Vintage auto rides again

ESCANABA – Not too many folks these days, it seems, are skilled with their hands.

A generation or so back, people changed their own oil. They knit, sewed and mended. Things that were repairable got fixed and not tossed straight into the trash.

That kind of hands-on ingenuity will be on display this evening as Escanaba presents its sesquicentennial parade.

As you view the parade, keep an eye out for homemade creations – banners, floats, displays, costumes. Also look for things like a miniature Sand Point Lighthouse crafted by members of the local historical society.

Another conversation piece will be Richard Butryn’s specially made Model A Ford.

The vehicle, which Butryn and friends constructed in time for Escanaba’s centennial parade in 1963, is making its return to Ludington Street.

Mr. Butryn says it all began when as a boy of 15 he became fascinated by a neighbor’s large stationary steam engine that had been used on a buzz saw rig in the Schaffer area.

“I thought it would be nice to see it on something where everyone could see it, and a car came to mind.”

So, after trading his neighbor 15 Christmas trees for the engine, Butryn went into Bark River and acquired a Model A frame for $5. A side trip to Coplan’s salvage yard in north Escanaba yielded necessary parts.

“Then my friend George Potvin came over – George is still our local blacksmith and artist – and we took the rim from a wooden wagon wheel and heated, cut and bent it for the motor mounts. Iron was scarce after World War II; that’s why we used what we could.”

Butryn and Potvin tinkered with a forge, using a vacuum cleaner motor on the bottom to generate lots of heat. Some fine tuning was done at blacksmith Joe Labeau’s place, he added, including “some torch work and welding. I later built the cab with some pine boards.” Potvin brought his work of art to Escanaba for the centennial parade, along with pals Potvin, Roger Boudreau, Carl Fassbender, Chum Dubord and Ben Yagodzinski.

His nifty car was featured in several other parades over the years, including Des Plaines, Ill., where Butryn worked for the city.

“It was the early ’70s and the gas crunch was on,” he recalled. “I guess people looked at my car for some alternative fuel, I guess, but I received a standing ovation from the judges and a first prize.”

Butryn jested that his car “will probably burn anything liquid – like moonshine and tequila – the same stuff I do occasionally.” Nevertheless, his can-do attitude and creativity may just well be instructive to today’s youth.

I wonder what the neatest invention will be in the year 2063?

Karen (Rose) Wils and her sister, Lori Rose, are lifelong residents of north Escanaba. Karen’s folksy columns are published weekly in Lifestyles.