Monday, March 30, 2009

Fabulous Flxible

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Looks like it should be "Flexible", and that is the way that you pronounce it. It was spelled this way so it could be trademarked.

This picture was taken up at Road America last summer. It is a detail of a beautiful Flxible motor coach. You have to be impressed with the 50s era construction, with exposed rivets everywhere and the fabulous chrome Flxible badge.

Flxible has a long history, starting out as a manufacturer of motorcycle sidecars, and produced buses from 1924 to 1996.

I wasn't able to talk to the owner, so I can't tell exactly which model this is or when it was built. The classic Flxible design has been produced in the U.S., Australia, Mexico and China.

I am guessing that this one is from the early-to-mid 1950s (If this is your coach, please let me know!)

If you must have one of these wonderful machines, complete with kitchen and bedroom, you can usually find several for sale here at

All words and images copyright 2009 Jeff Blackwell

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Work Benz

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I stopped into the BK to grab a Whopper J for a buck, and as I was strolling up to the entrance this faded old Mercedes diesel comes clattering up. Any other make of car, I would have called it "ratty". But even in it's battered condition, a Mercedes has class. "Tattered", perhaps, might be a good word.

Motor still clacking away, the big door swings open and out springs Tony.

Tony, a wiry kind of a guy, hefts open the enormous hood, reaches in, flips a switch that kills the engine, and slams the hood, like this is the way everyone shuts off their car at the Burger King.

I knew I had to talk to this guy.

"Yeah, I could fix that, but..."

I'm sure he could fix most everything on this car, but this Mercedes is Tony's "work car".

As you can see, it works hard.

The 1983 Mercedes 300D has well over 200,000 miles on it, 280k, I think he said. Tony says it's the most reliable car he's ever owned. I had to grin.

As we ate, Tony told me he worked for many years as a mechanic but just got tired of it. Now he's doing electrical work. Hence the trunk full of tools.

For grins, he collects air-cooled, two-stroke Yamaha motorcycles of a similar vintage as the Benz. He said he thinks at one time he may have had fourteen of them.

This summer, he thinks he might get back into drag racing the bikes again.

Spring will do that to ya.

All words and images copyright 2009 Jeff Blackwell

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Mr. Eclipse

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SO, I had pulled over to take some pictures of this old "Ghostbusters" ambulance (later), and this intense flash of red caught my eye.

It was a completely crappy, mid-March day in the upper Midwest, but down the block there was this flash of heat.

Hot orange-red, and just down the street.

As I walked up to the car I struggled to interpret what I was seeing. OK, so maybe you are accustomed to seeing LCD - TV's? - built right into the body of an automobile, but I am not.

I stared at the fender, the flat black rectangle seemingly just wrong on the supple, searing red flank of this car.

The edges were tight and with a nice radius, this was not a hack job. But why, why would someone cut a hole into the fender of a car (I have actually done this - it is not easy) to mount a TV screen?

When I met the owner, he told me there were 21 one of them. Seven were on the outside of the car.

"What do you show on them?", I asked.



Like you could get cable.

Still, I struggled with the concept. "Bullit"?

Randy ("Mr. Eclipse") told me that someone had broken into it last week and stolen 12 of the screens. All on the inside.

I asked him if he could light up the remaining screens for a picture. He looked a bit sheepish. "They stole the head. I don't even have a radio."

"I'm thinking about selling the car," Randy confided. "I think I need something more appropriate for a guy my age."

"This is what the kids are doing. I'm going to be thirty"

So what, Randy.

Crank up those screens. Put in "Clockwork Orange", and just sit in the driveway and scare the hell out of your neighbors.

All words and images copright 2009 Jeffery Blackwell

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Country Squire

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I was almost home. I was kind of in a hurry. I had met my wife for lunch and on the way home saw a "used toy and collectibles" store and purchased some 20 bucks worth of plastic and metal toy cars. (Another story.)

I was approaching my street when I thought "No. Maybe there's something unique between here and the highway today. I'll just go up there past LeDuc's frozen custard stand, and turn around in the parking lot of Wilke's Auto."

Sometimes Wilkes has some interesting stuff in the lot. Not today.

As I pulled out and headed back towards home, I saw a pair of round headlights coming at me from a quarter mile away. They were rimmed by bright metal, gleaming even on this cold, overcast afternoon. As the vehicle came into relief, I saw that it was a late 50s Ford, and as it slid by me I saw it was a Country Squire station wagon, with all the "wood" intact and a gorgeous lipstick red paint job.

It's always hard to tell how people will react when you start following them. You wonder when they notice. After my U-turn, we took a couple of turns "in town" and then onto a county road.

After we got through a twisty bit, The Squire roared quite rudely and began to shrink with alarming speed. I knew by the tires and dual exhaust that this was not a standard Fairlane, but its acceleration was truly impressive. I had to work to stay with him, but finally, some 10 miles later, he pulled up in his driveway.

I rolled down my window and asked the driver if he would mind if I took a few photos of his car, and his response was "Want a beer?" A Country Squire indeed.

When we entered his "garage" to tap a couple of glasses of the Delafield Brew Haus's finest, I noticed right away a lot of Formula One memorabilia, and I knew The Squire was no mere hot rodder.

For the next 90 minutes or so, the Squire regaled me with tales of his career as a pit crew chief for all kinds racing teams including the legendary Can-AM series, some of the wildest sports car racing this continent has ever seen.

So do be careful when you follow strangers home, but don't rule it out. Sometimes you make a new friend.

Thanks, Curt. See ya around.

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All contents copyright 2009 Jeff Blackwell

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Shooting Brake or Kammback?

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Ahh, the cars of the 70's. According to Hemmings, the classic car people, 70's cars are finally becoming collectible.

Hemmings says that, in good condition (this one is NOT), a Vega Kammback like this could fetch upwards of $7,000 today.

I guess I'm too old to see the attraction, but there you go. Compared to the cars of the 60's, well, there's really no comparison.

SO what is a Kammback? It's a term that refers to the work of German aerodynamicist Wunibald Kamm. Kamm discovered back in the 1930s that a flat - "cut off" - back end on a vehicle minimized turbulence behind the car. Said turbulence has the effect of pulling the car backwards when it's trying to go forward.

You can see Kamm's design concept in vehicles ranging from the ultra-highly aerodynamic Honda Insight to Ford's famous GT40 racer, to the - well - the Chevrolet Vega Kammback.

It's interesting the lengths that car marketers will go to in order to avoid using the words "station wagon". Once, Americans loved piling the family into "the wagon", and that vast area - called the "way back" in my family - proved useful for all sorts of things besides toting groceries.

With the rear seat folded forward, you could actually lie down back there, for better or for worse.

Anyway, as you can see from this 1971 commercial, Chevrolet thought that Kammback sounded a lot more sexy than "station wagon". Interestingly, in Europe station wagons are often called "shooting brakes", a term I love. But, that's another story.

Oh, and check out those driving gloves.

All images and words (except the Vega commercial) copyright 2009 Jeff Blackwell

Sunday, March 22, 2009

O'Neill's Truck

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Many businesses require the use of a vehicle, and I love the graphics they use to brand them.

This truck obviously belonged to J.J. O'Neill, Rural Route 1, back when a phone number had to be identified as such. Interestingly, I doubt that many people today would recognize North Lake 32-F-11 as a phone number.

I was curious about 'ol J.J., so I turned to the Web and found that there is still an O'Neill family living in the area.

In fact, according to the Erin Township News, in the Fall of 2007, the O'Neill farm was recognized as a Wisconsin State Century Farm. To qualify for the award, your family needs to prove continuous family ownership of a property in the state of Wisconsin for the last 100 years.

The original owners of the farm were, not surprisingly, dairy farmers, but also raised something called "road horses". I don't know, but I am guessing that means horses that were intended to be used for transportation.

This old workhorse came along a bit later than that, but it probably served on that farm for a good share of those hundred years.

All images and words copyright 2009 Jeff Blackwell

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Workin' Buddies

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I found these ol' friends havin' a beer down at the Legion Hall.

No, these retired Ford Econolines of early 60s vintage were resting (and rusting) in the back lot of a construction company near Waukesha WI.

The guy on the left is the standard "passenger van" configuration, with windows all around. The dude on the right, however is a bit more distinguished, sporting a pick-up style bed behind his small cab.

(The "bullet holes" on the front of the pickup are those realistic looking decals, but inexplicably (I wish cars could talk) are matched by some actual bullet(?) holes in the windshield!)

I imagine these guys working side-by-side hauling building materials for add-on family rooms and screened-in porches that were the hallmarks of the expanding suburban homes of growing young families of the nuclear age. Like mine.

All images and words copyright 2009 Jeff Blackwell

Friday, March 20, 2009

Have YOU Forgotten?

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A lot of people use their car to express their politics.

I admit that when I put a "bumper" sticker on my car, I put in on the glass, so that I don't damage the paint.

How many of us put on those magnetic political statements (like those "I support the troops" yellow "ribbons") that can easily be pulled off when our commitment waivers, or we want to resell our vehicle?

The individual who owns this particular van holds a viewpoint that required him or her to break out the paint or marker and permanently - permanently, write on the paint of their vehicle.

So, maybe they don't own (lease!) a $60,000 Lexus, or a $90,000 Porsche, but dammit, this is their ride. The car that people see them getting into and out of every single day.

And they are willing - want to - let you know how they feel.

God bless America.

All images and words copyright 2009 Jeff Blackwell

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Hot Grill

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Ok, sometimes owning a big truck really is just about scaring people.

I think that would be the case here. Imagine looking in your rear view to see this.

(all images and words copyright 2009 Jeff Blackwell)

Tell Me the Story

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As I've said, it's not just cool trucks or beautiful cars that interest me. It's their owners/drivers.

I came across this vignette in a parking lot at a Minneapolis mall last weekend, and am still trying to figure out under what scenario someone would park their scooter immediately behind someone else's car.

There were numerous empty spaces, so it wasn't a case of desperate to shop.

I tried;

"I know you are in that mall, and you are not leaving until I say so."

"Hey, let's go to the mall. My scooter only has one seat, I guess you'll need to bring your car."

"Race ya to the mall!"

"I'd like to ditch that darn scooter, but no one will buy it."

I cannot come up with a rational explanation for this scene.

Any ideas?

All images and words copyright 2009 Jeff Blackwell

Monday, March 16, 2009

Serious Snow Plow

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This is one truck that is sad to see the snow melting.

Up here in Wisconsin, a lot of pickups sport snowplows between November and April. But visiting up in Minnesota last weekend, I came across this - one of the most elaborate rigs I have ever seen. They must get a lot more snow up there ;-)

With the split blade, it reminded me of those old posters of cruise ships taken from water level, where the ship looks a mile high.

I wouldn't be surprised at all if this guy gets another chance at slicing through some waves of the white stuff.

All images and words copyright 2009 Jeff Blackwell

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Veteran

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I took this photo at a Veteran's Day ceremony in the Town Square in Sterling IL, a couple of summers ago.

The cars (and images) of cars are only peripheral, perhaps, but as always they give a sense of place and time, and make this composition by bracketing the Veteran in time.

The Veteran displays a real sense of determination to keep pressing forward, even while honoring the past.

The mural in the background is called "Sterling Lady Zouaves" and depicts a women's drill team that was organized in 1917.

The originals Zouaves were a tribe of the Berbers - Algerian Arabs - who fought for the French, seeing extensive service during the French conquest of Algeria. Because they were "volunteers", the term Zouaves continued to be used to describe volunteer militias, especially in the Confederate states during the U.S. Civil War.

A least some of these groups wore uniforms in the style of the original Arab Zouaves, which was one of their distinguishing characteristics.

The Sterling Lady Zouaves, were formed in 1917, after World War I as something of a civil defense unit. Lady Zoauve units from around the state periodically competed in displaying their physical strength and skills like the wall-climbing which is depicted in the mural.

Anyway, I really like the way the background forms a grid of right angle lines, and the Veteran is leaning forward with his head high.

All images and words copyright 2009 Jeff Blackwell

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Big Dog

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I took this photo in front of the Milwaukee Art Museum on a clear morning as the sun was coming up over Lake Michigan.

It is, yes, the Oscar Mayer WeinerMobile. This one is the classic 1958 model.

I can't help think about one of those cocktail weenies on a toothpick.

The Museum is a work of art in itself. Designed by Santiago Calatrava, it was his first work completed in the U.S. If you get to Milwaukee, do not miss the MAM.

The WeinerMobile was on display at the MAM as part of an exhibit of the works of industrial designer Brooks Stevens, a native of Milwaukee. Stevens had a long history of automotive work. In my opinion... let's just say time has not been kind to Mr. Stevens' car designs. Take a look for yourself.

Stevens also designed the "Miller Cross" - the famous Miller Brewing logo, so he did some fine work, I just don't care for his cars - especially the Excaliber. (Don't think I have a photo of one of those...)

The original WeinerMobile was designed, according to Wikipedia, by Carl Mayer. Brooks was asked to do one of the several re-designs in 1958. Over the years, the WeinerMobile has ridden on Dodge, Willys Jeep, Chevy and GMC chassis.

Here's more information than you ever needed about the WeinerMobile, a real rolling piece of Wisconsin Americana.

Makes you thirsty for a High Life.

All images and words copyright 2009 Jeff Blackwell

Air and Light Management

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I saw this Chevy in the parking lot at the Home Depot. I have to wonder.

OK, so who needs a grill anyway? It just disturbs the free flow of air into the radiator(s). I can understand that, even though it makes those god-awful rectangular headlights look... awful.

So, now that you have all that air flowing smack into the front end of the vehicle, what are you going to do with it?

Deflect it, of course. Up over the hood and smack into the windshield. Where you can trap it with a visor. Complete with the three amber roof lights like the big rigs.

Speaking of light. I am not sure exactly what kind of lights those are (there is a matching one on the other side of the place where the grill used to be.)

But the mounting system is original. If you look closely (check out the larger image) you will see that these lights are actually suspended by very thin wires. Yes, they are free to aim themselves wherever the laws of physics recommend.


I wonder what this guy is buying at the Depot...

All images and words copyright 2009 Jeff Blackwell

Friday, March 6, 2009


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At first I thought this amazingly detailed sculpture of a ram must have been added by the truck's owner.

Hood ornaments have, of course, a long and well-documented history, but usually they are very stylized to serve as a representation of the brand (or the marque, as us foreign car fans call it.)

This one however, as you can see, is finely detailed, and completely realistic.

With a little research, it appears that this creature was original equipment on what I believe is a 1985 Dodge Prospector.

All images and text copyright 2009 Jeff Blackwell

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Pastel Dump Truck

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This picture is of the same Chevy dump truck as yesterday's.

This truck has been stripped of her wheels, and the last owner has defaced her doors to obscure their name.

But the truck retains the signs of her usefulness. These handles have certainly been grasped by many hands over the years, by people who depended on this truck to work hard for them. Harder than they ever could.

Her final coat of paint has taken on a fabulous, beautiful patina, the showy gloss given way to soft, still rich colors and the glaze of rust streaking down her flanks.

Someday, I would expect that the smelter will bring the history of this particular truck to a useful end.

All images and words copyright 2009 Jeff Blackwell

Big Rig Boneyard - the Dead Dumper

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More from the junkyard...

This massive dump truck lies helpless, every one of its once powerful wheels useless.

She reminds me of a beached whale, lying on her belly in the dirt, waiting for the inevitable.

It's clear that at one time someone was very proud of this vehicle. But now she has outlived her usefulness. It's usually the way with vehicles.

Someone has repainted her twice, and whoever gave her her last color, green, took the trouble to repaint the Chevrolet "bowtie" in her grill to match. She was both red and blue before she was green, but I can't tell which color was the original.

But her last owner took the time to completely obscure their name from her doors.

All images and words copyright 2009 Jeff Blackwell

Big Rig Boneyard

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I came across this truck graveyard yesterday, so over the next couple days, I'll show you some of these images.

What struck me about this particular carcass was that the exhaust stack is still standing, which seems to make no sense. I mean, if I were disassembling a truck, I think that's one of the first things I would take off.

It must have been kind of a pain to take all the bodywork off with that smoke stack in the way.

It's almost like the person doing the scavenging job wanted to leave this old rig with some shred of dignity.

It wouldn't surprise me.

All photos and words copyright 2009 Jeff Blackwell

Monday, March 2, 2009

Pony Cars

Racers obviously have a very special (and strange) relationship with their cars.

These folks spend countless time and treasure to essentially rebuild street cars from the tires up. Every single part of the car gets attention. If its not needed, it gets tossed. If it can be lightened, it will be. If it needs to be strengthened, do it.

They actually trust their lives to their cars.

Then they turn around and beat the hell out of them.

I photographed these particular racers just prior to the start of a great "vintage" race at Road America in Elkhart Lake, WI. The yellow car is a Camaro Z28 and of course the white one with blue stripes is a Mustang. The Mustang was rolled out of the showroom back in '64 or '65. I believe the Camaro is a '69.

These cars were originally raced back in the 70s, and have been raced and rebuilt and raced and rebuilt since then.

Who else would build something as close to perfection as possible, and then take it out and intentionally expose it to the possibility of complete destruction?

You have to be a racer (or a wannabe) to understand it. There really is no rational explanation for amateur auto racing.