MCC Relief Sale: Rare auto to ‘Star’ at MCC auction

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
This year’s Mennonite Relief Sale, set for April 6 and 7 at the state fairgrounds in Hutchinson, will feature a new star.


On second thought, make that an old Star.


A rural Goessel couple, Milton and Selma Schmidt, have donated a 1927 Durant Star automobile to the annual auction that raises money to fight world hunger.


Durant Motors produced the Star from 1922 to 1927. The Schmidt’s vintage vehicle, besides being one of the last ones made, is special for several reasons, according to Jerry Toews, who has been preparing the car for the sale.


Topping the list is its unique condition.


“This car is amazingly original,” said Toews, a former Goessel band instructor who does mechanical restorations in his retirement. “There’s just nothing missing. It’s unusual to find an old car like this that has everything in there.”


Toews ticked off a list of original features with unbridled enthusiasm: rearview mirror, windshield wiper, cigar lighter, the ignition key, the mohair interior, hubcaps, headlights-and a GEMCO medallion on the grill.


GEMCO stands for General Motors Company. Durant Motors was established in 1921 by Billy Durant, an ambitious businessman who had previously been part of General Motors and Chevrolet. Durant intended the Star to compete in the market against the affordable Ford Model T.


Durant Motors, already in financial trouble in 1928, was hit hard by the stock market crash of 1929. The company went under in 1933.


The Star is rare because it was manufactured for only six years. But this one is rarer still because it’s in original condition, all but untouched by either Mother Nature or professional restorers.


“It’s just amazing to find a car in this condition, nowadays,” Toews said. “When I was a kid in high school, we could go out to almost any old farmer and they’d have an old car-either in the she shed or out in the hedge row-and we could buy them for $25.


“But that’s a thing of the past,” he added. “You either find fully restored cars, or cars that are rusting in a gully somewhere. To find an old original car in this kind of shape is absolutely a thing of the past.”


Another unique feature is the car’s larger engine and wheelbase. Most Stars were manufactured with a four-cylinder vehicles and a 102-inch wheelbase. In 1926, Durant came out with an alternative model that featured a six-cylinder engine and a 107-inch wheelbase.


“This has a little longer wheelbase and has the bigger engine, so it would have been a pretty racy car in its day,” Toews said.


The story of how the old Star car made its way to center stage at the Mennonite Relief Sale is interesting, if not quite racy.


Harold D. Schmidt, Milton’s brother, first encountered the car years ago when it drove up the lane of his place near Kingman. Schmidt was an artificial inseminator in the Kingman area for many years.


The car’s elderly owner, Claude Yaugher, from near Murdock, stepped out of the vehicle and talked to Schmidt about a cow of his that needed inseminating.


After Yaugher passed away, Schmidt continued to help his widow take care of the cow. When the cow went dry, she asked him if he knew of anyone who might have a cow in full milk to sell.


Schmidt had a Jersey that fit the bill. Negotiating a price, he asked on a lark about the old Star car. Mrs. Yaugher said she had advertised the car in the Wichita paper a year earlier. A buyer had promised to take it, but never followed through.


In the end, Yaugher and Schmidt decided to swap, cow for car.


“She was very pleased to trade even up, and I even gave her the little calf,” Schmidt said. “She was so happy.”


Some time later, Schmidt needed some steers to fatten on the alfalfa he was raising on his small irrigated acreage. He traded the Star to his brother, Milton, for some steers of equal value.


The car has stayed in the Schmidt family ever since. Milton and Selma Schmidt kept it stored in a quonset, safe from the elements. They occasionally drove it for pleasure.


Toews said the Schmidts had thought about donating the car to the sale for several years. They finally took the plunge when Toews promised to see it through the preparation stage.


“I went through everything, like the starter, generator and carburetor,” he said. “The fuel tank was full of rust, so I personally pulled the tank out and put an epoxy seal in it that imbeds all the rust so it can’t come through the carburetor.”


Other Goessel-area folks have contributed to the cause, too, Toews said.


Abrahams Engine Service & Supply donated new spark plugs and a new battery.


Lee Ratzlaff of Ratzlaff Automotive put grease in the transmission and rear end, repacked the wheel bearings, got all the zerks to take grease, and gave Toews a warm place to work in cold weather.


Mid-Kansas Co-op donated oil and antifreeze.


Irv Schroeder Country Motors in Hillsboro allowed Toews to work in their shop and gave him access to cleaners and vacuum sweepers.


All the hard work has paid off, Toews said.


“It’s ready to drive to California,” he joked.


Having investigated the market for vintage cars, Toews said the Star would probably go for $5,000 to $6,000 if it was offered to people who regularly buy and restore such vehicles.


Given the market at the Mennonite Relief Sale, Toews hopes it will bring even more.


“That’s part of the MCC sale,” he said. “We are there to pay more than things are worth so we can help feed the poor,” he said. “One never knows. Two people could tangle on it and it could bring $10,000. I see that as a real possibility.


“I hope it does well,” he added wistfully. “It’s a wonderful old car, really.”

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