month that appears on page 14. He recently sent this short message along with the photo to the right….. 

“I am enjoying life after successful heart surgery. (I was) Transported by Sky Health from St Francis Hospital in Hartford CT to North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, LI, NY.” 

It has been a little while since he had his helicopter ride. He is doing fine today, like he says, he enjoys life a bit more now. It’s a heck of a way of getting a ride on this big beautiful flying machine!! 

What a difference a year makes

It is hard to believe, but it has been a year since COVID-19 reared its ugly head and put us in lockdown. Though I think it was around several months before that, we were made aware of it, and during that time of ignorant bliss, were totally naïve of the “train” that was speeding at us and what damage we were about to witness. 

Even if I had been told what was coming, I do not think I would have had a clue how to prepare. I wonder if I would have ‘stocked up’ on toilet paper! Probably not! So, guess I for one, would be in the same spot I am now. 

What a year it has been. Gary and I have not put more than 30 miles a week on my car. The year before, we put at least 500 miles a week going to our grandson’s basketball games. I now try to shop once every week or week and half. Before, I would run to the store almost everyday for something. I tend to make lists now and plan for meals, so I do not run out or come up lacking when preparing meals. 

I had picked up my mail when it struck my fancy but now I go about 4:00 in the afternoon when I am more apt to have the post office to myself, at that time of day. 

“In the old days”, the family gathered for holidays, birthdays and just plain gathered. This year is the year for Zoom. My daughters-in-law are good about setting that up. Last year I cooked, baked and cleaned for those get-togethers but this year not so much. When I do cook or bake (no cleaning), I would fill my long-lost pie basket with a meal and leave it outside the door of a single friend of mine. 

We were able to see everyone’s face back then, and this year there is almost always a mask covering it. I remember over the years seeing people, mostly Asian, with masks and thinking how odd it looked and wondering if they were embarrassed to wear them. Gary, who spent 2 years in Japan, says that masks were worn out of respect for others, when the wearer had a cold or something, that might be given to someone else. Just a way of life for them. This year I must admit I have become a mask vigilante. I have not taken up telling people to put on a mask, but my eyes have! 

I can hardly wait to be able to meet people and HUG them. I want to go out for breakfast where we used to go and meet friends and sit and talk, laugh and yes, HUG! 

Fred Webster 1921– 2021

fred webster

Fred Webster was just a few days from a drive-by birthday party, he would have been 100 years old when he died on January 17th 2021. Most of his years he resided in the Coventry, VT farmhouse where he was born. 

Fred leaves his wife Vivian and five sons and daughters, three of his children predeceased him. For many years, Fred taught vocational agriculture in high schools, mostly in Northern Vermont. 

fred webster woodstove

Fred’s life was a mixture of hardship and humor, the humor always kept his glass half full. He loved throwing humor at his guests. While heading out the door one day with a guest, he grabbed his wife’s shoes that were sitting by the door. Walking off the porch, the guest asked him why he had his wife’s shoes in his hands. Fred explained by saying, “Well, did you see that little pile of money on the kitchen table? I know it will be there when I get back because she can’t go anywhere without shoes”. Next was Fred’s great joy, watching his guest’s face processing his comment. 

Fred’s college long distance running record held for many years after he graduated from UVM in the 1940’s. Dancing and especially clogging was also a passion of his. In fact, he met his wife Vivian at a dance in Quebec, a match made in heaven, he would say. 

fred webster

His life made a small turn when he retired from teaching at 65 years old. He decided to start collecting antique farm equipment after seeing many pieces rotting in farm pastures. He was concerned the history would be lost if someone didn’t do something, he decided it would be him. From Canada to Nebraska, he started bringing old farm machinery onto his Coventry hill farm, until the buildings were full. Then he and his son, Dan, started tearing down old structures wherever they could find them and hauling the material home. Soon, there was 80,000 square feet of storage, and the hunt for antique farm machinery continued. There are hay presses, tedders, mowers, plows, harrows and corn pickers, all horse drawn. Snow rollers, wagons, rakes, seeders, manure spreaders, cultivators, reapers and the list goes on and on. He has the buggy he used, to go to grade school and even the sleigh his father, Percy, used to court his Mom, Hazel. When he more or less filled every nook and cranny of his barns he started building full sized stagecoaches, 7 or 8 of them while in his nineties. 

We will all miss Fred. We will all remember him and know by his example, that life does not end when we retire. In many ways, it is a bright, clean slate when we retire. Fred has proven this to us, beyond a doubt. 

This feature article was recently published for the U.S. American Legion…… 

Mr. Fred Webster, US Navy 1944-1945 

Have you ever heard about an organization by the name of SACO, relative to WWll? 

This 99-year-old gentleman pictured left was one of 2500 SACO Navy and Marine personnel during the war. He is Mr. Fred Webster and lives in the Northeast Kingdom. During a recent conversation he mentioned that he had been in the Navy during WWll. He said he had never been on a Navy ship accept to get to China, and back, in 1944 and 1945. Asked what he did in China, he had very little for a reply, accept to say, “just study these four letters, S-A-C-O”. This from a man who loves to talk. 

So, the “study” began…….. SACO stands for Sino-American Special Technical Cooperative Organization created in 1942 and a treaty signed by China and the U.S. was signed the same year. The beginning purpose for the treaty was to have accurate weather forecasts for U.S. operations in the Pacific. If we knew the weather in China, we would have an idea what weather would be happening in the Pacific, for our operations against Japan. 

A bit of history….. In 1942, China had been in a civil war for over 30 years. Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Army against Mao Tse-tung’s Communist army. The Japanese had very little opposition from this un-industrialized country that had very little remaining energy or resources to put up much of a fight. The Japanese Army basically had no problem occupying the eastern one-third of China, and some say, would have taken over the complete country, if they had not brought the United States into the war by bombing Pearl Harbor in 1941. 

The SACO treaty was signed with the nationalists government and at its height, these “weather stations (camps) covered over 1700 miles of the China coast, all behind the Japanese’s lines. These 2500 Americans were totally immersed with the Chinese Nationalist Army and had a highly respected reputation. They were sometimes called the “Rice Paddy Navy” and if more honor was needed, they were also called the “What-the-Hell Gang”

It was not long, after the weather stations were in place and successfully operating, that other tasks were added to the “Rice Paddy Navy”. Scouting Japanese activity, demolition squads, advising and training Chinese soldiers, rescuing downed American flyers and intercepting enemy radio traffic soon became part of their operations. A few Americans scattered among the Chinese Army along the China coast from North Korea to Vietnam. Mr. Fred Webster was one or these Americans.