It was 1961 and Silverton Police Chief Vic Grossnickle had a problem.
Inspired by the drag racing at the Aurora airport, some of the local kids were getting carried away – “hot-rodding around” – according to one of them, Ed Oster. Grossnickle wanted to put a stop to their illegal street racing and he thought an organized car club might help.
Silverton Police Officer Leon Riggs, who was just 24 years old and pretty interested in cars himself, was asked to help organize the club and be the police department’s liaison to it. Riggs contacted several hot-rodders he knew would be interested and spread the word about a meeting to form the club.
Riggs must have done a good job because 21 young men showed up for the meeting at the police headquarters in the Fischer Building, where the police chief had his office. According to the written history of the Silverton Flywheels Car Club, the new club adopted the following purposes:
- promote safety and show courtesy on the highway;
- help persons in distress;
- respect all traffic laws and contribute to the good of the community;
- promote “legal dragging;”
- instruct and show the proper method of building and maintaining cars; and,
- build respect and fellowship between the hot rod clubs and the general public.
Three of the four original club officers from 1961 are still active and involved members of the Silverton Flywheels Car Club: Wes Oster, Larry Brown and Chuck Deguire. Wes’ brother Ed, another charter member, is also active in the club today.
In its early years, the Flywheels Club had a membership of around 15-20. One of the club’s first service projects was to install seat belts, a fairly new improvement at that time, as a way to build goodwill with the public and to raise money for club activities. The club also rented garage space so club members could gather to work on their cars.
In the late ’60s the Flywheels faded from the scene, but didn’t remain inactive too long. After a few years, Wes Oster led an effort to revitalize it. Car shows were put on at the Silverton Elks Lodge in 1980 and 1981, and these annual events continued at Eugene Field School during the Homer Davenport Days in the early 1980s.
The big turn-around for the club came in 1985. Oster had been approached about putting on a “Cruise-In” at the Macleay Inn, and he got the club interested in doing it. Now, 25 years later, the Macleay Cruise-In is one of the Flywheel Club’s biggest events, drawing more than 200 participants.
In 2000 the Flywheels again took over the Homer Davenport car show, and it has become one of the festival’s major attractions. It takes place on Saturday in the grass area adjacent to the city pool.
According to Oster, the Silverton Flywheels Car Club now has 89 members, including one in New Zealand and a number of others throughout the United States. Members meet on the third Thursday of every month at the Silverton Elks Lodge, and gather informally nearly every Friday evening, either in the Dairy Queen parking lot, or downtown on Main Street on First Fridays.
At a time when many clubs seem to be losing membership and struggling to stay viable, Silverton Flywheels is thriving.
“It’s a good organization,” said Wes Oster, who followed Larry Brown as president after the club’s first six months and has remained club president ever since. “We must be doing something right because our members stay… We got a good bunch of people. Without them we wouldn’t have made it.”
One of the things the Flywheels membership has going for it is its inclusiveness. Many car clubs are limited to certain makes or certain vintages, but to be a member of the Flywheels one just needs to be interested in cars. As member Keenan Foraker puts it, “You don’t even have to have a car to belong to this club.”
The Flywheels also takes seriously the mission of contributing to the community. Fourteen years ago a college scholarship fund was established in memory of Jon Dunn, a Flywheels member who died in a motorcycle accident. Scholarships are awarded to Silverton High School students who excel in automotive classes. The club gave three scholarship awards this year, using funds raised auctioning off beer signs and other items at the Macleay Cruise-In.
“We’re just trying to help a little and have fun doing it,” said Oster.
The club members are currently developing plans for 2011 – their 50th anniversary year – and want to have a special logo and t-shirts to highlight the celebration.
Whatever they do, you can bet they will be shining up their hot rods and vintage cars and getting together to have fun. It’s what they do best.