Rose City classic car enthusiast looks back at lifetime in the garage, 50 years in Vintage Car Club

If you’ve ever been to tiny Rose City in Douglas County, you’ve probably been by the Rosell place. It’s the well kept farm with the big oak trees on a rise on County Road 14 just past the village.

DeWayne Rosell sits on the bumper of one of his classic cars at his home in Rose City. Photo by Jan King

DeWayne and Donna Rosell bought this farm in 1953 and raised a family of five by milking cows and raising crops. Donna died in 2008 and DeWayne misses his beloved wife and friend every day. The children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren come by fairly often but things are quieter on the farm than they used to be.

The farmyard is neat as a pin and if you tell DeWayne it looks great, he’ll probably say something like, “Donna used to have flowers everywhere.” It’s true that the flower beds now hold quite a few colorful plastic flowers along with some real flowers and solar lights to liven things up at night. There’s also an interesting clock sculpture framed by angle iron and black prickly circles the same size as the white clock in the center.

“Do you know what those are?” DeWayne asked a puzzled visitor about the black circles. “Cultivator shields. The clock doesn’t work. There’s another cultivator shield project down by the barn.”

Down by the now empty cow yard is a full size horse made from lots of horseshoes welded together and a cow made from barn cleaner chain with the links welded together.

DeWayne said he doesn’t know how many horseshoes it took to create the horse but he admits to enjoying welding.

“Do you know what those are?” he asked, pointing to a creation made of a series of white curved metal tines mounted on a bar of steel which is in turn mounted on a large metal wheel. The thing looks like a dancing something designed to catch breezes . . . or something. “Those are old hay rake tines.” He’s hung pots of begonias on the tines.

“Oooh!” said a surprised visitor.

To create his sculptures, DeWayne looks at everyday automotive and agriculture objects and sees beauty and patterns in their forms that others don’t see.

He also sees humor.

“Let’s go to the gas station,” he said.

DeWayne built a replica of an old fashioned gas station in 1995. It houses his collection of vintage gas pumps, his 1929 Model A  Ford gas delivery truck, and just outside the entrance, Ole the Parts Man. Ole is a gas station greeter.

“He used to say ‘I’m Ole the Parts Man’ when you stepped on his foot,” DeWayne said. “That’s not working now.”

In the mid-1990s, DeWayne built a replica of an old fashioned gas station, which houses and displays much of his collection. Photo by Jan King

Ole the Parts Man makes it clear that DeWayne’s sense of humor was seriously engaged in the creation of his art. I can imagine him in his shop at night after feeding and milking the cows. It could be that he’s been thinking about Ole all day – or all week – or that he’s just sorting through his pile of junk or treasures seeking inspiration. He chose a pretty black and silver Chevrolet radiator for Ole’s chest and stomach. Of course, Ole had to have a headlight for a head and spark plugs for eyes. Briefly abandoning his automotive motif, DeWayne chose an old pot cover for a hat. Ole has automotive hoses for arms and sort of lifelike somethings for hands. I can’t quite make out what the hands are made of, but they are miracles of automotive engineering. One somehow holds a gas can and another hand grasps an oil can. Ole, who apparently is a busy parts man, stands on two mufflers for legs and has some more mysterious somethings for feet.

When DeWayne finished Ole he must have gazed upon him and realized that he was somewhat scantily clad and therefore indecent. So he gave him a belt and a handsome hubcap so that he would be presentable to even the most sensitive visitors.

As much as DeWayne enjoyed turning automotive parts into surprising creations, he hasn’t changed much of anything on his gas pumps or delivery truck.

The truck looks like it’s just returned from a delivery. There are all sorts of intriguing looking fuel cans in racks along its sides.

“The tank is divided into three sections,” DeWayne said. “One is for kerosene, one for gasoline, and one for white gas. They used white gas in some tractors in those days.”

Next to the truck is a red gas pump that looks like the inspiration for a robot from the film Star Wars. It has a green gas hose for pumping gas into your car and a tiny read out for gallons pumped. We’re all familiar with that but inside a compartment with a swinging door are unfamiliar pipes, valves and gears.

“This valve is for filling a gas can,” DeWayne said, carefully closing the doors of this treasure from the past, above which is a red and white exit sign attached to a brick pillar.

Over the door to the gas station office is a Greyhound bus sign reminiscent of a time when gas stations in small towns across the country served as part of Greyhound’s huge transportation network.

Inside DeWayne’s replica gas station is a pipe smoking attendant with an antique typewriter and telephone at his desk. Photo by Jan King

Inside, visitors are greeted by a pipe smoking attendant with an antique typewriter and telephone at his desk and engine belts hanging over his head. There’s also an old calculator with 100 keys.

It’s apparent that this neatly dressed attendant doesn’t know about GPS. He’s got folded road maps on his desk and one in his hand ready to describe the best route to Inspiration Peak, or Urbank, or . . . where was it that you were going?

Next to the attendant is a bench made from the bones of a horse named Prince. DeWayne sits and begins telling about the restored cars in the adjacent building.

“I bought a 1926 Model T in 1962,” he said. “It’s the same age as I am. I had it painted in 1965 for $65. I don’t know if he used a brush or a sprayer but it still looks good.”

DeWayne restored a Model A in 1972. It’s a pretty thing, painted baby blue with dark blue trim, outside and inside. It has black fenders and a side mounted white walled spare tire that matches the white convertible top.

Next to the Model A is a 1928 Studebaker Victoria straight-eight that DeWayne bought at Herman Sternberg’s sale.

“Herman was one of the charter members of the Classic Car Club,” DeWayne said.

That was back in 1970, and today the club is going stronger than ever. DeWayne doesn’t remember how it all got started, but he says that he got a phone call from somebody to go to a meeting. He’s gone to most of the car club meetings since then.

“You should call Donny Kingston in Alexandria,” DeWayne said. “He is a charter member too.”

“I operated a garage in Rose City at that time, and before that, DeWayne’s wife, Donna, was my school teacher,” Donny said. “So we knew each other.”

Donny and DeWayne knew that each of them restored old cars for the fun of it. That’s how it all started, according to Donny. It was a network of old car enthusiasts, talking to each other in garages or parts stores, that needed a spark plug to get them going.

DeWayne’s vintage delivery truck is filled with fuel cans along the side including kerosene cans, gasoline and “white gas.” Photo by Jan King

“It was really Herman Sternberg and Wally Whistle who got it going,” Donny said. “Wally was a tool salesman, and he knew a lot of people doing restoration and preservation.”

Classic Car Club meetings were, and still are, fun and educational. Both Donny and DeWayne enjoyed visiting other men’s shops to see what they were doing.

“I liked the show and tell,” DeWayne said, “and the progressive dinners were a lot of fun.”

Over the years a lot of women became involved in the club and so did the next generation of families.

DeWayne’s wife Donna wrote a poem about that:

Years ago, I remember so well

Off to Alex Fire Hall, running pell-mell

Lo and behold! What was it I saw?

But a room full of men, not a gal to adore.

So off into the night, not a little unfunny,

I slunk off to sit and wait for my honey.

But, alas! Years have passed

Now whole families are welcomed

We wash cars, and drive them,

dress up and all talcumed,

We smile and we wave, we ooh and aah,

Exclaiming and saying,

“do you see what I saw”

Time has flown by but we still love our old ‘20s

While the younger folks go

for the ‘60s and ‘70s.

That’s fine though you see,

cuz our purpose remains

We all see, restore and enjoy all the same.

– Donna Rosell

The interest of entire families in restoring and preserving automotive history is satisfying to Donny and DeWayne.

“Preservation and restoration are really important so that young people can see these cars,” Donny said.

One of the young people that was inspired by the automotive restoration of his elders was Barry, DeWayne’s youngest son.

Barry recalled being in the ninth grade and standing in the shop with his dad and looking at that pretty blue restored model A.

DeWayne and Donna Rosell standing by the 1953 Buick convertible years ago. Contributed photo

At the time, Barry had a 1930 Ford Coupe chassis that had been turned into sort of a work vehicle. He looked at his chassis and he looked at his Dad’s car and he said, “I can do that.”

Being a youngster, Barry thought he could get the restoration project done in a year. It took him three years.

“There were times that I said, ‘I quit.’ Then dad would look at me and say, ‘Ok. Go ahead and quit.’ That would make me mad and I’d start again. He didn’t breathe down my back, but whenever I needed help he was there.”

During the restoration project Barry also drove the family cars in parades for the Car Club.

“On some weekends dad would be in one parade, mom in another, and I’d be in another,” Barry said. “I sort of grew up around beauty queens and politicians.”

Barry credited his restoration project with being central to getting a fellowship to engineering school. But he didn’t do it to put it on his resume.

Working with his dad, and members of the Vintage Car Club, to preserve those cars was a lot of fun. In fact, Barry is restoring a 1957 Studebaker right now.

DeWayne said that with all the activities through the years it has been an interesting 50 years since the Vintage Car Club was started.

“It is sad to think that most of the first members have passed on,” he said. “They, and all the new members, were so good to me, and still are.”