Love for classic cars still burns for Brooten man, even at 95
John O. Bohmer, of Brooten, stands in front of a 1971 Volkswagon Karmann Ghia, one of the more unique cars in his collection. Photo by Scott Thoma
John Bohmer has always been a collector of sorts. It started when he was a child collecting toy cars and has continued into his 90s as a classic car collector.
“I’ve always enjoyed collecting things,” said the former longtime president of Bonanza Valley State Bank of Brooten.
Numerous matchbook covers, buttons, license plates, talking stuffed animals and many more items that he’s collected over the years are displayed inside his secured warehouse outside of Brooten.
But it’s his vintage car collection that he is most proud of. At one time, Bohmer’s collection of classic automobiles was upwards of 150, but is now around 25.
“I didn’t have anywhere to put them all,” laughed Bohmer. “And I couldn’t afford to keep them all either. So I sold a lot of them. Sometimes, though, I sell them and buy another one I like.”
To show that he’s still involved in collecting at 95 years old, Bohmer purchased three of the cars in his current collection within the last year.
Because of the rarity and value of some of the cars in the collection, Bohmer figures several of them may have once been owned by wealthy and prominent people.
For example, the 1939 Cadillac V16 Convertible Coupe he owns is one of only 11 ever made. And his 1930 Cadillac with a rare covered rumble seat is one of only 11 like it still in existence.
Bohmer did discover the name of the original owner of one of the cars in his collection. His 1938 Packard Darrin two-door convertible was once owned by legendary 1930s screen actress Mae West (famous for uttering the phrase “Come up and see me sometime”).
“I purchased that car in Independence, Missouri,” said Bohmer, proudly. “I’ve collected cars from the four furthest points in the United States. If I see or hear about a car I’m interested in, I’ll go after it. But I don’t collect as much as I used to.”
Howard Darrin, who designed the car owned by Mae West, made special-designed vehicles with exotic bodies for many Hollywood actors and actresses, including Clark Gable, Errol Flynn and Rosalind Russell.
A view of the collection of cars in Bohmer’s garage. Photo by Scott Thoma
Bohmer refers to the building that houses his collections as “The Car Barn.” Once inside the door, visitors feel as though they’ve taken a step back in time. A dozen vehicles are lined up side by side along each side of the building, while another dozen are aligned in similar fashion on the opposite side. In between the two rows is a walkway with an informational pedestal sign in front of each car.
“A lot of people ask about each car so I had signs made that tells a little about each of them,” explained Bohmer.
A 1903 Knox Runabout is the oldest car in Bohmer’s collection. Photo by Scott Thoma
The “Car Barn” isn’t a museum, per se, where interested parties can visit at any particular time. It’s more of an oversized playhouse where Bohmer can spend time enjoying the things he’s collected over the many decades, although he has shown his collections to various groups.
Bohmer seems at home in his “Car Barn,” knowing where every car is parked, what accessories each one features, and the history of each one.
“They all run, too,” he said. “My wife and I drove the 1934 Packard to Florida and it was the smoothest and quietest drive I’ve ever had. You don’t even know there’s an engine in it.”
Bohmer bounds around like a man half his age, occasionally taking a few minutes to sit and rest an obviously painful back that he is having surgically repaired at the Mayo Clinic. But his rest stops are briefs and he’s soon strutting down the aisle of cars and offering information about each one.
He still drives a car and lives at home with his second wife, Leona (“Nona”).
And what does Nona think about his vast collection of cars?
“She loves them,” he said with a wide smile.
The collection of classic cars he owns is a wide variety of eras, manufacturers, cylinders, colors and history.
The oldest car he owns is a 1903 Knox Runabout, and the most recent in the collection is a 1971 Volkswagon Karmann Ghia convertible. He also owns a 16-cylinder Cadillac, a 12-cylinder Lincoln, and a 12-cylinder Jaguar.
Bohmer was born and raised in Brooten, a modest community of 750 in the central part of the state.
He’s had a hand in many of the town’s projects over the years in an attempt help it prosper and grow.
He built the town’s current airport, appropriately named the John O. Bohmer Aiport. He also owned the first airplane in Brooten. And he once owned a restaurant in town called John O’s that is still in operation, although the name was changed by the new owner, and it recently was transformed into a steak house.
Bohmer’s grandfather, also named John Bohmer, owned the first automobile in town. He started the Bonanza Valley State Bank in 1894 and was president until 1954. Bohmer then took over the presidency from his grandfather in 1954 and held that position until retiring in 2000.
Now Bohmer’s first cousin, David, has held that position since 2000.
John Bohmer still stays busy in the banking business as a board member. He also has written a weekly column in the town’s newspaper, the Bonanza Valley Voice, for the past 52 years.
“I write about things going on in town, the state or even the world,” he said. “I’ve always enjoyed writing.”
Bohmer also had an irrigation system installed in the 1970s that now irrigates over 100,000 acres of farmland in Bonanza Valley.
Having a lot of irons in the fire has helped keep this personable gentleman feeling young.
“It’s all about keeping the mind and body busy,” he said, when asked about the secret to his longevity. “I like to keep active.”