Saturday at Village Motors
On Easter Sunday two years ago, my wife Sarah, my Sister In-Law Becky, and Brother In-Law Steve climbed into "Oscar", our 1947 Chevrolet and headed out to the town of Metamora, Illinois for Easter brunch. The sun was shining and the temperature was just right for a trip in the old car to shake off the winter storage blues. We had been out to Metamora during the past few years to visit friends that live out that way. The village is home to the historic Metamora Courthouse, one of only two sites in Illinois where the 16th President practiced law before his rise to the Oval Office. Easter brunch was delicious, and after we got our fill, we headed back home to Peoria on Illinois Route 116. While passing by a repair shop on the way home, I glanced over to my left and noticed a trio of big, round late 40's Chevrolet sedans. Since I can't leave well enough alone, I immediately pulled over for a closer look.
|Oscar, our '47 Chevrolet (left) and the Village Motors Chevrolets (right) on Easter Sunday, 2012.|
The cars were a mix of 1947 and 1948 Chevrolet Stylemaster and Fleetmaster Sport Sedans, and were in various states of assembly. I parked our car, and got out for a closer look at the Chevies. On Easter Sunday, the shop was closed and nobody was there to inquire about the cars, but I took a note of the location and planned to return one day to learn if any of the cars or spare parts were for sale. Looking around that afternoon, part of me was fearful that a junk yard dog would come snapping at our heels or worse. But we strolled around the lot a little bit and admired the weathered iron before heading home. While the cars weren't cherry...they were all fairly solid and the sheet metal and floors appeared to be good on two of them. If nothing else, I thought, this place would be a great source for parts for our '47 Chevrolet when it inevitably comes time to restore it.
With things to do and places to go, we wrapped up our roadside visit and climbed back into the Fleetline for the trip home. Our ride back wasn't as smooth as the ride there. Oscar's 216 six cylinder hiccuped and jerked its way back to Peoria due to a clogged fuel filter, carburetor, and fuel pump. It seemed that rusty grit from a scaley fuel tank had clogged up everything. Not a huge problem. We parked the car until we got a new tank and some other parts to return him to ship shape. After a few months of work, the Chevy was back in action. The first real test of our fuel system restoration was a trip back to Metamora for a cruise-in at the courthouse square. It was Saturday, June 9th, 2012. Oscar made his seasonal debut after our fuel system repairs, and the ride out there was great. No bucking, the car had plenty of power and it shined up nicely! I made the trip solo, and I had a little side trip planned before heading home.
|Oscar next to a '56 Chevy Bel Air Sedan along the Metamora Square on 6/9/12|
"Forty-Seven. I've had a couple of these." said a tall older man with a denim shirt, jeans, and cowboy boots as he walked slowly towards me.
"Yes, I know. It looks like you still have some". I said.
"Oh yeah." he said. "Come on in a minute. Let's talk inside".
I immediately got nervous. I've been to a few of these used car lots where you make small talk and then BAM! The next thing you know, you're in a brown Ford Escort that doesn't run and you have a car note with a 20% interest rate. No, Sir...I wasn't going to fall for any smooth-talking car salesman stuff today...
"I really have to get going, I just wanted to ask if you'd be interested in selling parts off those cars. Sheet metal parts mostly." I replied, thinking I was way too clever to fall for any shenanigans.
With a chuckle, he turned and started to slowly walk back inside the office.
"Come on inside." he laughed, not wanting to put up with a know-it-all kid. After all, I came to him.
I took off my driving hat, pulled my key from the ignition and followed him in.
This would be interesting.
I spent the next hour with Doug Kwasigroh in his Village Motors shop, talking about cars, women, and life in general. Born in Bloomington, Doug said he grew up around cars while working at a service station as a youngster. His first car was a '47 Chevrolet town sedan and he always liked that era of Chevrolet. He told me of his education at Bradley University, where he learned a great deal about mechanical engineering and other subjects. After graduating from Bradley in the early 1960's, he went through some ups and downs trying to find the perfect career. In roughly 1982 he bought Village Motors and setup a nice shop doing repairs, tinkering on old stuff, and selling newer stuff to keep the bills paid. He raised a daughter and a son who went on to become interested in cars, specifically stock cars. Together, they built and raced a competitive series of dirt track cars. His son still races today, and has a tremendous collection of trophies and accolades.
We sat there in the hot & humid shop that Saturday afternoon in June right next to a clean Cutlass Supreme that was in for some minor repair work, and a Monte Carlo that was being detailed to go back on the sale lot. We talked a lot about old cars. It wasn't just about him, though. Doug was interested in me. He looked Oscar over and commented on how complete and original it was. He pointed out the common rust areas, which show on the car and how to repair them. Doug asked me why I liked the old stuff and not the newer 'tuner cars' that were popular with guys my age. He asked where I worked and what other hobbies I had. He asked if I had a wife and kids and if so, were they into cars? He inquired about my education and stressed that learning is a life-long process. He said he was still learning at the age of 70.
While we were talking, Doug went through a few cigarettes. He coughed a lot and said he had been sick recently, but he could still work on cars. I didn't inquire further. Eventually the topic of the Chevies that were parked outside came up, and he brought me back into the shop where a stack of fenders and hoods laid coated in a fresh grey epoxy primer. Doug had acquired all three Chevrolet sedans over a period of several years and wanted to pick through the parts to build one 'good' car. His spare parts stash included some coveted options such as a working GM windshield washer unit, and a seldom-seen vacuum-powered rear window wiper unit. Doug knew the parts alone were worth some money since they were in great shape, but when I asked if he'd part with them he said,
"You know, I'd like to see someone buy all the cars and parts as a package."
The asking price for the package deal was too much for me, and I politely said I had my hands full with the project I've got. Doug didn't pressure me. He tried one last tactic.
"They all run" he said. "Run good, too."
|A herd of turtles outside Village Motors. The Stylemaster to the left was the most complete car there.|
"Hey, I wanna show you something." he said.
He headed over to his desk, cleared off a few papers and coffee cups to reveal a framed picture. He handed it to me and sat down in his chair.
"Here's why I like these cars" he remarked.
The portrait featured a black '47 Chevy Stylemaster Town Sedan, shown in a service bay of a garage. A much younger Doug, sporting coveralls and a smile, posed next to the car. Doug kicked his cowboy boots up and looked to gauge my reaction. I could tell he was a huge Chevy fan. Of all the cars he bought and sold over the years, Chevrolets seemed to be his favorite.
I shook his hand, took his business card, and thanked him for his time. He watched for a moment as I backed the Fleetline out and drove off. The rest of the evening was forgettable. I was mad for not taking better pictures of the cars, but I also wanted to respect him and listen to him intently.
Roughly six months later, I received a phone call from Doug. I didn't remember giving him my phone number, but I didn't mind the follow-up call. He asked if I had given any thought to purchasing his Chevrolet projects. He remained in the same price range and my garage remained full of unfinished projects, so I passed on the cars. He stressed that he wasn't going to likely get around to building a car soon, and really wanted to see them go to someone younger who would appreciate and build it. I respectfully said no, thank you...but I kept it in the back of my mind.
Last week I thought to give him a call. I lost his business card with his phone number on it, so I did a Google search for Village Motors hoping to get his contact information. Instead, I pulled up three obituary notices.
|Doug Kwasigroh Photo Credit: Cynthia Rice|
Douglas Kwasigroh passed away on April 17, 2013 at the age of 71. I won't ever get the chance to pop in and talk to him about old Chevies or the value of a good education. His projects are likely in another's hands today. The Fleetmaster and Stylemaster sedans that he & I talked about are no longer outside, and the service bay is down. In fact, all of Village Motors appears to be closed today. Its no longer a place for a little friendly advice and a few laughs.
The important lesson I learned from my Saturday at Village Motors is to take time to meet the folks who have something to offer. Shake the hands of those who know a thing or two about a hobby or profession you share, and don't be too proud to let them get to know you a little bit, too. All it costs is time. In my 20's, I never would have stopped by an old garage to shoot the breeze with an older mechanic, but now as I approach my mid-30's it just makes sense. I'm less intimidated and more sure of myself in a lot of ways. I could "talk shop" with a man twice my age and we were on the same wavelength.
The old car hobby and its related friendships offer a window into the lives of others who came before us, and can teach younger folks some valuable skills. Doug taught me to slow down, not be in such a hurry, and listen to others. Those tips may just make a person appreciate life, and classic cars, a whole lot more.
I am grateful for meeting Doug, and many other folks are, too. Take Roger Garrett of Bloomington, Illinois. Roger owns a beautiful 1941 Chevrolet Special Deluxe Town Sedan. It graced the cover of the Vintage Chevrolet Club of America's monthly publication Generator & Distributor in April of 2001, and looks great in its Ruby Maroon paint!
Roger wrote a very nice article about his restoration, a project that Doug Kwasigroh was instrumental in helping complete. In 1998, Roger had a restoration shop rebuild the Chevy 216 six cylinder engine only to have major mechanical problems later on. A rebuild job was performed at that time, but it didn't run well and after several attempts to correct some problems, he found Doug's shop and brought the car to him. Doug rebuilt the motor correctly, installed hardened valve seats in the cylinder head, and went through the car's fuel and electical systems to get things dialed in the right way. While the motor was apart, Doug noticed minor oversights that previous machinists didn't catch and corrected them so that Roger could enjoy the '41 just as he planned.
In an email Roger stated:
Doug was a very talented mechanic who knew his old cars. He always got the car to work well...
Sharing knowledge is what this hobby is about. Thanks to Roger for sharing his stories about Doug, and I wish him many happy miles in his Chevrolet.