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Skip Schweitzer

Skip Schweitzer
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Skip Schweitzer, of Mantua, can be described from early on in life as an avid outdoorsman and old car restorer and aficionado. He comes from a long line of great lakes fishermen and hunters. He is a taxidermist and a retired psychologist. His grandfather Charles, a machinist and fisherman who fed his family with fish during the Great Depression, was one of the original auto restorers at the Thompson Auto Museum, now the Crawford Auto Aviation Museum. Skip learned to hunt, fish and restore cars from his father Roy and learned the value and appreciation of antique automobiles from his grandfather. Skip has, over the years, restored upwards of 25 automobiles including many Fords, Studebakers, Buicks, Jeeps and VWs. Skip has written extensively on automobiles and outdoors for several newspapers, magazines and auto publications this past 20 years. His current antique automobiles include a 1930 Ford Model “A”, and a 1970 Volkswagen Cabriolet. Skip’s most frequent bylines are, Outdoors With Skip, and The Old Road.

How far back can you remember into your childhood?  I’m guessing that most people can’t remember much before 4 years old.  I’ve read that approximately 4 years of age is somewhat of a threshold of actively recalled memory experiences. This is not to say that there aren’t occasional flashback experiences—dreams and visual recalls.  Some of them are often strange and seemingly unrelated to general life themes.  For example, I remember a scene in our apartment, from which we moved ‘long about 1949, wherein I wanted some more milk and my mother showing me an almost empty milk bottle saying “the rest is for your Father’s coffee”.( Yes, I’m sure we could psychoanalyze that one!!) Certainly unpleasant repressed experiences are somehow retained on an unconscious level. Pleasant things are likewise often retained as an aura or overall good feeling.   I surely can’t remember much prior to four years of age but I do have a sort of flashback memory in the context of automobiles. How odd!  Does this mean that automobiles are somehow genetically programmed into me?  If you buy Darwin’s theory of evolution (being of a scientific background I certainly do!) then it is certainly possible and more than likely so.   Hey, generations of birds seem to automatically be programmed to ….fly south, then north again, visit the same bird feeders, and eat the same things, generation after generation, right?   Without a doubt old cars are a major part of the Schweitzer lineage dating back to the beginning the automobile era and my Grandfather Charles. He would have been about 12 years old at the turn of the century—1900—and witness to the beginning of the great age of automobiles.  Yes, I know, the old nature verses nurture debate comes into play. Why me and not my sister or brother who have little interest in automobiles? I buy the genetics!

It was a long time ago, say about 1960.  I would have been about 14 years old then and would have recently become very much interested in automobiles.  Back then age 14 was a magical time when you first really became aware that having a real car—as opposed to plastic model cars– was going to soon be a real possibility.  Some of us spent our lunch money buying the Reader’s Digest sized custom car magazines of the time and dreaming about what car we would soon have in just two more years. I also recall spending way too much time in study hall drawing hot rods and custom cars when I should have been studying school subjects.  About this time my family acquired a robin’s egg blue 1959 Mercury and for some reason it coincided with my unexpected introduction to Cream of Wheat cereal.  Talk about a weird association; forever afterward I associated Cream of Wheat with 1959 Mercurys.  

Perhaps it’s a quiet little secret of mine.  O.K., yes, I occasionally look at………sports cars.   Mia Culpa. I am guilty……of occasionally thinking about cars other than bona fide antiques.  Actually I have been quietly keeping an eye on Miatas for quite a while—they have been around for some 23 years now. 

Here’s one of those little known facts about a place in the Garrettsville community that maybe you didn’t know about because you can’t see it and you’re not an old car person. It’s not obvious; it’s in a barn behind a spacious older house.  The only tipoff you might notice is a brightly colored blue and white 1956 Studebaker Champion off to the side in the yard. Studebaker always made flashy, sometimes oddball color schemes, and you notice the car from the road.  If you pull down the driveway you will encounter a fairly nice, sedately gray-brown bathtub 1940s Packard in the drive and a couple other old cars and trucks. …… And cats!

“Are we there yet,” she said? It’s about 440 miles to Clayton, New York from our house. “I think we have gone five miles”, I said to Emma, my nine-year-old Granddaughter. “We’ve got a ways to go yet.” Nine years old is a great age to be; no worries about how you look to others, or for that matter, how you sound to others.  “I’m going fishing with my Dad and Grandparents. I have them all to myself, just me” (no sister to compete with). Then she resumed regaling us with the bottles of beer song.

Holy Mackerel, the South’s gonna rise again, in Hiram!  Well, maybe not THAT Robert E. Lee, but never-the-less, Mr. Bob Lee has a 1948 Chevrolet coupe sitting in front of the garage at the white house high on the hill on Rt. 82 coming into Hiram.  I saw the roofline—that old ‘40s car roofline—out of the corner of my eye one day as my wife and I were going to the college athletic center.  I made a mental note to knock on the door one day and find out about that car.  As luck would have it Bob called me about one of the old car articles.

It was the best of days; it was the worst of days. It was a day that we had been looking forward to since last September. This was the first time we could get out fishing this spring, and it was long overdue! Because of our cold spring the fish have been slow to begin to bite. And probably more due to the prolonged cold weather, I have been slow to get out and see if they are biting. But finally we seem to have broken winter’s back and have had a run of warm days. Because Lake Erie is indeed very slow to warm up—little is biting around Cleveland and east– we went to Mosquito Reservoir where, if you follow the fishing blogs, and the Plain Dealer accounts, the walleye and crappie are reported to be very active. And because it was a very warm, sunny weekend many, many other people evidently felt the same way. As bad luck would have it there was a two-day bass tournament going on as well. We didn’t know that! We thought it would be over on Saturday.

On September 9, 2012, a crotchety, absolutely ancient looking 1928 Studebaker Dictator made the first trip under its own power in at least 49 years to the Classic Car Show at Sunny Lake in Aurora.  Likely it’s been sleeping a good bit longer than that, because  sometime prior to 1963, it had been towed to a Studebaker Dealer in that disabled condition and traded for…  We will never know what!.  What meager information that could be garnered at the time indicated that the dealer had plans to restore it and place it in his showroom as an advertising ploy.   ….BUT….  In 1963 the Studebaker Corporation was in its death throes and its dealers were on the verge of bankruptcy day by day. It is likely that the old Studebaker was purchased by the dealer a few years earlier, say in 1959 or1960, when the then- newly-introduced compact Studebaker Lark buoyed spirits and provided a welcome bit of optimism to the Studebaker conglomerate by dramatically spiking their sales curve. By  1963 though, sales had taken a nosedive thanks to competition from Corvairs, Falcons and Valiants (new compacts offered by the Big Three car makers).  There was now no money for such luxuries as old car restorations.  So in those last days before the Studebaker empire came crashing down this old Dictator got towed to the back of the lot along with the other junkers to be sold for scrap.  Enter a then 21-year-old John Biggs who, at that time, could probably be accurately described as something of a dreamer, someone who saw value in things that mainstream society had used up and moved on from. This is a disease that some of us inveterate old car buffs seem to be afflicted with from early on in life. 

The St. Lawrence River is about an 8-hour drive from Mantua, Ohio.  It is the boundary between the U.S. and Canada from New York through Maine. The first 40 miles of the St. Lawrence from Lake Ontario eastward are also known as the Thousand Islands. This area has a mystique and aura about it, which is very much unlike any other place that I’ve fished before. It is reminiscent of the typically-pictured Canadian waterscapes with much rocky outcropping, craggy, rocky islands, rocks and trees, in-water rock piles, and whalebacks (reefs that protrude above water).  Unlike typical Canadian waterscapes though, you are not out in the wilderness a hundred miles from nowhere.  There are myriads of summerhouses scattered among the islands and shorelines.  More than some of them are million dollar summer mansions.  Many of these summer cottages are easily $250-500,000 abodes. Many are quaint, turn of the last century houses in excellent repair. Many are quite modern. This is not the typical Canadian Hinterlands.