By Jane Myhra
A 1925 Dodge four-door sedan spent 43 years in the corner of a barn before it was returned to running condition as a Father’s Day present last year.
It was presented to Art Schuelke, Jr., of Manawa, Wis., by his five sons in time for the holiday.
“It means a lot,” he said. “This is awesome. It brought tears to my eyes.”
Art recalled purchasing the sedan in 1971 from someone in New London. He and his wife Carol used the Dodge about four years, mostly for trips to Antigo.
Joining them on the road trips were their friends Bob and Cheryl Beyer, Ken and Judy Bartel, Junior and Carolyn Reineck and the late Larry Werth and his wife Diane. “I have many fond memories of those car trips with our friends,” Art said.
Then the 1925 Dodge was put in storage in the 1970s with only 22,000 miles on the odometer. Art had always intended to get it on the road again. “I always loved this old car and never had time for it,” he said.
The idea to get the car running was conceived by Art’s five sons Carl, Scott, Pete, Nick and Mark.
“We thought it would be the neatest thing if we could drive this car to our dad for Father’s Day,” Mark said. “One of the last times we saw this thing was when we found my brothers Nick and Pete locked in it in a shed.”
At that time, Nick and Peter were about eight and 10 years old. “The car has always been sitting around in my shed since I bought the house from my parents,” Mark said. “I just thought it would be cool if it became our family project. Everybody helped.”
The family had assistance from their friend Dave Sarna of Manawa, who taught mechanics at Fox Valley Technical College for 17 years and has also assisted the Old Cars Weekly staff over the years. Prior to that, he ran Sarna’s Service Station with his father for 18 years.
From the start, Sarna expected the worse.
“For the past 43 years, this car was never started, never moved, never ran, never nothing,” he said. “It just sat there.” When they arrived at the shed, they pulled the 91-year-old Dodge to the middle of the floor and got a battery for it.
“We put some oil down the cylinders, connected the battery, pressed down on the starter switch on the floor and the motor spun over like it was run yesterday,” Sarna said.
The next three weeks were spent doing some minor engine repair and freshening up the entire fuel system, which still had 43-year-old gas in it. Sarna also re-worked the ignition system. “We put it all together, turned the key and it started instantly,” he said. “The thing that was really neat and amazing about all this was the car just co-operated every step of the way. The entire electrical system worked perfectly, including every light on the car.” Not too surprising to Sarna was that all four tires were flat. “I aired all of them up just to see what would happen and only one needed to be removed and repaired,” he said.
He said the 1925 Dodge has all of its original tires, paint, interior, wooden spoke wheels, pin striping, etc. “There’s nothing that’s been updated,” Sarna said.
“I thought it was pretty cool to get it running,” said Scott, who drove the car to the family gathering at Cedar Springs and then to his parents’ house. “My favorite thing was giving my mom and dad a ride in it.” Keeping the renovation a secret from their father was easy. Keeping a secret from their mother was impossible. “I found out about it one day when I snuck into the shop to check on my boys,” Carol said. “I knew they were up to something. Artie was laid up or he would have found out about it himself."
Somehow the boys convinced their mother to keep the secret.
“Besides the enjoyment of making this a special Father’s Day for a longtime friend, was seeing some of the simplistic technology that this old car has,” Sarna said. Some of the interesting features of the 1925 Dodge include high and low beam headlamps, a dome lamp and a trip odometer.
“It was a unique feature in a vintage car that we still have today,” Sarna said about the trip odometer.
What impressed him the most was the locking mechanism for the transmission, which was designed to deter theft. A key is used to lock the transmission in neutral, preventing a thief from being able to put the car in gear.
“It is a clever feature,” Sarna said. “It’s a simple theft prevention that is foolproof and doesn’t rely on electronics.”
“I am still amazed at the transmission lock,” said Carl, “and that they can’t do it today.”
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