1927 Buick Master back to tell her story
1927 Buick Master back to tell her story
By Rich Holm
Union Feature Writer
Every member of the John O. Falb family of West Union, past and present, is smiling today, knowing that a classic automobile possibly sold by John O’s grandfather, John Falb Sr., in 1927 is back on the road again. She has returned to tell her story.
John Sr. sold his first car in 1912. He would start a dealership in Elgin (1917) and before long, cars were being sold in Postville (1931) and West Union (1950) in similar showrooms run by John Falb. Jr. and three Falb brothers, George, Walter and Herbert.
History also reveals that Buicks were so popular, dealerships in Elkader and Monona also sold similar cars.
The Falb family may have sold cars, but it is the Solheim family of Castalia that decades later restores the lucky ones to their original condition.
The 1927 Buick Master Six-Cylinder could be the crown jewel of the hundreds of restorations George Solheim and his sons Dave and Don have done over the years.
Her story began when the original owner, William Baris, drove her home from the showroom in 1927. She was as grand as the Montauk mansion as the seven-passenger limousine climbed the hill effortlessly, honking at people who would wave. Folks admired her wooden running boards and the wooden spoke wheels.
Her 274-cubic-inch engine produced 70 horsepower and could reach speeds up to 80 mph.
Lawrence and Felicia Dresser would become the second owners in 1935 after the car was traded in. They didn’t care about speed; they only wanted the car’s luxury and uniqueness. It’s here where the car’s story becomes really interesting.
A young high school lad named Gene Severn worked part-time at the Hecker Bros. Dodge and Plymouth dealership in Postville. Ed Freese was the head mechanic, but every time Mrs. Dresser would bring in her Buick, young Gene wanted to change the oil.
The car fascinated Severn because her gearshift was backwards when compared to other car models. To Severn, she was one of a kind.
Severn left Postville for college before joining the Air Force, where he flew various airplanes for 22 years. In 1992, upon his mother Edna Mae’s death, Gene returned to Postville to live.
It was in the 1950s when the Buick caught the eye of another Postville youngster, Dave Schutte, a 1956 Postville graduate.
Felicia would drive her son to school in the car, and in the backseat was her boy’s tuba that he played in the high school band. Schutte also ended up playing the tuba in the band.
Schutte loved the car, much like Severn did, but soon she was off the streets and not seen again for nearly 20 years. Some folks thought it had rusted away and had been recycled.
Felicia Dresser, however, had it stored in her shed out in the country. It was in disrepair and her son had plans of restoring it, which he never did.
Dave Schutte and his wife, Karen, owned a furniture store and Schutte Funeral Home. Felicia was an employee of theirs.
When news came that her son did not want it anymore, she asked the Schuttes if they wanted to buy her car They said sure and moved the car to their property, not knowing exactly what to do with it.
Once again the 1927 Buick continued to collect dust. From 1977 until 2010, the dust continued to pile up. The old gal was turning 83.
The Schuttes were good friends with the Solheims, who did the painting for Schutte funeral coaches, ambulances, and business trucks.
Dave and Karen were there at the visitation of George’s wife, Luella, who died in 2010. She had done upholstery for the Schuttes.
The Solheims carry with them in their billfolds not only photos of their grandkids, but pictures of recently restored cars. When Dave Solheim showed Dave Schutte his latest project, the idea of saving the 1927 Buick began to race through Schutte’s mind.
Schutte said he thought he saw a smile on the old gal’s grill when he showed Dave and George Solheim his car. She didn’t run but all her parts were there, and the Solheims accepted the challenge. The 1927 Buick was moved again, this time to the Solheim shop between Castalia and West Union.
And another player in this story came back into the picture when Schutte and Solheim remembered Severn. They were dying to ask him if he could remember the Buick.
Gene Severn said it was like stepping back in time when he saw her again. He couldn’t believe his eyes that she was alive, and he vowed he would offer any assistance he could to get her back on the road again.
The revival began on April 3, 2011, and was completed this month. Dave, Karen, George, Don, Dave, Gene, and many members of the Solheim family gathered on the Solheim farm. They were there to see the 1927 Buick Master Six-Cylinder touring classic sit on the showroom floor once again with its black paint and nickel plating reflecting the shop’s lights.
Every time George Solheim walked around the car, he carried his polishing rag with him. He would stop to add a little more shine to the fender.
He said, “When I got out of the service in 1947, my first car was a 1928 Chrysler. It had the same brakes as this Buick, but mine were hydraulic; these are mechanical.”
George was proud that he could help his sons restore the classic, which took up a lot of their time the past two years. They said they waited for parts longer than actually working on the car herself.
“The first thing I noticed about her when we hoisted her up off the floor was that her springs were upside down,” George explained. “One end is on top of the axle with the arch up. In the middle it held the body up before it went back down again to the frame.”
Severn was as giddy as a teenager looking at the shift lever, saying, “There it is, just like I remembered it. A normal three-speed goes down and to the left for first gear. Reverse is straight up, second is right and up and third is down.
“The reverse on this Buick is up and to the right. First is down to the right, second is up and to the left, and third is down to the left.”
And Severn rambled on, remembering the oil he used. He said with a smile, “It was five quarts of Pennzoil nondetergent. I would help grease her, and I will never forget that because she had 44 grease fittings.”
Dave Solheim was working on the carburetor, which was the final piece of the puzzle to get the classic started again.
He walked around the car, pointing out, “I’ve seen them in a lot worse shape. When we started to take her apart, our floors were covered with Ziploc bags and all were labeled. I took a lot of pictures along the way to make sure she got put back together correctly.”
Solheim said that most of the framework in the car was wood, and some pieces had to be replaced with walnut and oak.
Dave added, “The white oak in the wheel’s spokes are all original. We used some marine varnish to bring them back to life.
“Of course, the tires back then didn’t have white sidewalls, which we have now. The tires are 5”x25”x21” and have tubes. They are Firestones, and there’s only one place in the world where they can be purchased.”
The Solheims are sticklers on detail and didn’t miss anything on the ’27. The side curtains on the windows, the foot rest in back, the walnut steering wheel, the ashtray for cigars, the window and door locks, the Buick brake light in back, the chrome “Body by Fisher” emblem, and whatever else, it’s all there.
The Solheims won’t take all the credit, because some parts had to shipped out to other craftsmen like themselves.”
Don said, “We do all our painting right across the road at our farm, but the car’s engine went to Oelwein, where Arnold’s Motor did a superb job. The nickel plating on the metal parts was done in Dubuque by AIH. Wayne’s Upholstery of Hawkeye did a wonderful job with the interior.”
He ended, “Every vehicle brought to us is unique in its own way. This 1927 Buick was special. Dad, Dave and myself had a lot of enjoyment restoring it. That’s why we do what we do. It is a labor of love and to see the smile on the car owner’s face after we are finished makes it all worthwhile.”
But nobody is happier than the 1927 Buick Master Six-Cylinder seven-passenger touring classic herself.
Look for her this summer on a road near you. When she passes by, give a wave, and she will probably honk back in appreciation of being back on the highway again.