The owners of some of the rarest cars in the nation drove their antique vehicles from Bloomington to Pekin Wednesday put-put-putting along back country roads to a secret Pekin treasure seen by few.
The antique car collection of Pekinite Roger Brotherton is nestled away in a secret, equally vintage building. Brotherton, 56, has 16 collectible cars and other memorabilia that he and his daughter, Stephanie Schimmelpfennig, 31, have turned into a themed display with Bonnie and Clyde in a bullet-riddled 1926 Studebaker, with Clyde holding a Tommy Gun; James Dean sitting on a motorcycle; a mechanics shop with a mechanic under the front end and smoke coming out of the grill; and other attractions. Brotherton has been collecting items for 18 years.
The Illinois Brass Touring Region of the Antique Automobile Club of America came to tour the private collection of vintage cars Wednesday. Club President Mary Kate Bayer said the club has been in existence for many years. The region club has people from Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan and other states, and they get together twice a year for three-day tours. One member each year plans excursions during the gathering. This year, member John Tornquist planned the trip to see Brotherton’s private collection.
“They call it a spoke tour because we’re old brass cars,” said Bayer, as she pointed out various points of interest on the 1914 Model T Touring Car she and her husband, Peter, drove to the event. “We stay in a hotel, and each day, we go out on a tour somewhere and see things. All of our members are brass.
“That’s 1915 and earlier. The cars all have brass on them. That’s why it’s Illinois brass. The earlier the car, the more brass. I’m OK with black and brass (on the lanterns). Other cars that are older are all brass.”
The cars the club brought to Pekin included a 1914 Ford T, 1909 Ford T, 1915 Cadillac, 1912 Oldsmobile, 1912 Ford T, 1914 Hupmobile, 1908 Reo, 1915 Ford T, 1913 Ford T, 1914 Stanley, 1910 Packard, 1910 Marmon and a 1913 Havers Six.
Bayer said one of her favorite cars in the club is that of Art Bergstrom. It is a 1909 Ford Model T.
“It’s two seats in the front and one in the back and that’s the mother-in-law seat,” said Bayer. “And the hood came up over (the front) seats, and the mother-in-law would be sitting outside in the elements. I love that car.”
Bayer has modified her car. She has added wire rims to replace the wooden ones, replaced the flame lights with florescent lights, put on disc brakes and added a spare that is complete, not just the rubber tire and tube.
“If we’re going to tour, we want to be safe,” she said. “Other people are very period correct.”
Bergstrom said he was celebrating his 50-year ownership of the 1909 Model T Wednesday. Bergstrom said there are a lot of Model Ts left in the world and quite a few 1909s. 1909 was the first year for the Model T. He has put 80,000 miles on the car. He said it is very comfortable and “incredibly dependable. That’s the beauty of a Model T.”
“This is exactly the way the car would have been delivered,” said Bergstrom of the red paint job. “Model Ts in 1909 were red, green, gray, blue and black,” he said. “It wasn’t until 1914 that they had to be all black because they were making so many cars at that time. And it took paint 30 days to dry; they couldn’t wait for the paint to dry. Henry (Ford) found a color called black Japan, and it would dry almost overnight.”
Brotherton said he was thrilled to have the club come see his collection and to see the members’ cars of which most people would not even recognize the names.
“It was pretty exciting — that was probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, for us seeing (their cars) and them seeing (mine),” said Brotherton. “The people I talked to were pretty excited as well.
“I think it was both sides of the fence. It was good to share the history.”
Brotherton has shared the history of the items in his collection with his daughter.
“All of this predates her — it predates us,” said Brotherton. “Some of these pumps are (from) the 20s.
“You see them in movies and television, but you never get to use them. The majority are operational. Some of them are 100 years old.”
Brotherton started working at his father’s Owens Gas Station on Eighth Street in Pekin while in high school, so it’s not hard to imagine that his first collectable was an antique gas pump. That was just the start.
The collection is a secret. Brotherton doesn’t want it to be a public thing. He shares it with family, friends and special groups.
“People get enjoyment out of it,” said Brotherton. “It’s history.
“Making people happy. I guess that’s the feel to it — seeing people happy. I don’t know if I make them happy, but it’s seeing them smile and happy and seeing them bring back a good memory or a cherished memory. Everybody can relate to something in their past and childhood. The older generation, they all remember something in their past. Something in the collection sparks interest or a memory, and the stories just go on and on and on. They remember the gas stations, the soda fountains, the diners and stuff like that.”