We departed the Fair Oaks parking lot a little after 9:00 am, heading towards Gettysburg by way of Leesburg. The parade down the Fairfax Parkway consisted of Ken & Helen Burns in their ’41 Woodie, Bill & Liz Simon in their ’34 Tudor, Bill & Sylvia Tindall in their ’46 Convertible, Patty & me in our ’53 Victoria, Jim & Char McDaniel in their ’51 Sheriff’s car followed by Hank & Cindy DuBois and Bill Selley. Sadly, because he had another commitment, we left behind Don Lombard, who with Ken & Helen, had planned the tour. Nonetheless, Don showed up at Fair Oaks to see us off.
It was the 14th Lebkicker Tour and the NVRG was revisiting the Gettysburg Battlefield, the site of the 2nd Lebkicker Tour. This would be a unique tour because NVRG members would come and go throughout the tour. Things went smoothly on the clear fall day, until we approached Leesburg, when the Tindall’s ’46 began running rough. Soon after we pulled onto Rte. 15, Bill T. pulled over to the side of the road and all but the Burns pulled over, too. Because the Burns were in the lead, they continued to the rally point. The ’46 stalled and at first could be restarted, only to stall again. The NVRG swung into action and began methodically troubleshooting. It was soon evident that there was no spark.
Meanwhile, the Burns were joined by Bob & Jane Helms at the Starbucks rally point. Soon, Steve & Wendy Pieper, also on their way to the rally point, saw the stalled caravan and pulled over. At this point, the wives of the NVRG, sensing that this might not be a quick fix, wisely elected to walk to the Starbucks a short distance ahead. With the assistance of tools supplied by Bill Simons and Jim M., the condenser and then the coil were replaced. Finally with a VOM, it was determined that the points were not opening. Given the difficulty of replacing the points while on the road as well as the time that had already elapsed, it was clear that the ’46 would not complete the tour. Because Jerry’s Ford was nearby, Steve P. called Dave Blum while Bill Selley called Hank Amster to see about storing the car there over the weekend. Hank A. made arrangements to have the car stored at Jerry’s. Bill T. and Bill Selley stayed behind and the rest of the crew went to Starbucks.
Ken immediately went to Plan B and decided that we should have lunch at the nearby Quiznos (it was now noon) and that we would forego the scenic route that morning, instead going directly to the Gettysburg Battlefield Visitor’s Center. When we got to the Visitor’s Center, we went past the first parking lot, which was full, we went past the second parking lot, which was full and went to the third parking lot, which was full…….almost. I think Ken was sweating as he considered options but he found two empty rows at the back of the lot. The new Visitor’s Center was really popular and we soon found out why!
We bought tickets and saw the movie “A New Birth of Freedom” narrated by Morgan Freeman. Liz remarked afterward, that it was the first time she appreciated how much the issue of new States and whether they would be free or slave precipitated the Civil War. The two Bills caught up with us there. They told us that the ’46 was safely stored at Jerry’s Ford and that one of the employees recognized it as Blum’s car and said he would try to work on it that weekend.
Next, most of us went to the Cyclorama, which had just opened the previous month. The Cyclorama, which shows Pickett’s Charge on the final day of the battle, was spectacular on several levels. First, just the sheer size and quality of the 360o painting made it look almost 3-D. Second, the subject matter was epic. There was so much going on that you could have spent hours studying it. Finally, in 1884 when it was painted, it was the technological equivalent of a big screen HD TV today. It must have been mind blowing. No wonder many veterans of the battle wept when they first saw it. After the Cyclorama, most went to the museum, which was also well done and extensive. Overall, you could not fail to appreciate the hardships that the soldiers endured.
We continued to the Quality Inn, a short distance into town, where the rooms were clean and large. (For all but the Dubois, the rooms were also warm. Our hearty Vermonters got a little taste of winter until their heating system was fixed the next day). We had a relaxed dinner in a private room at The Pike Restaurant, where the food was good and the service, supplied by a lone, young, energetic waitress, who was a moonlighting, special ed. school teacher, was also good.
It rained overnight. After a continental breakfast at the motel, we found that John Sweet had joined us and we drove to Woodgraining Specialists in Littlestown, after a twenty-minute drive. The ’51 and the ’53 made the trek but the ’34 and ’41 stayed enshrouded in plastic at the motel.
At Woodgraining Specialists, we were joined by John Ryan and Cliff & Sandra Green. We were greeted there by Ron Hedges, who introduced us to his son, Dan. Their facility was (here’s that word again) spectacular! The front part contained a show room of kitchens featuring their custom-made cabinets, which was more than a little distracting to the wives. The back part of the facility featured dashboard examples of their woodgraining prowess, which (to be fair) was more than a little distracting to the guys. The dashboards were truly works of art.
In the shops, Dan talked to us about the woodgraining process. He had a Model A dash with six sections showing the process: the first was bare metal; the second was primed; the third was primed with a sandable primer; the fourth had base coat; the fifth had inked on woodgrain; and the final section had a clearcoat finish. He also had a Chevy wagon that many of us had seen at Hershey with one side having woodgrained panels and the other side showing its original, unrestored state, complete with pitting and body rot.
Dan showed us his collection of plates with different wood patterns, some of which were plastic and some were metal, costing as much as $200. He mixed up some ink, coated a plate and then used a roller to transfer the woodgrain pattern to a dash that already had the base coat. Using an artist’s brush, Dan demonstrated how he could touch up and blend the grain from different roller strips. John S. was so taken, he received a quick lesson and rolled some woodgrain under Dan’s careful instruction.
Ken presented Dan and Ron with a framed photograph scanned from a Loren Sorenson book that showed that the process they were using was identical with the process used on the early Ford V8’s. Both were highly appreciative of the gift and we were all highly appreciative of the tour they gave us.
During the two and a half hour visit, it had begun to rain in earnest. We dashed to our cars and drove a short distance to the Hillcrest Restaurant. We all had a good lunch and more than a few sampled the pies for which the restaurant is famous. John Ryan and the Greens departed but the group continued on back to Gettysburg for a “free” afternoon.
Many took the battlefield driving tour, some with the aid of narration from a purchased CD and others by dashing out in the rain to read strategically placed bronze plaques. Rumor has it that some escaped the rain and went back to the motel to enjoy a college football game or a quick nap. Patty & I had hired a guide to walk the likely path that one of my great-great grandfathers had taken during Pickett’s Charge. We met our guide at the Center. After agreeing that we really were foolish enough to walk in the downpour, we drove to the site of Pickett’s Charge. We enjoyed our guide’s narration and learned a lot as we walked through the field, scrambled over the rail fence on Emmitsburg Pike and climbed the final slope to the Angle, “the high-water mark of the Confederacy.” It was a moving experience and I’m glad we did it (even in the rain).
Those who needed to, dried off at the motel. Then, since the rain had stopped, the entire group walked to the restaurant, Dobbins House Tavern, a couple of blocks from the motel. The restaurant is in the oldest building in Gettysburg, having been built in 1776, and was furnished in the Colonial Period. Again we had a private room and the twenty of us had a great and satisfying meal, complete with candlelight ambiance. After the meal, Ken gave a brief description of Dick Lebkicker, the Lebkicker Tour and Award. He then announced this year’s winner of the Award. It was Ken Burns, himself! In accepting the award, Ken spoke from the heart about what the NVRG meant to him and Helen, describing the NVRG as being part of his family. Well said, Ken, and congratulations for a well deserved award! In addition to helping organize and lead the Lebkicker Tour, Ken has transformed the NVRG website into a remarkable resource and still finds time to organize and produce the NVRG calendar.
After the dinner, John Sweet departed for the trip back to Virginia. But several of the group were unwilling to let the evening end and retired to the Reliance Mine Saloon, a lounge located on the grounds of the motel for a pitcher of beer or other libations.
The next morning dawned bright and crisp. The Helms departed for Virginia, the Piepers went shopping and the remainder of the group drove to the Visitor’s Center to catch the tour of the Eisenhower Farm. The Eisenhowers had purchased the 189-acre farm in 1950 for the high price of $79K. As the guide said, “they saw them coming.” It was extensively renovated because the Eisenhowers intended to retire there, having no idea that he would run and be elected President. Many foreign dignitaries were entertained there, including Nehru, Krushchev, de Gaulle and (somewhat reluctantly on Ike’s part) Gen. Montgomery. Mamie Eisenhower said it was their only home. We were able to tour the house (which contains many of Ike’s paintings), the barns (where they raised prize-winning Angus cattle) and the grounds (which contain a PGA-donated putting green and a skeet range). There was also a bookstore and visitors center, which contained memorabilia and a film of Ike’s life. After lunch back at the Visitor’s Center, we fueled up and took the uneventful trip home.
What a trip! Interesting tour in that so many people came and went as the weekend progressed. What a great group of folks to travel with! I’m sure the conversations on the ride home recapped many of the enjoyable experiences of the weekend. I know the conversations that Patty & I had sure did.