By John Gunnell
Looking like a cross between the Headless Horseman’s ghost coach and a conveyance for Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show, George Skorohod’s 1922 Model T Ford tow truck coughed to life with a “putt, putt-putt, putt-putt-putt” rhythm, then took its place to receive a Yellow Ribbon award at the Milwaukee Masterpiece Concours d’Elegance.
The yellow ribbon stuck on the Ford’s tall, straight windshield indicated that Skorohod had won a Premier Award for the most original vehicle at the concours. So, he set the choke, worked the Flivver’s three pedals and got underway. Shaking and rattling like only a Model T can, the “rescue truck” moved a few more feet towards the announcer’s podium where the award was handed to Skorohod.
Skorohod and his Model T came all the way from Lincoln, Neb., to participate in the Milwaukee venue. As he approached the crowd at the trophy stand, Skorohod wondered what Tony Wirka would have thought about all the commotion.
Wirka had been a mechanic in Rescue, Neb., a village of tiny proportion that has since become a ghost town. From a one-pump filling station and repair shop, Wirka fixed broken-down cars, some of which were delivered via his homemade tow truck. Car shows were not on Wirka’s radar back then.
Skorohod purchased the truck 25 years ago at an estate auction. “It was a three-day auction and the truck was the last damn thing to sell,” Skorohod recalled. “I went there just to buy it and it took me three days to make the purchase. It was cold.” Skorohod got the truck running and decided to leave everything else just the way it was. “I kept it all original,” he noted. “I had other tow trucks, but I thought that this was an awful unique machine.”
Skorohod owns and operates Skorohod Service, a surviving full-service gas station in Lincoln. He has seven other tow trucks. Since the service station at 6236 Vine Street opened in 1967, few people have stopped to buy fuel, purchase a snack or get their car fixed without shooting the breeze with Skorohod. Local residents who drive by without stopping usually hear Skorohod whistle loudly and wave them into the station, where the tow truck is kept.
According to Skorohod, the late “Speedy” Bill Smith of Speedway Motors in Lincoln wanted the old tow truck in his museum. Speedway Motors today is one of the largest auto parts catalog houses in the nation, and Skorohod and Smith had known each other since 1958.
“Bill wanted my truck because it comes from and was actually built in Nebraska,” Skorohod said. “He didn’t care if it was homemade.”
Like other Model T's, the car has a 177-cid four-cylinder flathead engine that produces 20 hp. It is perched on a 124-inch wheelbase chassis and weighs about 1,500 lbs. The manually operated wrecker unit is completely homemade and incorporates a draw bar made from an old automobile front axle with a variety of fixtures that are designed to be used for towing different cars. After Wirka died in 1989, Skorohod waited for an opportunity to buy the truck.
“We purchased it from his son at the auction,” said Skorohod. “His son is over 78 years old himself. We went to see him a couple of weeks ago and he gave us a little more of the story about it — a story that tells what towing was like in the old days when Tony Wirka was hired to do a job for the railroad.”
According to Skorohod, the mechanic had to back the truck onto a trestle that was 6 feet in the air while sticking his head out a little window on the left side to see what was behind him. The railroad wanted him to lift heavy cement blocks, so he had to run a cable down through an eye and raise the blocks with the cable. The blocks were so heavy that two railroad workers with big, heavy overalls had to bend themselves over the front fenders and lean far forward to keep the front end of the tow truck from lifting up from the load at the rear.
“I’d like to have been there to see that,” Skorohod said. “(Wirka) was up on the trestle and could hardly step out of his truck to get onto the trestle, yet he was somehow able to turn the crank to wind in the cable.” Amazingly, the truck still looks like it did on the day it lifted the cement blocks.
“When we took it to the Masterpiece, people gathered around it taking pictures,” Skorohod recalled with a smile. “I never would have thought that many people would appreciate its history.”
Skorohod doesn’t take the tow truck to many shows, but he had a similar experience at a show organized by a church about three weeks earlier. “They had about 130 cars and they gave each vehicle a number and each person at the show got a ticket on which they wrote the number of their favorite vehicle,” he explained. “Believe it or not, they only had about five trophies and our truck won one for being the Peoples’ Choice vehicle. We were really pleased.”
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