Home Columns & Editorials The Old Road

“The reunion”, he says. “Oh yeah, you’ve gotta go”, says my friend Don, 80 years old and hasn’t missed a reunion yet.   Class Reunion……These are words that strike terror into the heart of…… me. The word brings trepidation, apprehension, a dredging up of time spent in….limbo.  It seems to hit me in the face with horrible thoughts about what is now and what is no more. This reunion to me is a thing out of time and very out of place. “But you’ve gotta go—it’s your 50 year Class Reunion”, they say. “You will never have another.”

Most of what I am today, whatever that actually means, has little to do with that first 17 years of my life. Of course that is developmentally not true, but characterologically it is so.  High school, particularly when compared to the rest of my life, was not a grand time. It was not even a good time.  It was a plodding through time, a marking time, a waiting for ……dawn?  It is not unlike now again.   Now I am marking time again, waiting for ?????  Am I down to existing to feed the dog?

I force myself to drive to the banquet center and then to walk into the building. I really do not want to be there. I no longer have an ally to fallback upon, no partner. It is not a good feeling.  There are a few others arriving early and likewise walking in.  But I do not recognize them, not even remotely. They could be just people off the streets, a gathering of people from the Cleveland Stadium perhaps. Maybe they really are. I get in line– it is a short line at that early hour—30 minutes before we are supposed to be there. Why am I always so early?  Why can’t I be late?  I’m so damned obsessive compulsive!

There are four or five people at the greeting desk. I vaguely recognize some facial characteristics.  The guy has on a name tag reading “Randolph Peccarillo”.  I don’t recall going to school with any Randolph Peccarillo. There was a Randolph something or another though.  He was the quarterback of the football team. I was a defensive lineman. I guess if I had a last name like that I’d probably change it too. If I had a name like Roy, I’d change it. I couldn’t actually do that though.  It would dishonor my father.  So that must be old Randolph the quarterback.

The greeting party looked at me; I looked at them. No recognition!  Someone said, “Name?”  I said Schweitzer.  “Oh yes, Roy. You must be over here. Let me look in this pile.”  Sort… sort…. sort. “Now I have to believe it is here.  How do you spell it again?”  SCH……..I say.  “Oh maybe that’s why I can’t find it. I’m at the end of the S’s. Ah, here it is, Roy…..Skip Schweitzer….did they ever call you that in high school?” (No, I think to myself, my life didn’t begin until I left high school. I don’t really recall what they called me in high school).  They gave me a name tag….with Roy Skip Schweitzer on it. It likely should have said Skip Roy Schweitzer –as in, just skip him totally—it would have been more accurate. I say, “Sorry, I haven’t been called Roy in 50 years—it’s very strange to me now.” I recognize one of the ladies at the greeting table. It is Donna something or another, one of the prettiest girls of the class, someone I would love to have known but someone who was in a different galaxy than me when I was in high school (probably my perception, not hers). Fifty years and she hasn’t lost a thing.

Someone directs me to the next table. This guy looks somewhat familiar.  The nametag says Mike Piston. He was a running back on the team.  “Good to see you, I’m glad you’re here,” he says.  “How are you?”  I fumble…….. “Well, I’m here,” I hear myself say. I’d like to say, “Hi Mike, How are you, Good to see you”, but it’s not there, not in me just right now.  “Here, put those tickets in here; you may win a prize”, he says.   Mike hands me a coffee cup with some beads in it, some plastic flowers and trinkets, and a class picture with 250 people in it.   “Were you at the 10 year reunion/” he asks.  “I honestly don’t know. I don’t remember”, I say.  “Well, find yourself in the picture and were going to line up that same way and have a group picture taken, so you can compare now to then”, he says.  Yeah, right, that’s exactly what I want to do…. compare now to then.

I walk around in a fog.  There are a very few places to sit down except at one of the banquet tables.  There are maybe fifty tables scattered around the large room, all with six or seven place settings.  I think, 7 time 50 equals 350.  Are there that many people expected?  Well, maybe with wives and husbands. There were some 475 people in our class.

I am here alone, by myself.  Me, no wife, no guest, just me, like it was back then in high school. Nobody to turn to and say, “Boy this is strange.” I feel profoundly out of time and place. I don’t want to be here.  I fight the urge to walk back out the door, get into my car and leave.  I want to, though; I want out.  Inwardly, terror is mounting.  I don’t want to be here.

I walk around.  I see some pictures taped to the wall. It is the whole 1964 football team.  There I am in all my very young and innocent, radiant glory on the wall.  Who is that really? What universe did he come from?  That is not me. Was that ever me?  Next to the football team are maybe 50 pictures of other people.  It is an “In Memorium Wall”– people who are no longer with us, people who have died. Some of the prettiest girls are on that wall. Some of the more popular guys are on that wall. Raw memories flash through my mind. I can’t get away from that wall fast enough.

I walk around some more. My legs and back begin to ache.  I spot two chairs behind the reception desk–not exactly a great place to park but if I don’t sit down soon, my legs will give out.  But these people don’t know that. They don’t know that my lower back is crippled with arthritis and my legs get numb.   So I sit down, behind the scenes as they say.  I watch people file in, be greeted and go through the same schtick as I did.  I don’t recognize 99% of them. There is hugging, handshaking, backslapping.  I didn’t have any close enough relationships with girls to hug them back then. Hug them…Hell, I don’t even think I ever actually physically touched a girl until I was in college.  I was a very late bloomer.  I never ever had a meaningful relationship with a girl until I was out of high school and far away from these people. How can I now relate to these people that I have no established meaningful relationship with —Might has well be in Yankee stadium.

“How are you,” someone says.  What does that saying really mean? “Haven’t seen you in a coon’s age,” he says.  How long does a raccoon live anyways, 3-5 years maybe?  I say “I guess I’m still here.”  A terrible response, I suppose, but how I feel.  I’m marking time. Just try and stay until the dinner is served, I re-tell myself, then you can leave.  Two women I can’t identify come up to me and say, “Who are you?”  They look at my name tag and say, “Skip, Skip, Skip- did we have anybody by that name in our class?  Roy, Oh, Roy.”   Then they walk away.   Suddenly, out of nowhere a doddering, shuffling old man comes up to me –he looks far older than me, wearing a gray-brown suit. Maybe it’s one of the teachers—could be a 100 years old! “Is that seat taken”, he says?  “No”, I say, “be my guest”.   I don’t recognize him– his name tag is hard to see.  Maybe I should put mine backwards. It takes me a few minutes to make out his name tag.  It is Ken Sarter, a guy that I used to fight with in junior high school.  He was a cool guy in junior high school—an early bloomer.  I was just….a seed.  He doesn’t recognize me, doesn’t acknowledge who I am.  He just sits there for a long while, then he gets up and shuffles away. I think, “Whatever arthritis I’ve got, he’s got worse.  What a sad thing.  We used to fight, now………..this!”

By now the party center is filling up with hundreds of people.  I don’t know any of them.  I can’t really bring myself to strike up a conversation.  How do you relate to someone who you don’t have a relationship with?  I should put on my therapist hat, but it just doesn’t fit right tonight.  I fumble again when asked something. This happens when I am extremely out of place and uncomfortable.  “How are you?” someone says? Who is asking I can’t seem to ascertain.  “I don’t know really; I’m still here, I guess, whether I want to be or not,” I say.  That pretty much ends the conversation. What do I say to strangers? Strangers from a life lived before my time—an alternate universe or maybe a parallel universe that I was not in. I get an overwhelming urge to leave.  I feel my feet walking through the door without me—an out of body experience.  “Just stay until dinner is served. Hell, I paid $55 for it.  I should at least eat,” I implore myself.   I get up, look around. The place is filling up.  Where will I sit anyway? With more strangers, people I have no rapport with?  Alone in a stadium full of people.  I look down and find my feet walking out the door past some people in line.  As I go out I see no-one I recognize.  Out the door and into my car, I start it up and drive away.  I do not look back.  Never look back.

I got an E-mail from someone named Hilda. She desperately wanted some help in evaluating and setting a price on her Dad’s old Ford truck.  He had passed away and they were in the process of settling the estate.  She said that she had absolutely no idea what the vehicle was worth, or even what kind of truck it was.  (Ford made “AA” trucks that were “real trucks” with much heavier frames, wheels, running gear etc., and they also made car based pick-up trucks, station wagons and sedan deliveries).  All she could really tell me was that it was crank start and that her Dad bought it to drive in parades. The crank start made me suspect that perhaps it was a Model “T” Ford truck though all Model “A”s also had the capability of crank starting but had electric starters.  They are not generally known as crank start vehicles.   Somehow the American Pickers TV show had become involved and she had no idea what the vehicle was worth. (Now, in my opinion the American Pickers are famous for paying way too much for antique cars which seems to be one of their frequent dilemmas highlighted on the show.  I remember the time when they paid about $8K for a Model “A” barn find that I valued at about $3K— as a parts, or total restoration project.  At the end of the show an expert noted that there were likely near a million Model “A”s still in existence and this was no great find.  The Pickers ultimately admitted that they paid way too much for it.)  Over the phone I was able to establish that the title listed the vehicle as 1929, and that Hilda said it reminded her of a pickup truck.  My best guess was that it might be a 1929 Ford Roadster Pickup, condition unestablished via phone conversation.

Untitled-1Because I write old car columns that appear in several magazines and am the current president of the Northern Ohio Model “A” Club, I frequently get calls and E-mails of this nature.  I am the contact person.  Whenever the calls are reasonably close by I try to personally visit the person and help out. My ulterior motives include, 1) maybe a good story lurks here, 2) I like to help out people, 3) the America Pickers connection piqued my interest, and 4) probably someone in the Club will be interested in the vehicle.  So, off I went to have a look.

As I got there and the garage door opened, what I saw confirmed that it was indeed a 1929 Roadster pickup, more properly known as an Open Cab Pickup Model “A” Ford.   These days all pickups are generally sought after as “desirable to restore” vehicles.  The open cab pickups were the lowest priced trucks at the time and even today are slightly less valuable than their closed cab counterparts. That being said, pickups generally sell well.  Two ladies—sisters– proceeded to push the vehicle out into the sunlight, as it, indeed, would not run.  They were careful to note that someone who looked at it yesterday said that it probably wouldn’t take much to get it to run and “these things are easy to get running—don’t let anybody tell you otherwise”.

I responded, “He didn’t buy it though, huh?”  I got no response from either lady.

It quickly became apparent that the two ladies were somewhat disgruntled from yesterday’s experience, but exactly why was not so apparent. My objective was to do what they had asked, for me to look the car over and give them an idea of what it might be worth.   So I proceeded to look over the car.  What I saw was a vehicle that was probably restored 25-30 years ago and had little or no maintenance done to it since. The tires were worn out, dry rotted and dangerous.  The car was restored to exactly as Henry had made it.  There were no upgrades such as electric fuses, lights, brake improvements—all important safety concerns.  The body was in very good shape with no dents and a paint job that was skillfully put on…..a long, long time ago.  Now there was fading, chipping and much paint crazing (associated with older lacquers).  The car had a general coat of dirt, dust and road grime associated with an old car. Though it had newer chrome bumpers (the originals were nickle plated and by now would have been very rusty and dull) the rest of the bright work was dull and rusted.  In fact the radiator shell was so dull that I honestly couldn’t tell whether it was just faded nickle plate or just faded silver spray paint.  As I opened the driver side door it promptly dropped a good inch indicating that the hinges were extremely well worn and in need of replacing.

To sum up, what I was presented with was a condition #4 car defined by the Old Cars Weekly price guide as: “a probably drivable vehicle needing minor work to be functional, also a deteriorated restoration or a poor amateur restoration.  All components need restoration.  Though it is useable as is, it needs a lot of help.” The fact that it did not run was offset by the good body that was in need of restoration and paint. The suggested value was $6,740.  What this means is that a buyer, restorer, would likely have to invest $7-10K to bring it up to acceptable modern safety and display standards.

I told them my assessment which produced an obvious look of dismay on their faces.  One lady responded, “I’ll let it rot for that.  My father paid $15,000 for it; the lawyer has it insured for $25,000, and it is an antique. He should know what it is worth.  It has to be worth at least $18,000 now and as soon as I get it running it will be worth $23,000.” I pointed out to no avail that most antique cars have lost value over the past 10-15 years and that value-wise, it was extremely important to maintain the car in good condition.

I suggested that they pick out an independent appraiser from, say Hemming’s Magazine, and get a more objective and formal evaluation.  The response was more disgruntlement about the lawyers ripping them off, etc., etc., etc…  About the American Pickers connection: one of  the sisters had apparently called the show and was told that Mike Wolf (one of the Pickers) was no longer interested in old cars but would pass on the information to others. It turned out that the two people who viewed the car yesterday had offered a similar amount or less and the sisters were very insulted.

Sensing their anger and disgruntlement with the situation I thanked them for their time and offered that if they wanted to sell it I would be glad to put it in our Club newsletter.  I further reiterated that they place a realistic price based upon an independent Old Car assessment.

It is too often that I find this story repeating itself these days.  I suspect that some of the reasons include the much televised and publicized famous car auctions and the ridiculous TV shows wherein much over valued cars quickly change hands between a small group of millionaires and car fanciers. On these shows sometimes drivers in Nevada are stopped on the streets and their cars bought out from under them. Now this is certainly not the real world that I live in.  One can only hope that cooler heads prevail as the sisters settle the estate.  I can’t help but wonder though how many Model “T”s and Model “A”s are now sitting in barns and garages rotting because we common people can’t seem to pay those high prices for them!


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!

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.

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 old fishing car is a concept that goes way back in my family to at least the mid 1950’s, as far as I can remember. I was maybe 9 or 10 at that time.   For some reason my mother thought that we should have a second car, one that would be used primarily for fishing trips.  After all, fishing was the primary recreational activity for us.  It just seemed fitting to have a special car designated for that purpose.  It had to be an older car, one that could get messed up and dirty, and have a large trunk to hold oily outboard motors and smelly fish and bait.  My own associations to this fishing car concept include a particular old mohair smell, prickly seats, and dull, dark, interior colors. That old car mohair smell has long since vanished because the cars from the mid fifties and newer with the vinyl interiors just don’t have it.   My idealized version of the fishing car was likely based on my grandfather’s 1950 Mercury which we would sometimes take fishing.  I would, some years later, inherit that car.