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Monthly Archives: July 2009

It’s been a super summer of trips and visits

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Sherry and Sandy enjoy a treat at the historic Candy Kitchen in Wilton, Iowa. Phil Roberts photo.

Jini, Dan and I are shown at the "Field of Dreams" movie site in outside Dyersville, Iowa.

Jini, Dan and I are shown at the "Field of Dreams" movie site outside Dyersville, Iowa. Sherry Roberts photo.

It’s been a great summer of short trips and visits from family and friends, and it’s not over yet.

Helping make July extra enjoyable for us were, for instance, visits to our home from friends Sandy, who lives in the Atlanta area, and Dan and Jini, who live in a Salt Lake City suburb.

Sherry and I were friends with Sandy and her husband Glen when we were dating and they were young marrieds just starting their family.

Glen was the assistant manager at the grocery store where Sherry and I met in 1966 and worked and began dating. Glen and Sandy left the area in 1972 and we had only seen them once since then, when they lived in Prophetstown, Ill. I think it was in the late ’70s.

Wondering where they were and what they were doing, I decided to track them down on the Internet. I was saddened to learn that Glen had died of cancer in 2000 while they were living in Texas. But I found Sandy alive and well, and we were thrilled to have her stay with us a couple of days this month while she was visiting family members in the area.

It was good catching up on three decades of goings-on, and we enjoyed taking her on a tour of the Quad-Cities to show her how much it has changed since she moved away.

Dan, a Des Moines native, has been a friend since the late ’90s when I interviewed him for a newspaper column about his late father, a writer that I admired when I was a teen reader.

It turned out Dan and I had a lot in common and were fairly close in age. We began communicating by e-mail and became good friends.

His soul mate, Jini, is now our friend, as well. They have worked us into their schedule during their annual visits to Iowa the last several years, and we always have a good time, whether we’re taking a day trip together, watching a movie, shopping in an antique store or having a beer on our front porch.

Copyright 2009 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises.

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Posted by on July 29, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

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Moline businessman headed to Utah for run at land speed record

John Knaack poses with the car he'll take to the Bonneville Salt Flats. Phil Roberts photo.

John Knaack poses with the car he'll take to the Bonneville Salt Flats. Phil Roberts photo.

Everyone should have some goals in life. And it doesn’t hurt to have a few dreams, too.

A Moline businessman has a dream of going fast — real fast. And he’s inching closer and closer to achieving it. John Knaack’s dream is to set a world land speed record in a vintage coupe at the Bonneville Salt Flats in northwestern Utah.

Knaack, 60, co-owner of Moline’s General Pattern Corp. and a First Ward alderman in his first term, has been spending every spare minute and dollar for more than a year building the car he’ll take to the Salt Flats, a huge remnant of Lake Bonneville, a glacial lake.

Knaack was born in Moline and is a lifetime resident. He attended Moline High School, Black Hawk College and Scott Community College.

He became a patternmaker in 1974 and went to work at General Pattern in 1986. He and a business partner bought the place in December 1992. Knaack and his wife Trudy bought out his partner in November 2008.

Knaack’s love of cars, he guesses, started in the early ’50s at the age of 3 when his dad and a friend entered a 1937 Ford in the stock car races at the old Quad-City Speedway. Lee Morehardt drove the No. 50 Contract Roofing Special.

While at Moline High and beyond, Knaack drove what now are considered classic cars — a 1957 Chevy, a 1964 Grand Prix and a 1968 GTX.

He says he started building hot rods with his friends after he married Trudy, his wife of 39 years with whom he has two daughters and one grandson.

“The first hot rod was a ’31 Model A,” he recalls. “We put six two-barrels on it and a 301 cubic-inch engine in it.”

More recently he built a 1955 Buick hot rod.

Now the land speed record run is occupying his time, though it’s not like Knaack was running out of things to do. There’s the alderman job, the first political office he’s had.

“I’m very excited about being an alderman,” he says. “I find it very rewarding.”

Knaack also likes yard work.

“I love gardens,” he says. “I have a fairly good-sized rock garden.”

He admits it’s been neglected a bit the last year or so since he began pursuing his dream.

“But a rock garden can carry on without a lot of care,” he adds.

Knaack also builds furniture as a hobby.

“I try to build furniture for both girls as a Christmas gift each year,” he says.

It was his find of a 1929 Ford Model A five-window coupe that gave rise to Knaack’s dream of setting a land speed record. He traded a pistol for it and told his wife he wanted to prepare the car for a run at the Salt Flats.

How did she react to that?

“She said, ‘You’re not getting any younger.'”

Knaack says that sort of support was not really a surprise to him. “She’s always been behind me in the decisions I made or wanted to make,” he says.

Knaack will compete in a vintage coupe class for his shot at the world land speed record.

The Southern California Timing Association officer changed the class he was to run in to a class that is somewhat faster than he originally planned to go. The Classic Altered Coupe (C/CGALT) class record set in August of 1998 is 238.241 mph.

“I would like to go 240 mph,” he says.

The 1929 Model A body sits on a heavier 1932 Ford chassis, which has been “narrowed and pinched” to fit the body. The car’s roof has been “chopped” (lowered) 3 inches. The Ford has a Franklin quick-change rear end and is powered by a vintage 1958 364 cubic-inch, 650-horsepower Buick engine. A parachute will help slow the car after the run.

“The car is dedicated,” Knaack says, “to my uncle, Mike Nelson, who was killed September 4th, 1999, at Cordova Dragway.”

Knaack had hoped to make his attempt at a land speed record the first week of August. But some late-arriving parts — including a heavy duty timing chain that’s coming from Germany — will delay the attempt to this fall. Now he hopes to compete in the World of Speed activities being held Sept.16-19 at the Salt Flats.

His wife and a two-man pit crew will accompany him.

If Knaack can qualify and get a license to compete, he will be allowed to make some practice runs before going after the world record.

“The biggest process is going through inspection,” he says. Everything has to be just right.

Knaack says his venture is expensive, but friends have helped by donating parts and their time working on the car. Someone even donated T-shirts he is selling to raise money.

Anyone interested in helping can call Knaack at his shop, (309) 762-1581, or e-mail him at jknaack@generalpatternandmolds.com.

Win, lose or draw, this has been a unique experience for the Knaacks, and they’re documenting everything for the sake of family history. “I have compiled lots of notes and pictures,” Knaack says.

Copyright 2009 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises.

 
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Posted by on July 22, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

Remembering Charlie Moffit

Charlie Moffit in the 1960s. Photo courtesy of Doug Haack's Vintage Racing Photos.

Charlie Moffit in the 1960s. Photo courtesy of Doug Haack's Vintage Racing Photos.

It said Vern Weber on the roof, but Charlie Moffit had taken over the ride when this photo was taken in 1963. Photo is from the Phil Roberts collection.

It said Vern Weber on the roof, but Charlie Moffit had taken over the ride when this photo was taken in 1963. Photo is from the Phil Roberts collection.

Charlie in recent years.

Charlie in recent years.

My buddies and I grew up in the 1960s in Davenport, Iowa, a city located along the Mississippi River on the Iowa-Illinois border.

We played sports in school and followed major league teams to some extent, but we generally didn’t have many major league heroes. Our heroes were people many folks had never heard of — guys like Charlie Moffit.

Sure, as a kid I liked Stan Musial of the Cardinals, Jim Taylor of the Packers and NASCAR driver Glenn “Fireball” Roberts. But these athletes seemed such a long way from home.

Iowa had — and still has — no major league teams. The hot ticket around here has always been the Iowa Hawkeyes or the Iowa State Cyclones. The closest cities to eastern Iowa with major league sports teams are Chicago and St. Louis. But both were a long way to go to see a game on the two-lane roads of 45 or 50 years ago.

So my pals and I adopted sports heroes close to home. These were athletes who competed basically in our own back yards on Friday nights at Davenport Speedway at the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds.

Many fine “weekend warriors” lived in our area, known as the Quad-Cities. And there were contingents from racing strongholds like Keokuk, Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, Dubuque and Peoria who traveled to Davenport regularly to take on our best chauffeurs.

My buddies and I could relate to these drivers, who were generally our fathers’ ages or a little younger. Most of us adopted two or three of them as our favorites in the two divisions that raced on the Davenport quarter-mile — one that featured newer cars and one made up of 1930s and ’40s jalopies.

We’d watch and cheer for these daredevil members of the Speed Demons Racing Association as they competed wheel to wheel, protected back then only by a roll cage, a seat belt and an open-face helmet. Some of the better drivers were really busy on race night; they drove in both racing divisions.

After the races my friends and I would hurry into the pit area and stand a couple of feet away from our hometown heroes — guys like Charlie Moffit — intently watching their every move and listening to their every word as they wiped beads of perspiration from their faces with a shop rag, drank a can of cold Hamms or Burgy beer, told racing “war” stories to anyone nearby and happily scribbled autographs in advertising-laden programs or on scraps of paper for wide-eyed kids like us.

It was a great experience during a great time to grow up — if, of course, you don’t count the assassinations, the racial unrest, the Cold War and Viet Nam.

A lot of years sailed by since then. My buddies and I have now survived the many good experiences and the many not-so-good experiences that six decades of life brings to someone.

And we’ve sadly stood by and watched as, one by one, not only our parents but our childhood heroes, those race drivers, have left us.

Two legendary drivers from the Quad-Cities area who have died in recent years are Benny Hofer and Ronnie Weedon.

The latest to depart, at age 80, was Charlie Moffit, a soft-spoken, hard-driving gentleman from Stanwood, Iowa, who was as fine a wheelman as the Midwest has ever produced.

When guys like me think of Charlie, we don’t picture an old man living out his final years in a nursing home. We picture a tall, big man in his mid 30s squeezing himself into the cockpit of a race car. We remember him speeding around the track — sometimes winning and sometimes losing — but always racing his heart out and running clean.

It’s guys like this who were our heroes.

Copyright 2009 by Phil Roberts: Creative Enterprises. This article was published in the August 2009 issue of Late Model Illustrated.

 
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Posted by on July 7, 2009 in Uncategorized