Sharing a love of cars, especially the Model A Ford, Bob Baker and five friends decided to form a club in summer 1968.
They submitted their charter request to the Model A Restorers Club, and the group received a letter dated Aug. 29, 1968, approving the “Chippewa Valley A’s” as a regional chapter of MARC.
“Back then, everybody had a Model A in their families,” said Baker, who still owns two — one a 1929 model and the other a 1930 model. “It was a universal car, a good sturdy car.”
The foresight of Baker, Dick Barquist, Art Bucholtz, Ray Ganong, Larry Grambort and Gary Johnson to establish a club around the Model A — the second huge success for the Ford Motor Co. — has resulted in 50 years of fellowship and fun as members meet monthly and join together for tours, parades and car shows.
Over the years, the club has “morphed into an old car club, with a nod to the Model A,” said Baker of Lake Hallie
Today, almost 80 men and women belong to the Chippewa Valley Model A Club. Members don’t need to own a Model A or even a classic car, but an interest in them is a must.
“There’s a lot of history in the club,” said Randy Noeldner of Eau Claire, referring to both the classic cars and their owners. “The younger guys are so overwhelmed with the older guys’ knowledge.” (He joined because he needed help with one of his cars.)
Jeff Pettis, club secretary, agreed. “If you need a part and can’t find it, someone can make it,” the Eau Claire resident said.
Hoping to pass on their love of classic cars, members are encouraged to preserve, restore and exhibit their automobiles.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said Jim Olson of Eau Claire, who served as club treasurer for a number of years and had his own Model A — a 1929 two-door model — for six years.
His late father, David Olson, joined the club shortly after it formed. Liking old cars, Jim joined too, and they weren’t the only members of the same family to become involved.
Roger and Pat Stertz, father and son, are members of the club, and the elder Stertz has made a living restoring Model A’s and other vintage cars.
“I haven’t been without a Model A since 1955,” said Stertz, who was 15 when he bought his first one. (Because he didn’t have a driver’s license, his father had to drive it home.)
“They are simple to work on,” said Stertz, who joined the Chippewa Valley A’s in 1980 or 1981. “They’re dependable, tough old cars. That’s why there are still so many around.”
After the 15 millionth Model T drove off the assembly line on May 26, 1927, Ford closed plants all over the world to spend six months retooling factories and perfecting the design of the new car — the Model A, according to Ford’s corporate history. By 1931, more than five million Model A’s had been sold.
Paul Oman of Lake Hallie returned to the Chippewa Valley in 1970 after living in the Twin Cities for about 10 years. He brought a Model A pickup with him, and people soon found out and invited him to a club meeting.
“I put it off for a bit,” said Oman, explaining he was busy with his business. “But, I got strong- armed into going to a meeting.”
He was elected club president in 1975, and in 1977 he became editor of the club’s first newsletter. (Oman’s last newsletter was December 1979. His wife, Joanne, then became the unofficial editor, a position she held until December 2015.)
In the early days, club members bought postcards and put their names on them, and the club secretary would then send out postcards informing members of the location of the next meeting, according to a club history compiled by Noeldner.
At the January 1977 meeting, club members approved beginning an official Chippewa Valley A’s newsletter, and the first issue came out that February. While it has undergone several name changes, the newsletter — The Main Bearing Rumble — continues today, providing members with the date and location of the next monthly meeting, meeting minutes and news of items for sale and upcoming tours and events, like the annual Indianhead Swap Meet and Car Show.
As other car clubs in the Chippewa Valley began to organize, talk of a regional swap meet and car show materialized, according to the history compiled by Noeldner. Representatives of the A’s, Indianhead Old Car Club and River City Street Rods got together to organize and host a swap meet and car show at the Northern Wisconsin State Fairgrounds. To cover the cost of rent for the venue and insurance, the clubs sold buttons in advance.
The first swap meet and car show was held in 1975. Since then, it’s become a major event, attracting 500 show cars and more than 4,000 people in attendance from Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. (Clubs quit selling buttons in 2012.)
While members have come and gone over the years, some, like Baker and Oman, have chosen to stay. “The club is made up of a great bunch of guys (and a few gals) who enjoy old cars,” said Oman, who bought his first car — a Model T — from an uncle at age 9.
“Over the years, we’ve gone on a lot of great tours and seen a lot of Wisconsin we probably wouldn’t have seen,” said Oman, who returned Tuesday from a club trip to Michigan.
“When club members first began organizing the tours, their Model A Fords took them on many camping and overnight trips throughout Wisconsin and Minnesota,” according to Noeldner’s history. “Today one seldom sees a Model A on club tours. The Model A’s have been replaced with collector cars from the ‘50s and ‘60s. What hasn’t been replaced is the enthusiasm and camaraderie among the couples on the trip.”
Or the fun of enjoying these old cars, Oman said.
Contact: 715-830-5838, firstname.lastname@example.org, @CTOBrien on Twitter