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Yellowstone Trail Tour day 5

Dave & Bob Get the Oakland Rolling (and yes, she is old enough to smoke)

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Dave Sarna and I wanted to get to Gunner’s Great Garage by 8:30 so he could work on the Oakland engine. Bob Hansen (sen) starts work at that ungodly hour and would be there to help Dave. Bob Buchman was also meeting us at 8:30, as was Bob Hanson (son) of WPAK Radio 106.9 AM in Waupaca, Wis.

Of course, we’d promised to snap a photo with the Oakland and Lucky (the manager) and a few employees from the Plover Comfort Inn in front of the hotel’s Yellowstone Pub. By the time that was accomplished, we were a half hour late getting to the garage in Waupaca, but Dave was pumped to get the 1917 Oakland running.

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Things were already hopping by the time we arrived. The Coffee Clutchers —a hot rod group— were having breakfast and touring a collection nearby the shop. So, we invited them to stop by the garage to enjoy the lunch that the Waupaca Lions were putting on at noon. Our plan was to have Dave and the three Bobs work on the car, before and during the Lions lunch. Debbie Sarna had brought us the good used Oakland rod bearings that Andy Wise, of Ellendale, Delaware ( had quick-mailed to us.

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Bob Buchman and Dave re-shimmed and re-gauged five of the rod bearings with a pretty good size crowd watching them, as if they were entertainers, rather than mechanics. Bob Hansen sanded the bearings that Andy had sent and Bob Hanson organized the rod shims by thickness and ran tools back and forth. The work on the car started at 9 am and wasn’t completed until about 2:45.

Each journal had to be re-shimmed, and on most or all of them, this had to be done several times. The goal was to have the bearings set just right. If they were too loose, the rod would knock; if they were too tight, the engine would turn hard. The crankshaft had survived the Number 3 bearing failure pretty well. It seemed like it was still nice and round. There was a slight depression, but Bob Buchman said, “Heck, the crank is still pretty and that depression will just let more oil in to help the splash oiling system work better.”

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Somewhere in the middle of all the chaos at Gunner’s Great Garage, a shop customer named Larry Obiala showed up to take his 1953 Dodge pickup frame away so he could get it powder coated. Hopefully Larry also got a free brat and bottle of water from the Lions. About this time, I got a call from Chuck at WPAK to do a radio remote interview. It was still a little hectic. Then Greg Stesie of Greg’s Rod Shop and his wife Leah came by. They helped sponsor our radio spots, as did Northern Battery Co., the Appleton Auto Show, the Iola Car Show and the Jefferson Car Show and Swap Meet.

Next I received a surprise phone call from Barney Gaylord of Chicago, who is also known as the MGA Guru ( Barney drives around the country in a 1958 MGA that has about a half million miles on it. Gaylord has been traveling the country for three years putting together a list of shops that repair British cars. He had stopped at the original Gunner’s Great Garage in Manawa. No one was home, so he decided to call me,

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We directed Barney to the Waupaca shop. This was around 2 pm and Dave and the three Bob’s were just about finishing work on the car—at least they thought so. I wasn’t sure if the MGA Guru would arrive in time, but I should not have been worried. Dave attempted to start the Oakland and the battery was low. After a few minutes on the charger didn’t do the trick, Dave decided to push start the Oakland. We had plenty of “helpers” standing around to push it off.

The car started almost immediately and smoked like the mosquito-killing truck that we used to chase around town when we were kids (yes, we survived it!). Dave drove it around the block several times. It was smoking because we had purposely over-filed it with oil. We figured that was a better thing to do with a splash lube system, than to have too little oil. I’m surprised that ho one called the Waupaca Fire Dept. These trips didn’t stop the smoking any, but they did give Barney Gaylord a chance to make it from Manawa to the Waupaca shop.

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By the time Barney arrived, Dave had backed to Oakland into the old service bay (my Yellowstone Garage dates back to 1909, eight years before the Oakland was made). Debbie Sarna noticed oil leaking from the oil pan. It appeared that the machine shop that cleaned the pan in Chippewa Falls on Tuesday had pressure washed it and that loosened up some rust. Not to worry. Bob Buchman made a gasket and used a screw to fix it to the pan and then covered the repair with 5-minute two-part epoxy. Problem solved (for now).

It was 3 pm, two hours later than we wanted to hit the road. We had missed an interview with radio station WDUX at 2 pm, but we asked Debbie Sarna to go there and do that for us. Then, we loaded the car on the trailer and took off. The car was still riding well, but we didn’t wasn’t to drive it on a 4-lane highway. So, we towed it to a spot near Fremont, Wis., and offloaded the car for the ride into Oshkosh. That was a 30-40 mile run along some of the prettiest country back roads in Wisconsin. This was one of the most enjoyable parts of the trip so far, but another high point was to come in Oshkosh.

We arrived at Leon’s Custard in Oshkosh and a small contingent of Lions were there to greet us. One was Wayne Heiman, of the Manawa Lions, who had done so much to make our tour successful. Wayne handled all the Lions Club connections and booked all the hotel rooms for Dave and I. The other was Shirley, of the Oshkosh Lakeshore Lions. Shirley has been blind since she was six months old and is 87 today. She is a wonderful lady who Dave took for a ride in the Oakland. Shirley rewarded him with a $200 donation to the Lions Club camp in Rosholt. This is the charity that gives blind, deaf and disabled children the opportunity to go to summer camp for free!

Dave Sarna and I decided to give Shirley our “Michael J. Dowling Award of the Day.” Dowling is the triple amputee who drove a 1913 Oakland as the first car to cross the Yellowstone Trail in 1913. Dowling used to give speeches to disabled World War I vets and tell them “it’s a good thing I’m not a cripple.” We’re pretty sure that Shirley would tell people she meets, “It’s a good thing I’m not sightless.” Other than the fact that she couldn’t actually see the 100-year-old car, Shirley experienced her ride in the 1917 Oakland to the fullest.

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For more information about the Yellowstone Trail Tour, visit Century For Sight on Facebook.

*** Correction “””

Yesterday I had related a story told to me by John Julias about a Franklin automobile that broke down on the Yellowstone Trail in the early 1920s. It seems that a family had driven the car from New York and were traveling down the modern Julias Dr. past a farm owned by ancestors of Tim Menning, who is a Greenville, Wis. car collector. We originally said the car “broke” and its fenders wound up staying at the Menning far. We were close, but earned no cigar.

John Julias corrected us today. He said that the car ran out of gas and got stuck. The Mennings came with a team of horses and pulled the Franklin to their farm. The owners of the car said they had no money and were heading to Stevens Point, later that day, to have money wired to them. The Mennings gave them some gas used for their agricultural machines and the travelers left their glass wind wings (not fenders) as collateral for the gas. They never came back for their wind wings, which Tim Menning still has today.

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