I didn’t decide to buy a 1917 Oakland touring car last month. Somehow, the car decided that I should own it. I know this is true, because of how all the pieces fell together. I’ll try to quickly explain what I mean.
In 1972, I bought a ’53 Pontiac sedan for $175 and joined the new Pontiac Oakland Club International (www.poci.org). Oakland was the company that introduced the Pontiac in 1926. From the time I joined the club, I have always dreamed of owning an Oakland.
I became the club’s newsletter editor and that led to me joining the staff of OLD CARS WEEKLY in 1978. That led me into a career writing about cars. Over the years, I helped start the All-American Oakland Chapter of POCI and in 1980 I wrote the 75 Years of Pontiac Oakland book for Crestline Publications. But I never did come to own an Oakland in my 30 years with OCW.
A few years before I retired from OCW, I wrote a story about the old Hansen garage in Waupaca, Wis., not far from OCW headquarters. Car collectors Fred and Bob Hansen repaired cars there. They told me that it housed an Oakland and Oldsmobile dealership in 1917.
In 2008 I retired from OCW and in 2010 I opened a small restoration shop called Gunner’s Great Garage. It was a little too small to hold all the cars that wanted to come in, so I was “kind of” looking for another place to store cars.
In May of 2015, the Hansen brothers closed their business and in July, just after the Iola Car Show (www.iolacarshow.com) Bob Hansen came to work for me. He mentioned that the Hansen garage was for sale. So, on Oct. 15, I bought myself a 1917 Oakland dealership. Now, the Hansen building had also been a Yellowstone Garage. That name was used for garages that signed on to help people traveling the Yellowstone Trail.
After I bought the building, Tim Dye, the curator of the Pontiac Oakland Automotive Museum in Pontiac, Ill., told me that it was an Oakland that blazed the Yellowstone Trail in 1913. I was amazed at the karma that seemed to be flowing at that point.
A few weeks after buying the building, my son Jesse and I drove to the SEMA Show in Las Vegas. On the way home he was playing with his smart phone and I told him to find me a 1917 Oakland for sale. He did! The car was in Illinois and was almost within my price range.
A few weeks later, I went to look at the car, made an offer and bought it. But that’s not quite the end of the karma. When I told Larry Fechter, of the Iola Car Show, that I was getting an Oakland, he said he had a friend that owned one. Then, when I was getting ready to trailer the car home, I stopped at a boat place to buy plastic shrink wrap to wrap the car with. The man there said he had a friend, back home in Nebraska, who owned an Oakland. Yikes!
When we towed the car home, it got dark, so we stopped and got a hotel in Madison, Wis. As we walked in, a young boy was walking out with his grandma. He took one look at me with my white hair and beard, and one look at the Oakland on the trailer and said, “Look Nana, Santa’s car!”
In the morning we checked the load over and I inadvertently left my soft suitcase on the tongue of the trailer. It had both my Nikon cameras and my iPad in it. We drove 80 miles to Plainfield, Wis. There we saw a straight axle Nova for sale on a used car lot and stopped to take photos. I told Jesse to get my camera in the suitcase in the back seat. He said the suitcase wasn’t there. We looked on the tongue of the trailer and there it was!
Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m usually not that lucky. I’m sure that it was some force coming down from the Oakland that kept my bag from blowing off the trailer, never to be seen again. About an hour later, we unloaded the 1917 Oakland “Sensible Six” touring car into the building that had been an Oakland dealership in 1917.