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2013 Horseless Carriage National Convention & Tour

February, 2013

Santa Maria, CA

(Special thanks to Carol Hogland, Gil Fitzhugh, Marilyn Balduff
Gil Klecan, Laura Hurley and Michelle Onsoien for sharing their photos)

(Special thanks Gil Fitzhugh for writing this recap of the Convemtion & Tour)


     An Easterner's Introduction to California Touring

     I recently attended the HCCA National Convention and Tour in Santa Maria, CA. Like other visitors from the east, I was a back seat rider all week. Here is a summary of the week's activities, and my impressions.

     Santa Maria is a small city. Although the very comfortable hotel is quite centrally located, traffic was light and getting in and out in early cars was pretty easy. Trailer parking was a couple of blocks away, but several folks left their cars in the hotel parking lot all night, to the joy of other hotel guests and passers-by.

Saturday there was a short (34-mile) shakedown tour through some pretty countryside. We visited a small aviation museum at the local airport. The featured attraction was a beautifully restored and fully airworthy Fleet biplane that never comes out to play. Those of us with pilot's licenses wanted to give it some exercise; think of how sorry you feel for a pristine brass car that never gets out on the road. There was also a 5/8-scale replica of a P-38 Lightning that looked like a hoot to fly. My hosts were Cary and Fran Stubbles, who let me ride in their 1913 Cole, a powerful and comfortable touring car. At the welcome banquet that evening, there was a round robin discussion of the early days of HCCA touring by Herb Singe the Elder, Red Ladner, Con Fletcher, and John Meyer III.

Sunday was the first full day of touring. We went 90 miles. The first destination was Scott Grundfor's restoration shop, where he specializes in Mercedes-Benz 300SL gullwings and roadsters. Culture shock: I told a California participant I'd like to live at Scott's place, which is at the end of an isolated dirt road in a beautiful canyon. She gave me a pitying look and said the place is a wildfire trap there's no back way out of the canyon. Lunch was at long-time landmark Madonna Inn. It attracts ladies en masse to the men's room! They want to see the rock waterfall that serves as a urinal! After lunch we went to Robin Onsoien's restoration shop, specializing in Pierce-Arrows, Rolls-Royces and other exotica; to Steve Huntzinger's motorcycle restoration shop, the goodies in which include an Excelsior that Steve rode coast-to-coast; and, for the ladies, a luffa (or loofah) farm with both local and imported bath products. These three places, though close together, were too small to accommodate us all at once, so there were three different routes. This gave us the pleasure of seeing other brass cars coming toward us as we rotated among the destinations. My hostess for this day was Donna Jones in her pristine 1914 Ford roadster with a pickup bed in back.

      That night was the last meeting of the old board and the first meeting of the new board. Retiring board members are Bill Balduff, Larry Hoagland, President Mike Yeakel, and Board Chairman and Past President Richard Cutler. That, folks, is a lot of institutional memory walking out the door. New members Kathie Conrad, Bob Ladd, Chris Paulsen, and Rob Roark (absent due to illness) were welcomed. New officers are President Bill Ottemann, Vice President Bill Carpenter, and Secretary Carl Pate; Karl Darby is keeping the Treasurer's post.

Monday's tour was 83 miles to Solvang, a town settled by Danish immigrants who wanted to preserve their language and culture in a warmer climate. Danes must be smarter than Swedes, who went to Minnesota and froze their tails off. We visited Ken Kelly's private collection of mostly Lionel trains, with many rare accessories in the home and quite a large working layout in the garden. The local historical society is closed Mondays, but some of us were lucky and caught the attention of the director who was working that day and let us in. The very impressive carriage collection alone was well worth the visit. We also visited a miniature horse farm cute critters, almost small enough to be house pets, and quite docile, but they still sound and smell like horses. The scenery on Foxen Canyon Road was superb. I saw it from the back of Dan and Diane Seeman's 1909 2-cylinder Buick. Boy, have they got that car tweaked! When Dan opened it up, we passed a lot of cars, many of them uphill! We restrained ourselves from stopping at the many wineries; if we'd had a sample at each, we wouldn't be sober yet! That night we were treated to seminars by Brassworks on the construction and repair of radiators, and to restoration tips from Bill Ottemann, Art Wilson, and Dan Seeman. The ladies learned about antique napkin rings from Blan Klecan.

Tuesday threatened rain, so many tourists drove the 71-mile route in modern cars. I was fortunate to ride in Ron and Liz Danzie's big, fast, comfortable 1915 six-cylinder Buick with full side curtains. The first stop was a butterfly preserve where monarchs spend the winter; they fly over from a higher and colder part of the state. They hang from tree branches in bundles, like huge bunches of grapes, keeping the ones on the inside warm. Monarchs are mostly left alone, since they're toxic to birds, and the birds seem to know it. We drove on to visit a couple of commercial piers, where we could walk out into the harbors. One harbor had a raft full of fat seals; the biggest was barking at the others to try to achieve dominance. Why did it remind me of our board meeting? The final destination was a town park in Arroyo Grande, where a band was playing for us. It finally started to rain then, but not very hard or very long (sez he, comfortably ensconced behind side curtains). That evening we enjoyed Alternate Hobby Night at the hotel.

Wednesday, the last day, began with Regional Group spokesmen telling us their touring plans for the year. Our tour was only 72 miles, so we could get back for the President's reception and farewell banquet. The destination was a restored Spanish mission with an impressive adobe church and informative visitors' center. A huge longhorn steer looked ferocious but proved friendly. My ride was in Jim and Jean Boyden's 1913 Oakland, an unmolested century-old barn find that was written up in the Gazette a few years ago. Jim has it running very strongly, but there are still some issues. A massive radiator leak put us on the trouble truck, operated by Mac MacPherson, who was kept quite busy all week; Mac's day job is Executive Director of the Horseless Carriage Foundation.

     The President's reception and banquet were marked by excellent hors d'oeuvres, astoundingly well-prepared main courses, a very good band, and the sight of old car nuts all cleaned up and dressed up after a week of touring. The club's highest honor, the Marian Welch award, went to Jerry Chase, who accepted it via video and telephone from Disney World in Florida, where he and Joyce had taken their family.

     Many thanks to Bill and Anne Ottemann, who put on this tour; to the many drivers who welcomed convention-goers into their cars; to the folks who gave presentations and worked the hospitality room and sold club merchandise; and to the MacPhersons for schlepping kaput cars. I often put on a snowmobile suit and take an antique car for a short ride on a cold winter day, but this is the first time I've toured for a week in the dead of winter when the sun sets before 5:30, in generally comfortable temperatures. This was a great way to meet new car guys, see a part of the country I wouldn't otherwise get to tour, and ride in cars I'll probably never own. Many of us east-coasters look forward to welcoming our western friends into back seats when our touring weather arrives.

Now, let's hear it for Spring!

     Gil Fitzhugh the Elder (whose trailer was still in snow when he got home)