As we work to improve local schools this year, my goals are to boost student achievement, increase teacher quality and develop innovative initiatives that help our kids learn. That’s why I was proud to support the education initiative approved in the Senate on March 26.
It’s an amazing story about avid hunter Dean Mueller and a piebald wild turkey named Tom. Their paths crossed in the most unusual way.
Wild Feathers taxidermist Dan Burkhart said the chances of seeing a piebald is 1 out of 10,000. It is a turkey of a lifetime and comparable to a 30-point buck.
The 63-year-old Mueller, who drives a Schwan’s sales truck in West Union, has a goal in life to hunt turkeys until he is 80. Whatever happens, he knows for sure he will never see a turkey like the one he bagged on Friday, April 27, 2012.
The day began like any other. He was up by 5 a.m. and as he drove to his farm, he thought about his grandpa William Mueller of Elgin. He taught Dean everything he needed to know about hunting and fishing.
Every member of the John O. Falb family of West Union, past and present, is smiling today, knowing that a classic automobile possibly sold by John O’s grandfather, John Falb Sr., in 1927 is back on the road again. She has returned to tell her story.
John Sr. sold his first car in 1912. He would start a dealership in Elgin (1917) and before long, cars were being sold in Postville (1931) and West Union (1950) in similar showrooms run by John Falb. Jr. and three Falb brothers, George, Walter and Herbert.
History also reveals that Buicks were so popular, dealerships in Elkader and Monona also sold similar cars.
The Falb family may have sold cars, but it is the Solheim family of Castalia that decades later restores the lucky ones to their original condition.
The 1927 Buick Master Six-Cylinder could be the crown jewel of the hundreds of restorations George Solheim and his sons Dave and Don have done over the years.
Her story began when the original owner, William Baris, drove her home from the showroom in 1927. She was as grand as the Montauk mansion as the seven-passenger limousine climbed the hill effortlessly, honking at people who would wave. Folks admired her wooden running boards and the wooden spoke wheels.
Her 274-cubic-inch engine produced 70 horsepower and could reach speeds up to 80 mph.
Lawrence and Felicia Dresser would become the second owners in 1935 after the car was traded in. They didn’t care about speed; they only wanted the car’s luxury and uniqueness. It’s here where the car’s story becomes really interesting.
A young high school lad named Gene Severn worked part-time at the Hecker Bros. Dodge and Plymouth dealership in Postville. Ed Freese was the head mechanic, but every time Mrs. Dresser would bring in her Buick, young Gene wanted to change the oil.
The car fascinated Severn because her gearshift was backwards when compared to other car models. To Severn, she was one of a kind.
Severn left Postville for college before joining the Air Force, where he flew various airplanes for 22 years. In 1992, upon his mother Edna Mae’s death, Gene returned to Postville to live.
It was in the 1950s when the Buick caught the eye of another Postville youngster, Dave Schutte, a 1956 Postville graduate.
Felicia would drive her son to school in the car, and in the backseat was her boy’s tuba that he played in the high school band. Schutte also ended up playing the tuba in the band.
Schutte loved the car, much like Severn did, but soon she was off the streets and not seen again for nearly 20 years. Some folks thought it had rusted away and had been recycled.
Felicia Dresser, however, had it stored in her shed out in the country. It was in disrepair and her son had plans of restoring it, which he never did.
Dave Schutte and his wife, Karen, owned a furniture store and Schutte Funeral Home. Felicia was an employee of theirs.
When news came that her son did not want it anymore, she asked the Schuttes if they wanted to buy her car They said sure and moved the car to their property, not knowing exactly what to do with it.
Once again the 1927 Buick continued to collect dust. From 1977 until 2010, the dust continued to pile up. The old gal was turning 83.
The Schuttes were good friends with the Solheims, who did the painting for Schutte funeral coaches, ambulances, and business trucks.
Dave and Karen were there at the visitation of George’s wife, Luella, who died in 2010. She had done upholstery for the Schuttes.
The Solheims carry with them in their billfolds not only photos of their grandkids, but pictures of recently restored cars. When Dave Solheim showed Dave Schutte his latest project, the idea of saving the 1927 Buick began to race through Schutte’s mind.
Schutte said he thought he saw a smile on the old gal’s grill when he showed Dave and George Solheim his car. She didn’t run but all her parts were there, and the Solheims accepted the challenge. The 1927 Buick was moved again, this time to the Solheim shop between Castalia and West Union.
And another player in this story came back into the picture when Schutte and Solheim remembered Severn. They were dying to ask him if he could remember the Buick.
Gene Severn said it was like stepping back in time when he saw her again. He couldn’t believe his eyes that she was alive, and he vowed he would offer any assistance he could to get her back on the road again.
The revival began on April 3, 2011, and was completed this month. Dave, Karen, George, Don, Dave, Gene, and many members of the Solheim family gathered on the Solheim farm. They were there to see the 1927 Buick Master Six-Cylinder touring classic sit on the showroom floor once again with its black paint and nickel plating reflecting the shop’s lights.
Every time George Solheim walked around the car, he carried his polishing rag with him. He would stop to add a little more shine to the fender.
He said, “When I got out of the service in 1947, my first car was a 1928 Chrysler. It had the same brakes as this Buick, but mine were hydraulic; these are mechanical.”
George was proud that he could help his sons restore the classic, which took up a lot of their time the past two years. They said they waited for parts longer than actually working on the car herself.
“The first thing I noticed about her when we hoisted her up off the floor was that her springs were upside down,” George explained. “One end is on top of the axle with the arch up. In the middle it held the body up before it went back down again to the frame.”
Severn was as giddy as a teenager looking at the shift lever, saying, “There it is, just like I remembered it. A normal three-speed goes down and to the left for first gear. Reverse is straight up, second is right and up and third is down.
“The reverse on this Buick is up and to the right. First is down to the right, second is up and to the left, and third is down to the left.”
And Severn rambled on, remembering the oil he used. He said with a smile, “It was five quarts of Pennzoil nondetergent. I would help grease her, and I will never forget that because she had 44 grease fittings.”
Dave Solheim was working on the carburetor, which was the final piece of the puzzle to get the classic started again.
He walked around the car, pointing out, “I’ve seen them in a lot worse shape. When we started to take her apart, our floors were covered with Ziploc bags and all were labeled. I took a lot of pictures along the way to make sure she got put back together correctly.”
Solheim said that most of the framework in the car was wood, and some pieces had to be replaced with walnut and oak.
Dave added, “The white oak in the wheel’s spokes are all original. We used some marine varnish to bring them back to life.
“Of course, the tires back then didn’t have white sidewalls, which we have now. The tires are 5”x25”x21” and have tubes. They are Firestones, and there’s only one place in the world where they can be purchased.”
The Solheims are sticklers on detail and didn’t miss anything on the ’27. The side curtains on the windows, the foot rest in back, the walnut steering wheel, the ashtray for cigars, the window and door locks, the Buick brake light in back, the chrome “Body by Fisher” emblem, and whatever else, it’s all there.
The Solheims won’t take all the credit, because some parts had to shipped out to other craftsmen like themselves.”
Don said, “We do all our painting right across the road at our farm, but the car’s engine went to Oelwein, where Arnold’s Motor did a superb job. The nickel plating on the metal parts was done in Dubuque by AIH. Wayne’s Upholstery of Hawkeye did a wonderful job with the interior.”
He ended, “Every vehicle brought to us is unique in its own way. This 1927 Buick was special. Dad, Dave and myself had a lot of enjoyment restoring it. That’s why we do what we do. It is a labor of love and to see the smile on the car owner’s face after we are finished makes it all worthwhile.”
But nobody is happier than the 1927 Buick Master Six-Cylinder seven-passenger touring classic herself.
Look for her this summer on a road near you. When she passes by, give a wave, and she will probably honk back in appreciation of being back on the highway again.
The Check It Out! After-School program will meet 2-3:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 27 (this is a Valley early-out). Kids in grades K-6 can join tae kwon do Master Andrew Johnson for some fun practice in martial arts. There will be a free snack, courtesy of the Friends of the Library, and kids can ride the bus from Valley or be dropped off after school. The program will end at 3:30 p.m., but kids are welcome to stay to enjoy quiet activities in the library until closing at 5 p.m. (Please note that kids who choose to leave the building after the program will not be supervised.) Don’t miss this fun event! The library has many new books to offer patrons in every genre! Come check out the new adult ﬁ ction, including “Crystal Cove” by Lisa Kleypas, “A Week in Winter” by Maeve Binchy, “Three Graves Full” by Jamie Mason, “The Night Ranger” by Alex Berenson, and many more.
Class sharing at Valley began a long time ago when Elgin and Clermont each had its own school district.
Farming would unite the two schools and their communities when Ross E. James was hired as FFA advisor. There are students such as Bob Swenson, Stub Becker, Bert Henderson, and Joyce Schott who remember that time 60 years ago.
Retired farmer Bob Swenson did not ever go to country school, so his parents enrolled him in kindergarten at Clermont. For 12 years it was the only school he ever knew.
In the fall of 1953 vocational agriculture was introduced at Clermont. The course was so popular that boys from neighboring Elgin wanted to take the course, and they did.
After all, Elgin students were coming to Clermont to take algebra since Elgin had no such teacher.
Clermont’s mascot nickname was the Commanders and in Elgin they were called the Panthers. A few years later, they were the Tigers.
Clermont had no football field so boys, including Bert Henderson, would be bused to Elgin to play.
Then in the winter, because Clermont had a better basketball gymnasium, the Elgin boys traveled to Clermont.
It was the beginning of an enduring friendship, because in 1954 Clermont and Elgin consolidated. Plans were drawn for a new school building, and Valley was chosen as the new school name.
The new school opened in the fall of 1957, and Swenson, Henderson, Becker, and others were members of the first Valley graduating class in the spring of 1958. They were all FFA members.
Laverne, Bob’s older brother by one year, was a member of the last Clermont graduating class.
The brothers were active in FFA and recall when the first FFA jackets were ordered. On the back the name “Elgin” was centered above “Clermont.”
The group had been called the Elgin and Clermont chapter, but on the 25th anniversary of the chapter’s founding, there was an official name change to Valley in 1978.
Bob Swenson recalls the time when country schools began to close. Two of them were moved to Clermont in an area behind the junior high school. One building was converted to a music room and the other was for FFA.
Swenson said, “We needed a shop area, too, so we used an old bus barn that was there. We made do with everything that was made available to us.”
Students wishing to know more about farming could enroll in either FFA or vocational agriculture, two separate classes. They could take both if they wished.
FFA was an elective class in which Robert’s Rules of Order was learned and parliamentary procedure was practiced. Many speeches had to be given.
Voc ag was more “down on the farm” as students studied, soil, swine, dairy, how to weld, take milk samples, and would work on farm projects.
Stub Becker remembers the time he built a loading chute out of native lumber. He and some classmates were unloading it when Bert Henderson ended up going to the doctor.
Stub said, “When the chute hit the ground, it got Bert right in the nose. I thought he was going to lose it because there was so much blood.”
Henderson recalled the incident the best, saying, “I think I gave a pint of blood that day. The blow almost cut the end of my nose off, and Mr. James was real concerned. He rushed me to the doctor, who sewed it back on.”
Henderson added, “Those were the days. We had a lot of fun and a lot of friends were made. FFA was a big part of my life and in the lives of many others, too.”
Even after he graduated from Valley and entered into farming, Henderson held Mr. James in high regard,
He explained, “Ross James went above and beyond the call of duty. On his own he started a young farmer class after we graduated. Every Monday night we would meet at the high school, and he would teach us the latest in farming.
“Mr. James loved to teach farming and loved to play volleyball. After class ended, he would take us into the gym and we all would play volleyball.”
James would extend FFA and voc ag into the community. Bob Swenson recalled when he and other class members ran out of things to do in shop.
Bob said, “Mr. James kept us busy because he knew idle time wasn’t good. Olson & Olson was just up the street, so Mr. James would see Elmer Olson and ask him if he needed any help with John Deere equipment.
“Once he brought a brand-new John Deere manure spreader to our shop. It needed to be put together so the guys in our class did it for him. We never did hear back whether or not we put it together the correct way.”
So the boys from Clermont and Elgin got a lot of hands-on experience as they looked forward to a farming career someday.
Class was actually year-round because Ross James would visit the farm of each student during the summer months to see how their farm projects were going.
Bert Henderson raised pigs as his project, but it was a Hereford bull that got him to the Fayette County Fair.
“It was the only time I showed at the fair,” remembered Bert. “Mr. James encouraged me and helped me get ready. It was an experience I will always remember.”
The Valley FFA Chapter also remembers the first girl to ever enroll in FFA at Clermont and Elgin. She was a freshman named Joyce Bennett, now Joyce Schott. Her mom, Dolores, was widowed when Joyce was 8 years old.
Husband and father Ralph Bennett was a decorated WWII veteran who survived many battles. He was killed on the farm when a tractor pulling a load of wood on a hill rolled over on him in 1949.
Joyce did sewing and cooking at home, and when she entered high school she could take either home economics or vocational agriculture.
She remembered, “I wanted to know more about farming, so I told Mr. James I would like to take his class. The first question he asked me was ‘You aren’t taking my class because of all the boys, are you?’”
She answered. “Of course not!”
Joyce would attend classes for only a semester, but many memories remain from 60 years ago.
She said, “We visited different farms, and one time we went to Bert Henderson’s. He was raising hogs, and we were taken to the woods where Bert gathered bushels of acorns that he would use to help feed his pigs.”
There was a visit to LaVerne Swenson’s farm, as Joyce recalled, “None of us would ever forget that, because Mr. James showed us how LaVerne was able to bank $600 with his farm project. That was a lot of money back then. Farming was on its way back.”
James also visited the Bennett farm when Joyce’s mom baked her teacher a fresh loaf of bread.
Joyce Schott, Bert Henderson, Stub Becker, and Bob Swenson all went to school together, and all have fond memories of when FFA began in Clermont.
They were all saddened last year to learn of the death of their beloved teacher, Mr. James, who left a legacy of learning and a trail of outstanding farmers who went to school at Clermont, Elgin, and then Valley.
Next fall the Valley chapter will share classes with the FFA chapter at North Fayette.
Both chapters have outstanding histories, and now with whole-grade sharing a new history begins.
Together they will practice what Ross E James always preached: “Learning to do, doing to learn, earning to live, and living to serve.” It is the same today as it was 60 years ago.
Cutline: Student and S.T.E.P. leader Chuck Olliney is focused on helping disabled veterans attending Northeast Iowa Community College to make a trip to the memorials and monuments in Gettysburg and Washington, D.C. (Becky Walz photo)
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