Monthly Archives: August 2011

Henry Gregor Felsen: I never met him but I knew him well

Henry Gregor Felsen. Contributed photo.

Henry Gregor Felsen at work. Contributed photo.

Henry Gregor Felsen doing a tuneup. Contributed photo.

Holly and her husband, Mike. Phil Roberts photo.

Dan and Jini. Phil Roberts photo.


I just finished distributing a news release (it follows below) for an event I am looking forward to attending. It’s a tribute to the late author, Henry Gregor Felsen, whom I credit directly for my interest in reading and indirectly for a fulfilling career I’ve had as a reporter, publicist and freelance writer.

As a youngster in the early 1960s, I bought a few Hardy Boys books at the Ben Franklin store not far from my house in Davenport, Iowa. I enjoyed reading about Frank and Joe Hardy and their buddies and the detective work they did, but I wouldn’t say I was an avid reader. My main interests were cars and stock car racing.

And I sure as heck wasn’t interested in writing, English and grammar.

Then, in about 1964 or ’65 in the Williams Junior High School library, I discovered the automobile- and racing-related books of an author named Henry Gregor Felsen. I devoured his books, one after another.

I was also thrilled to read, somewhere on a book jacket, I think, that Mr. Felsen lived in the Des Moines area.

I never got to meet Henry Gregor Felsen, but I felt like I knew him well. We had, after all, been through a lot (of books) together!

I did track down his son, Dan, however, at his home in Utah many, many years after I had discovered HGF. It was likely in the late 1990s or early 2000s when I did a phone interview with Dan for a newspaper column. We seemed to hit it off during the conversation; we had a lot in common, including the love of cars and racing. We began e-mailing each other regularly after that.

That led to Sherry’s and my meeting Dan and his family when he was back in Iowa on vacation for a few weeks one summer, and taking him with us then and a couple more times in the years to come, to some NASCAR All-Star Series dirt track races at which Sherry and I handled media relations.

I also successfully talked Dan in to writing a racing-related article (I took the photos for it) that later was published in a national magazine.

Since then, Dan and his friend, Jini, have visited us many times at our Iowa home, and we spent the better part of a week with them in 2010 at their Utah home. Though he lives many miles away, Dan is one of my closest friends.

I had the pleasure of meeting Dan’s sister, Holly, and her husband, Mike, earlier this summer.

These days Holly and Dan, who have the rights to their dad’s books, have republished “Hot Rod,” the book that started it all. They are hoping to bring Henry Gregor Felsen’s stories to a new generation of young readers.

I am honored to have been asked to be their publicist, resulting in the following news release.

Phil Roberts


West Des Moines, Iowa (Aug. 24, 2011) – If you enjoy cars and motorcycles and once read the automobile-related books of the late author Henry Gregor Felsen, don’t miss a benefit car and bike showcase and more headed to West Des Moines next month.

The Tribute Festival, honoring the spirit and books of the iconic 1950s West Des Moines-based, nationally known author Henry Gregor Felsen, opens at 9 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 17, at the Val Air Ballroom, 301 Ashworth Road. It will be followed by Dic Youngs’ Rock n Roll Revival at the Val Air.

Admission to the Tribute Festival portion of the day’s events is free!

Felsen (1916-1995), a prolific writer, was the “Granddaddy of Street Rodding.” His book that started it all, “Hot Rod,” recently was republished by his children, Holly Felsen Welch and Dan Felsen, for a new generation of readers to enjoy. The book can be ordered at

Other Felsen books that were popular with adolescent readers were “Street Rod,” “Rag Top,” “Fever Heat,” “Crash Club” and “Road Rocket.”

Both Holly Felsen Welch and Dan Felsen will be on hand to meet and greet visitors to the Tribute Festival.

In addition to the Sept. 17 Tribute Festival, which offers top-10 awards for the bikes, top-25 awards for cars and trucks and six special tribute picks, organizers have planned bands; a live DJ; great food, including burgers and brats; 50/50 drawings; and a drawing for show entrants.

The Dic Youngs’ Rock n Roll Revival at the Val Air honors the late KIOA rock jock. Doors open at 6 p.m., and music kicks off at 7. The Rivieras and the Windy City Elvis will be performing. Tickets are only $10.

Car and bike showcase registration, both in advance and the day of the show, is $25. All registrants also will receive two free tickets, a $20 value, to Dic Youngs’ Rock n Roll Revival.

But those registering before Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 5, also will receive a free T-shirt. Registration forms are available online at

On-site registration on Saturday, Sept. 17, the day of the Tribute Festival, is from 9 a.m. to noon. Awards will be presented at 3 p.m.

Proceeds from the Tribute Festival benefit scholarship programs at Drake and DMACC.

For more information, e-mail Holly Felsen Welch at


Posted by on August 24, 2011 in Uncategorized


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What a day it was in this little town!

This was a popular place for bikers. Phil Roberts photo.

The bulk of the RAGBRAI bicyclists — most wearing helmets and bright riding attire — started peddling through Walcott’s streets, which were lined with American flags, about 9 Saturday morning (July 30, 2011). The last one may have been the shirtless man who rode through at 7:30 Saturday night.

The Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa began July 24 in Glenwood, Iowa, and ended Saturday in Davenport. Walcott was the final day-stop on the route.

It was a day to remember.

Scores of volunteers in lime green Walctoberfest T-shirts were ready for the participants. Ready to welcome them, ready to direct them, ready to assist them and, with the help of Iowa 80 Kitchen, ready to feed them items like pulled pork sandwiches, chips, fresh fruit and slices of homemade pie.

Walcott’s welcomes were evident throughout town. People sat in lawn chairs shouting encouragement and applauding. It was like the Walcott Day parade revisited. Harry Knutsen, who sat in a lawn chair across the street from his house on Main Street, waved and shouted, “Good morning. Welcome to Walcott!” to groups of riders.

Insurance agent Brent Arp, shielded from the sun by a large cowboy hat, greeted riders as they approached Victory Park, giving many high fives or, more accurately, low fives.

“I’ll buy the first beer,” Arp joked as some sailed by. Well, I think he was joking since he never pulled out his wallet or left his post to make good on the promises.

Dick Hagen was on hand, portraying Walcott founder Willie Walcott. His character is a community icon. Wearing a wrinkled, balding old man mask and dressed in a Walctoberfest T-shirt and trademark black suit, Hagen earned some smiles as he shook the hands of riders entering the park.

Walcott’s RAGBRAI stop was a well-planned production spearheaded by Mayor Jim Couper and organized by Kris Burt. Planning began in early February, well before the ride’s route was even finalized.

The day-stop took place in Victory Park. But other spots, like the Walcott Coliseum and The Lampliter, also welcomed participants.

One of the more popular places in Walcott Saturday, though, was the church lawn on the northeast corner of Main and James streets. Just before some of them stretched out on the shaded grass to relax a bit, riders stopped at a nearby fire hydrant equipped with four faucets to fill their bottles with fresh, cold water.

Public works director John Brockmann steadied riders’ bikes for them — most don’t have kickstands — and chatted with them. Some dumped water over their heads in an attempt to cool off.

Charlie Visek of Cedar Rapids was one of those stretched out in the church yard. It was his first RAGBRAI.

“I’m a virgin,” said the former baseball umpire and basketball official. He was riding with his son, Casey, who said they kept a 17-18 mph pace. Charlie said he’ll ride again next year because “this is my new activity.”

Also resting there was Brent Siemers of Kansas City. I asked him about the week’s heat.

“Wednesday was the last bad day heat-wise,” he said. “I am sure there were some struggles out there, but we left early and we had some cloud cover until 10 or 10:30 in the morning.” Camping out in a tent at night all week, however, Siemers said, had been uncomfortable because of the high humidity.

Another popular attraction was Bill and Joyce Hudson’s house on North Main. That’s because they had their 1937 Terraplane and 1935 Auburn on display out front.

Elwynn Taylor, ISU Extension climatologist, dressed in Cyclone red and gold, stopped his bike to get a closer look.

“It’s going to be warmer today than it has been the last two days, but there’s been some relief since the Sunday and Monday rides on this trip,” he told me. “And I think everybody’s had a great time even though there has been some real heat stress.”

This was Taylor’s first RAGBRAI. He did it because his granddaughter, who just finished her freshman year at Iowa State and lives in his basement, suggested it.

Also checking out the old cars was Tom Malone of Des Moines, who rode his first RAGBRAI in 1976 and his second last year.

He surprised me when he said the wind had bothered him more than Iowa’s heat.

“The wind’s been kind of in our face and made it more difficult,” he said. “Fair winds and smooth roads make a good RAGBRAI.”

In addition to the waving American flags, a rusting steel, larger-than-life giraffe greeted riders at Main and Bryant streets. And a steel horse, appropriately named Rusty, was on duty outside the Walcott Coliseum. Randal Soenke of Muscatine created both of them.

The park was where most of the riders gathered.

“It’s a great setup,” one said as he listened to a singer on the pitcher’s mound of the ball diamond.

Many admired the glockenspiel displayed by the Walcott-based American/Schleswig-Holstein Heritage Society. Others received needed bike repairs at a repair booth.

“We’ll get you going,” said a mechanic to a woman rider who had a problem with a wheel.

Walcott firefighters and Buffalo Ambulance medics handled some medical problems. They weren’t all serious. One biker had blisters on her fingers that needed to be bandaged and taped. Experienced riders told me that can happen from holding onto the handgrips, even with padded gloves.

A large white sign was provided so riders could write their name and where they were from. One of those signing was Dale Shreve of South Bend, Ind., who was on his first RAGBRAI.

“It’s great. It’s tiring,” he said with a sigh. What was his opinion of Walcott? “It’s nice. You’ve got a nice park here. It’s good to refresh in. You guys have been great.”

A mother and son from Mount Vernon, Iowa, Denise and John Mineck, lunched in a park shelter. She raved about the shade. He raved about the piece of pie he was eating.

One couple told food shack workers that Walcott was the friendliest town they’d encountered across the entire state.

But not everyone strolling around the park was a biker. Ruby Ferris of Maysville was on hand to see what was going on and to relive the time several years ago when her community threw out the welcome mat for riders.

“We sold 50 pies and 800 bananas at a dollar apiece,” she recalled. And visitors also petted retired racing greyhounds and donated $400 to the greyhound adoption service in Maysville.

Copyright 2011 by Creative Enterprises, Walcott, Iowa. This piece ran as an “Everyday People” column in The North Scott Press, Eldridge, Iowa.


Posted by on August 7, 2011 in Uncategorized