A midwinter car show

Farm Forum

Enduring our long winters out here on the Northern Plains requires skill and finesse and, at times, a healthy dollop of self-delusion. With our latest blizzard bearing down on us, my wife and I opted to stock up on our store of delusion by attending an indoor car show.

There’s nothing like a roomful of shiny hotrods to take your mind off winter! One glance at the sea of gleaming metal allowed me to pretend, however briefly, that it’s summertime. The shimmering cars growl as they prowl the pavement, flexing their high-octane muscles.

My head was on a swivel as we strolled into the car show.

“Look!” I said to my wife in a tone of voice commonly associated with small boys opening gifts on Christmas morning. “There’s a ’68 Camaro! And there’s a ’71 Roadrunner! And… Whoa! A ’72 Javelin! I haven’t seen one of those in ages!”

“How is it,” asked my wife, “That you can recognize one of those old cars at a glance, but when it comes to interior decorating you can’t tell the difference between mauve and taupe?”

“It’s just that cars were very important to me back when I was in high school. I didn’t have any muscles, so my only hope was that a muscle car might help me get chicks.”

But there was more to it than that. Modern cars are nebulous blobs of aluminum and plastic. It’s difficult to distinguish one make from another, let alone its model year. When I was young, cars changed radically from year to year, acquiring flamboyant tailfins one model year only to lose them the next. Such changes were as dependable as the trees shedding their leaves.

Speaking of tailfins, there was a profusion of ’57 Chevys at the car show. I have a weakness for that particular vintage as it’s the year of my birth. But there were so many ’57 Chevys at this car show, a visitor from outer space might get the impression that this was the most popular vehicle ever made.

There was also a slew of old roadsters. Many of them sported flame paint jobs and had chromed engines that produced more thrust than the space shuttle.

A particular automobile that caught our eyes was a 1931 Dodge Brothers sedan. Its placard explained that it had been purchased new in Bessemer, Michigan by Sheriff Frank J. Erspamer. In April of 1934, Sheriff Erspamer was called in to assist federal agents as they attempted to arrest John Dillinger at the Little Bohemia Lodge in Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin.

Dillinger managed to give the lawmen the slip, living to rob another day. It’s quite possible that the old Dodge had watched as Dillinger slithered off.

The Dodge, which has been beautifully restored, was later used in the filming of the 2008 movie Public Enemies. This means I touched a car that has touched both Dillinger and Depp.

Aside from the plethora of wonderfully restored cars, there were some oddball automobiles that warranted closer scrutiny. An example of such a thing was a homebuilt John Deere hotrod. The original John Deere cab was a nice touch, but I wonder: what size plow could be pulled by a machine that’s powered by a 355 cubic inch V-8 engine?

Another oddity was a 1957 BMW Isetta, a three-wheel, two-person car that had a single front-opening door. Its safety features seemed to include utilizing your knees as a crumple zone.

A couple of so-called “rat rods” were on display. It appears that the only rule for building a rat rod is that there are no rules. One model sat so low, you’d have to dig a hole to in order to enter the cab. Another rat rod employed a beer can — a venerable pull tab, no less — for its radiator overflow.

Among my favorites at the car show was a ruby-red 1959 Cadillac convertible. That thing was absolutely huge! It surpassed the category of mere land yacht and entered into the domain of battleship.

Numerous new automobiles were on display to help jumpstart the car buying juices. But the vehicle I lusted after the most was an ancient pickup truck.

Specifically, it was a 1913 International Harvester Auto Wagon. Its prominent features included tall, wooden-spoked wheels, a dependable starting system (a hand crank) and a roller chain drive train. “This is the one I would like to take home!” I said to my wife.

“Why on earth would you want that? It’s the oldest vehicle here!”

“Yeah, but just look at all that space in the back! Imagine all the chicks it would hold!”

And so I spent our journey home explaining that what I meant was baby chickens.

If you’d like to contact Jerry to do some public speaking, or just to register your comments, you can e-mail him at: jjpcnels@itctel.com