I wouldn’t be surprised if TV star Courtney Hansen does show up at my “new” Gunner’s Great Garage building someday. I say this because all the pieces to this project have just been falling into place perfectly. But let’s do the flashback thing to explain what I’m talking about.
A few years ago I heard that Fred and Bob Hansen of Waupaca, Wis., did auto repairs in an old building that had been a Yellowstone Garage. The Yellowstone Trail was an early coast-to-coast highway that ran across the northern part of the United States. Certain garages on the route signed on to be Yellowstone Garages where tourists could stop to get service or repairs.
I wrote an article about the building, which was then called Hansen’s Auto Exchange. Fred and Bob told me that they had information that it had been a dealership for Oaklands and Oldsmobiles. As a Pontiac enthusiast, I was most interested in the Oakland link. Oakland was the parent make of the Pontiac.
Years passed. I retired from Old Cars Weekly and opened Gunner’s Great Garage in Manawa, Wis. It took five years to really get the new business off the ground. My son and I worked alone. Last summer, decided I needed more help. In July, just before the Iola Car Show, I got invited to an old-fashioned ice cream social at Bob Hansen’s home. He actually made the ice cream using a hit-and-miss engine. During the party, he mentioned that he was looking for a job.
Fred and Bob are both car collectors, in addition to mechanics. They also sold used cars and when that business slowed, they decided to close. Fred decided to retire, but Bob was a bit younger and wanted to keep working. By this time they were not selling cars so they took “Auto Exchange” off the name.
Bob Hansen came to work for me right after the 2015 Iola Car Show. One day he mentioned that the old garage was up for sale. I had lost a few restoration jobs because only two or three cars fit in Gunner’s Great Garage. I figured that I could get jobs like those if I had a second location. So, I made Fred and Bob an offer on their building. After thinking about it awhile, they took my offer.
I thought that maybe I had jumped the gun on the purchase, since it was important to me that the building had been an Oakland dealership and I didn’t know that for sure. However, soon after taking possession, I did some research through the Waupaca Historical Society and the Wisconsin Yellowstone Trail Assoc. I found out that a man had purchased the building in 1917 to partner with another man who had Oakland and Oldsmobile franchises. I also found out that the building is pictured in a book about the Yellowstone Trail in Wisconsin.
Soon after buying the building my son and I drove to Las Vegas for the SEMA Show. On the way home, Jesse spent lots of time looking for cars on his Smart Phone so I told him to look for an Oakland for sale. He found a few of them and one was a 1917 Model 34. It was not too far away and, with a budget stretch, it was in my price range. Luckily, I was able to make the deal.
Before I went to look at the Oakland, I met Courtney Hansen for the second time. She was signing autographs at the Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals in Rosemont, Ill. I told her my story about buying Hansen’s Auto Exchange. She said that she might be coming to a car show in Wisconsin next summer. “Maybe I should come see the garage next summer,” she said. “There might be a family connection there.”
Although I kid Fred and Bob that Courtney is their cousin, they don’t think that’s true. However, Hansen’s Auto Exchange was owned by another set of Hansen brothers (unrelated) before Fred and Bob. Kerm and Ev Hansen had a lot of family connections and one day we have to look up Ev and see if there’s any history there that might tie them to Courtney. As I said at the start, the way the pieces on this puzzle have fallen into place, I wouldn’t be surprised.