Sep 30, 2012

John Weathersby Declares War on Imports!!!

In 1978, shortly after Margo Burge and I started dating, we attended an airshow in Long Beach, Mississippi.  We had noted on the advertising posters that hot air balloon rides would be available.  Both of us thought it would be fun to take a ride suspended below a balloon.  On the day of the show, it was too windy to launch balloons, but that didn't stop us from pursuing the quest.

As we approached the fields where the show was being held, we spotted a bus with an attached trailer that had the words "Weathersby Balloon Enterprises, Indianola, MS."  As we approached the bus, the door opened and out stepped a person dressed in a very furry (and warm-looking) gorilla costume.  Almost immediately upon my inquiring about a balloon flight, that gorilla-person invited us into the air conditioned bus and offered us a drink.  This was at about 11:00 AM and it was clear that the folks on the bus had been enjoying their adult beverages for a while.  It was definitely "party time."

We were to learn that the gorilla man was John Weathersby, the owner of a Chevrolet dealership in the central Mississippi city of Indianola.  He was married to Sally Sayle Weathersby.  It turned out that he was also a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity and had graduated from the University of Mississippi in 1962, the same year I graduated from Rochester.  We were soul brothers!

A few weeks later, Margo and I drove to Indianola, where John had offered to take us up in a balloon, but again, it was too windy.  I did eventually get a balloon ride, but that's a story for another time.

John invited my brother and me to come to Indianola one weekend to witness his "War on Imports."  Let it be noted that John is a man with big ideas who is not shy about expressing them.  Chevrolet had just introduced the Chevette the previous year, and that had inspired John to go after the imports.  And in his typical way, he would do it in a spectacular fashion.

As Willy and I arrived in Indianola early on a sunny Saturday morning we noticed a lot of activity in the open field adjacent to John's dealership.  A light plane circled overhead trailing a banner that read "WAR ON IMPORTS!!!  WEATHERSBY CHEVROLET."  You could smell barbecue cooking and bleachers had been set up, along with a speaker's platform.  At one end of the field, there was a large circle in which was located a Fiat sedan.  A sign declared that only kids 12 years old and younger could use the provided sledgehammers to destroy the Fiat.  (By the end of the day there wasn't much left.)

The hapless Fiat
At one point, during the morning's festivities (while John was welcoming all comers over a PA system and roiling up the crowd with disparaging commentary about imported cars) someone drove a Renault onto field, followed by a local Fire Department entourage,  They doused the car with a flammable liquid and incinerated it to the cheers of the crowd.

The flammable Renault
There was a band concert by the local high school band, skydivers arrived around noon, and then it was time for the main event.  A fairly nice Volkswagen beetle (It had the fabric fold-back sunroof) was driven onto the field.  The crowd was asked to take their seats in the stands.  I heard a rumbling sound and wondered what it was.  Soon enough, two US Army National Guard tanks came around the corner and proceeded to opposite ends of the field.  John then introduced an army officer who was clearly the commanding officer of the crews in those tanks.  He stepped up to the microphone and commanded them to attack.  The two tanks rumbled toward the center of the field.  The first one to reach the VW proceeded to run one of his treads over the driver's side of the car.  Glass popped out of its frame as the car collapsed under the weight of the massive attacker.  Then the second tank followed suit, running it's tread over the passenger's side.  More noise, more glass, less car.

The car was now perhaps 18" high.  The tanks proceeded to a point near where the commanding officer was standing at the podium.  He turned to one of the tank personnel, whose head was emerging from the tank's hatch.  "Jimmy, grind that son-of-a-bitch into the ground!"  ("Ground" was pronounced in such an intense southern drawl that it seemed to have at least three syllables!)

Different car; Same concept...
The tank then proceeded to straddle the VW and commenced a left and right rotation by using its treads moving in opposite directions.  It twisted back and forth several times as the car simply got squashed into the soft ground.  The crowd went crazy!  John had won his war (at least for the moment).

Over the years I lost contact with John Weathersby.  I noted the other day that his dealership is no longer in business.  We all know the long-term effect that imported cars had on GM.  Yet I'll always recall with pleasure that sunny Mississippi afternoon when John waged his slightly crazy personal war to the delight of so many.

8-1-2015 Today I ran across the following obituary dated September 2015 from the Jackson Clarion-Ledger:

John McDonald Weathersby


Funeral services for John McDonald Weathersby, 76, of Indianola will be at 1:00 p.m., Wednesday, September 30 at First Presbyterian Church, Indianola. He died peacefully Sunday, September 27 at his home. Burial will be at 5:00 p.m. at Oddfellows Cemetery, Lexington under the direction of Boone-Card Funeral Home, Indianola.

Well, we've come to the end of a long and interesting road. Mr. Weathersby, known far and wide as Trader John, was the owner of Weathersby Chevrolet in Indianola from 1967 until he retired in 2002. Weathersby was considered a Delta Legend for his outgoing, colorful personality and as the creative force behind countless wild promotional events and festivals that he organized, hosted and inspired throughout the region. He was an avid pilot, a pioneer in hot air ballooning, enjoyed scuba diving, camping, but most of all, he loved people, and they loved him. It has been said that Trader John squeezed more life out of his 76 years than others could do in multiple life times.

He is survived his wife, Jane, of more than 20 years; his three adult children, John M. Weathersby, Jr., Sayle Weathersby Roberts, and Rials McWilliams and their families. He loved his God, his family, his friends with intense passion and total abandon. There will never be another one like him. God's speed Trader John. You'll be missed, but in no way forgotten.

The family received friends Tuesday evening at John and Jane Weathersby's home.

John Weatersby has apparently flown his last balloon in this earthly sphere...  Godspeed, John, my brother.

Sep 17, 2012

Glenmoor Gathering Trip

The Beautiful Glenmoor Country Club
For the past seventeen years, there has been an event in northeast Ohio called the "Glenmoor Gathering."  It is an invitational car show of extremely high quality.  I have known about it for several years and had thought about going, but the stars never quite aligned.  Then a few months ago I ran across an advanced notice of this year's show -- the 18th annual.  The featured marques included steam cars, micro cars, supercharged cars, Tuckers, and Allards.  That last one caught my eye.  Mary Ann's maiden name was Allard.  What could be more perfect?  I suggested that we go.  Mary Ann agreed, and we bought our tickets in advance.  We even made motel reservations several weeks early!

The event is held at the Glenmoor Country Club outside of Canton, Ohio.  The main clubhouse, built in the early 1930s, served for many years as a Catholic seminary, at one time housing 400 seminarians.  The land on which it was built was donated by two bachelor farmers, who later donated a total of over 400 acres to the seminary.  After it was closed, the entire property was purchased by investors who developed an 18-hole Jack Nicklaus golf course to complement the fabulous building.  The original building also houses dining and hotel facilities.  It's a perfect setting for an exceptional car show.

The festivities started for us when we attended the Saturday afternoon  Grande Salon Antique and Classic Car Auction put on by Classic Motorcar Auctions, a local firm.  Mary Ann had never been to a classic car auction, so this was a thrilling thing to see.  There were some very nice cars, but bidding was tepid at best.  Some good buys were evident.  Examples from the auction results:

After the auction ended, we drove around to the front of the clubhouse, where we saw several dozen exotic cars parked on the lawn.  We found a parking place and began wandering among the Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Maseratis, Tuckers, and Allards.  Some of the owners were cleaning up their cars for the next day's show.  Others were simply chatting with infrequently-seen friends.  We were especially impressed with the Allards.

According to Wikipedia,
"Allard Motor Company Limited was an English car manufacturer founded in 1945 by Sydney Allard which operated from small premises in south London. Car manufacture almost ceased within a decade. It produced approximately 1900 cars before his death in 1966.  Allards generally featured a large American V8 engine in a small, light British sports car body, giving a high power-to-weight ratio and foreshadowing the Sunbeam Tiger and AC Cobra of the early 1960s. Cobra designer Carroll Shelby and father of the Corvette Zora Arkus Duntov both drove Allards in the early 1950s."

No two of the cars we saw were identical.  It was apparent that each of these cars was custom built.  Here are a few of the Allards, Tuckers, and other cars that we saw on the lawn:

At one point, as we were looking at an unrestored, but exceptional, 1936 Lincoln Model K Touring Cabriolet, I asked a nearby spectator if he knew whose car it was.  He informed us that he was the owner.  The gentleman's name was Myron Vernis, and he is the Food and Beverage Manager at the Glenmoor Country Club.  He was one of the original group that started the Gathering 18 years ago!

The car was most interesting.  After Henry Ford bought the financially strapped Lincoln Motorcar Company in 1922, he essentially "gave" the company to Edsel, his oldest son.  Edsel recognized the importance of style in selling cars, so he commissioned several major custom body manufacturers to build Lincoln bodies.  The Brunn Corporation of Buffalo, New York, became the favored provider of town cars and convertibles: soft-top broughams, cabriolets, victorias and dual-cowl phaetons.   Mr. Vernis' car was the personal car of Herman Brunn.  It was exquisite.

After we left the club, we went for coffee at a nearby Starbucks and used the Internet to find a dinner restaurant.  We luckily selected Papa Bear's Italian Restaurant and had an outstanding dinner.

The "modest" Dining Room of the Glenmoor

After a good night's rest, we arose Sunday and checked out of our motel to proceed to the Glenmoor.  We encountered heavy traffic waiting to get into the grounds but eventually arrived and got a parking location fairly close to the clubhouse.  They were serving a buffet lunch in the dining room, which was originally the chapel for the seminary.  The lunch was really exceptional -- every choice was prepared and served beautifully.  Then we proceeded to the "Gathering."  Words can't describe it.

There are tents with artists showing their works, tents with automotive model builders of every kind.  One tent housed the work of Louis Chenot of Carl Junction, Missouri, director of mechanical engineering for Leggett & Platt, which supplies automotive interior systems.  Lou is the most serious kind of car modeler imaginable.  This Duesenberg took six years and an estimated 15,000 hours to build.
The 1/6 Scale Louis Chenot Deusenberg Model -- It Runs!
There were hundreds of cars on display.  The earliest I saw was a 1901 Packard, restored to perfection.  There were cars of every decade and every interest group, including modern hot rods.  These pictures may give you some idea:

We enjoyed the cars until about two in the afternoon.  The weather couldn't have been more beautiful.  Then we headed back home.  We had decided to try and drive the entire distance so I'd have a day at home before I had to leave for Texas on a business trip.  We made it home around 1:00 AM, tired but with great memories.  We'll be going back.