I had taken a detour off my route from Sterling, IL to my house specifically to get a look at the Chrysler Assembly Plant in Belvidere, IL. What a soulless place that is. Like a zombie factory.
Then, I was attracted by the signs proclaiming Rockford Speedway to be “Where the Action Is!” Drove by. Looked around. Never got out of the car.
I was letting my GPS guide me home – up 2nd Street out of Rockford, through Machesney Park, where, on the frontage road, tucked into a grove of pine trees, lies Wahoo's.
Wahoo's Sports Cars, which also sells a lot of vehicles that are not sporty at all, is also home to Wahoo's Mini Golf and is unquestionably unlike anything I had ever seen. Gary built the place himself out of scrap materials. Barn wood, telephone polls, glass blocks, tin, stones and bricks, all recycled.
At the roadside, there are Gary’s handmade signs, which are art in themselves. (I didn’t even notice that the “W” in Wahoo's is an inverted McDonald’s logo until I was getting these images ready to post. There’s layers and layers of stuff here.)
Beside the road there is a row of vehicles for sale. Behind those, there is the mini golf course, which wanders out into the woods. Gary always keeps one hole shoveled all winter so he can practice putting.
“It doesn’t help. I’m still lousy”, he told me.
A short stroll down the wooded path brings you to the office of Wahoo's, which looks like a hybrid of a gingerbread house on acid and a Tiki Bar. Spanish moss dangles from the pine trees. Gary’s art is everywhere.
Gary established Wahoo's 40 years ago, and specializes in affordable used cars and trucks. (CASH ONLY! OR GOOD CHECKS) The car lot came first, and the mini-golf course was built around it. Gary says he wanted a park-like setting for his business, not some slab of asphalt. “This was all country then,” he told me.
Gary has trophies from his racing days down at the Speedway. Besides cars and trucks, he collects and sells auto memorabilia and general old stuff that he likes. He keeps it a while, and then sells it when he gets tired of it. And can make a few dollars.
In fact, the whole of Wahoo's is up for sale. The property, buildings, businesses. Gary says that forty years is enough. But he will not sell to anyone who wants to tear down Wahoo's. "Not while I'm alive," he vowed.
Gary has built a couple of hundred cars from the ground up. He and his partner, a Mr. Blakely, now deceased, designed and built the Blakely Banshee, whose hand-welded frames were based on the stock cars that Gary raced, one of which is now serving seed to the local birds. The sign for Blakely Automobiles still stands out front. (I did not even see that cat when I took this picture.)
Gary has, as you would hope, a full repertoire of stories, a few of which I will recount in my next post.
I was lucky that I happened on Wahoo's when I did, as in two weeks Gary will be packing some stuff into his truck and heading down to his other place in St. Augustine, Florida, where he will trade some cars and play some golf. Hence the “Closing for Winter” and the “Still Open” signs.
Still time to catch him if you need a sports car. Or anything.
All content copyright 2010 Jeffery Blackwell