Indiana Anatomy vs. Buckeye University

An old Hoosier geography lesson states, “North Vernon is in southern Indiana, South Bend is in northern Indiana, and French Lick isn’t all it’s cracked up to be”.

So I’m off to PUB 2015, ‘Pagoda University, Blacklick’, an unlikely burg east of Columbus, Ohio, to share owner experience with a peculiar group of devotees to a car produced, briefly, from 44 to 51 years ago.

In 1981, an internal urge, i.e., delirium, resulted in the purchase of an aging two-seat roadster, a 1971 Mercedes 280SL.  With an active business and two pre-teens, calling this impractical would be an upgrade.  Thirty-four years later, the “pagoda”, so named for its reverse parabolic roofline, remains in our stable, running like a ‘schweizer uhren’ (swiss watch).


The group, known by its chassis designation, W113, is an internet fraternity bonded in the digital universe.  Aside from 27 states represented, there are 11 Canadians (Ont, Que, Manitoba, New Brunswick), two Australians, a Swede, Frenchman, and a Dominican, all of whom have ‘met’, online, through the club forum and now transformed into a band of brothers.

The unlikely meeting place, the shop of one Joe Alexander, a mechanical guru, personable yet unrefined, with two bad knees.  His milieu, two acres of shop surrounded by a jungle of cadaver cars, oxidizing under the watchful eyes of cannibals.  And poison ivy.

DSCN3385 DSCN3386


Few people knew that Jim Morrison named his rock group, The Doors, and wrote the lyrics to “Light My Fire” * in 1965 while under the effect of cannabis grown in Joe Alexander’s boneyard.  The evidence below:

You know that it would be untrue


You know that I would be a liar


Attractive rumps on a damp day

Come on baby, light my fire

While the cars are the magnet, they are inorganic.  They are arbitrarily assigned name, gender, and personality when none exist.  They do not suffer headaches, menstrual cramps, or bi-polar disorders and cold shower alert, they don’t know you own them.

The glue in this endeavor, an array of disparate individuals sharing a common passion.  Below, one Stephen B., a retired U.S. Army Colonel, wiping his near perfect example with a turkish towel.  The more he wiped the car, the cleaner the towel became:


A PhD in mechanical engineering, from Quebec,  Inna S., articulate advocate of higher learning:


Below, Rolf D. (333miles, London,Ontario), Johan W. (3333 miles, Gothenburg, Sweden)

compare odometer readings:


Come on baby, light my fire

Many too numerous to mention:

  • An accomplished oil painter, nearly anonymous in the crowd, with a handsome collection of cars cloaked in his loft
  • A state department diplomat (ret.) with an exquisite eye for detail, a Rosetta stone memory
  • Radiologist, used to viewing negatives, with a 15 year restoration in progress; a decade away from conclusion
  • A clothing executive (ret.), sharing this experience with his hometown friend and barber…a drag racer of renown
  • 14 y/o Jacob, a grandson, who may carry the pagoda torch into the next generation
  • Former POW, Hoa Lo prison (aka Hanoi Hilton) USAF pilot and parachutist, whose identity shall remain private

A most memorable moment, sitting on the patio after a delicious Sat. evening dinner, watching the sunset over the Columbus skyline, in the company of three German émigrés discussing the homeland;

  • Rolf D, Canada, struggling over his wife’s declining health
  • Gernold N,  Arundel, Maine, mechanikermeister, born near the French/Belgian border
  • Urban J, Duluth MN, recently widowed, a transplant from Dusseldorf

The wine, average, the conversation was not, as the latter two enjoyed fine cigars of Cuban heritage.

Doesn’t get much better than this……..Blacklick trumps French Lick.

    Try to set the night on fire    


* ‘Light My Fire’ lyrics, courtesy Manzarek/Rothschild Production



Oh, little town of ………….

A requisite tour of the America on Wheels museum in Bethlehem, PA. featured a lunch prepared by nearby Catasauqua, PA “Cathy’s Creative Catering Café’, a business suffering from an overdose of “C”s. Delicious food, however, maybe a vowel from Pat and Vanna is in Cathy’s future.


graphite and ivory 190Sls (1955-1963) in the shadow of the Bethlehem Steel blast furnace (1857-2003) on a 95℉ day

The planned afternoon activity, covered bridges, Rodale organic farm and picnic in Kutztown, PA., exceeded my tolerance. A hot 55 y/o roadster, sweltering heat, humidity, and intense traffic delays melted my enthusiasm, so under the heading, full disclosure; I bolted.

IMG_6116  So cute, even those little piggies

IMG_4132  kiss me, I’m organic

This little piggy may go to market, but my little piggy is going whee, whee, all the way to home to Easton, PA.

Yes, I broke rank. Sorry, the criminal equivalent of automotive treason, punishable by two years on a home-detention ankle monitor, and one conjugal garage visit per month.  Harsh, yes, but the benefits of compost and recycled manure are far less interesting than an unscheduled visit to (hold onto your silly putty ®)………

The Crayola ® Experience; from their brochure, a one-of-a-kind attraction where color, chemistry, and technology magically combine to create a colorful adventure for a child’ s imagination.

The Binney & Smith museum, located in downtown Easton, PA was on my bucket list; the bonus, it was blissfully air-conditioned. Teeming with 4 to 8 y/o future graffiti artists, many of whom had skipped today’s Ritalin dose, I dove right in as if still in Miss Markwalder’s first grade class, Gary, IN, the Wallace School, 1946.

Much like the Hershey Museum, or Kellogg’s watching Fruit Loop production, the Spam Museum in Austin, MN; all destinations that parallel the 190SL fantasy, deceiving oneself as being forever young. Where else will you see the world’s largest Crayon ?



Next stop, Hackettstown, NJ, home to the Mars production facility.  No longer open to public tours, I’m playing the Charles Kuralt card in an attempt to finagle a writer’s pass to….drum roll…..the m&m plant.

M&M_spokescandiesonly 4.7 calories each.


Wish me luck.

Mobile stairway to heaven


Four vintage roadsters, traveling in tandem, stop in Penfield, OH on the lawn of the local church ‘for sale by owner‘.  Could this be the big guy, GOD himself, asking $79,500 ?  Would HE take a 1956 MB 190SL in trade?



On a blue highway in small town LaGrange, northern OH, we pass the “Two Chicks & a Blow Dryer” salon, which briefly caught my attention.  In the very next block,

“Fu Ching studio of martial arts”


I’m staying calm, hands on the steering wheel.

350 miles over western Pennsylvania, a picnic at the local park, and a lengthy discussion over the anatomy of an animal cracker served as our preamble to day one. Six ‘adults’ passed the subject cracker around for an opinion, i.e., was it a bear, an elephant, a lion….?

The absence of a treasured anatomical appendage, in this age of Caitlyn Jenner enlightenment, led to the final judgment; a transgendered tiger. Pretending it was a pretzel, I ate it.


At an interstate rest stop, a long distance truck driver stopped to admire the cars, but mostly to dump rain water from inside the tires on his load.  He had to use a 5 gallon bucket to ‘make his weight’.  Headed from Nebraska to a northern Quebec mine, each tire (empty) weighs 9000 lbs and measures 11’9 in vertical height. You won’t find these on, our neighbor in South Bend.


Following opening evening activities on Wednesday, which has morphed into a marathon, serial hugfest, Thursday AM aimed the engines to nearby Nazareth, PA.

A tour of the incomparable C.F. Martin guitar factory defies description in a world of otherwise mass-produced trinkets.



 From $1500 to $150,000, with custom options

A tour of the oldest structure of Moravian culture, the stunning Whitefield House, built in 1740, followed on this gorgeous morning. Adjacent, in similar architecture, stands an elegant retirement home, the Alexandria Manor. Two ladies on the front porch, whom I’ll refer to only as Gertrude and June, the very names on their resident IDs, gazed with interest as the cars arrived.


L-R, Gertrude, Ruth

Gertrude, age 92, had lived her entire life in Nazareth, but had never, not once, toured the National Heritage site less than a hundred yards away. An offer to be her personal escort was declined: ‘maybe another day, but not today, thank you’. She gave the same Suze Orman response when I tempted her with a convertible ride.  Denied.

We talked at length about the ‘hometown’ favorite son, race driver Mario Andretti. “Yes, I knew him, a nice boy, but really his twin brother, Aldo, was much nicer and spoke better English. Those dago kids lived 3 blocks away on St. Elmo St.; sure,  I’ll tell you how to get there”.

I drove to the Andretti home, knocked, and was greeted warmly by the current owners, offered coffee, a krispy crème donut and a tour. You may find hospitality in a dictionary, but in Nazareth, it’s between C.F. Martin factory and the Whitefield House.

Time for a break here in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania….95℉, 95% damp…… be continued.