"Following the Woodie"
A Story Featuring Bob & Marianne Anderson's 1937 English Woodie and the Columbia Runabout
Ordinarily, the trip from Barrington, Illinois, to Nickels Automotive Woodworking in Traverse City, Michigan, averages about five and one half hours one way. Following my good friend Bob's '36 Ford Woodie to Traverse City was another matter altogether.
The purpose of our trip was two-fold. Bob and Mike had planned to give the Woodie's wood fitment a thorough once over. Mike had invited me to accompany Bob so I could see an electric 1903 Columbia Runabout, upon which his shop had just performed restoration services. The Columbia did not disappoint. My first impression of the car was that it was much smaller in person than the examples seemed online. While the design and details are quite refined, the car is solidly built.
We embarked early as planned to avoid the morning rush hour traffic, and as the big Chicago skyline receded in our mirrors, time seemed to slow ever so slightly. With every new mile on the clock, the typical pressure to meet a deadline diminished. We ran serenely along, the flat head exhaust note sounding more like an old wooden Chris Craft V-8 motor turning at an easy going pace. Bob was out in front with me following behind. Occasionally there was a subtle tinge of motor oil mixed into the fragrance of the spring flowers, a complimentary rich sweet aroma. The only thing out of place was seeing Bob sitting at the passengers side, the Woodie is right-hand drive.
We made three stops in all, with Woodie admirers at each one. They
all seemed to approach the Woodie with their eyes fixed as if they
were seeing a long-lost friend. Our last fuel stop was just outside
of Cadillac Michigan, where Bob was delayed at
the pump for half an hour. He graciously visited with all, answering
their questions, leaving the hood open to accommodate their
curiosity. Woodies are a cultural icon as American as apple pie.
They are a reassuring reminder of a simpler, more innocent time.
As I watched Bob motor onto the pine-lined roadway, I realized that
we had entered the environs of Hemingway's Nick Adams stories.
As we made the rounds at Mike's shop, we encountered numerous other vehicles coming to life as well:
Norton's pair of '48 Chevy wagons
It was 7:15 pm when we were excused from the table. I asked Mike if I could take a few shots of the Runabout and he generously complied. We moved the car from the garage to just outside of the shop and I began to shoot away. While I was shooting the Columbia, Mark and Mike retrieved Mike's canary yellow 1929 Model A Speedster and fired her up! Mark rolled up to me and asked me if I'd be game for a ride. A micro second later, we were on our way. The Speedster has a beautiful sound and as I watched Mark increase the spark advance the Speedster answered with a noticeable increase in speed. OK, we were only going 45 MPH, but 45 MPH in the Speedster feels like 100 in a contemporary car, what a blast! When we returned to the shop there was a line of gray hairs looking more like anxious school boys all waiting their turn to go for a ride, too!
I returned to composing shots of the Runabout, gaining greater
appreciation for the refinement and vision the designers and
craftsmen had bestowed upon this lovely automobile. I found a
certain irony in the fact that 107 years ago Americans were driving
"Green" electric cars with a range of forty miles and batteries that
could be re-charged overnight, which got me to thinking of what
might have been...