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Monday, August 29, 2016

In 1914, Raymond Elrich bought a brand new Willys Overland car in Newell, and named her "Josephine." This year, on August 6th, his grandson drove Josephine in the Newell Pride Parade with his wife Marlene, and his dad's cousin, Ray.

During the parade, the car looked like it just rolled off the showroom floor, and sounded like only a 1914 Willys Overland can. After the parade, Dave "drove the daylights out of it," and took 35 people for a ride around town, "And I only quit because I had to get to the Allee Mansion's 125th anniversary, otherwise I'd still be driving," he says.

Despite the pristine condition, Marlene says, "You can't just look at her, you have to drive her." The Willys Overland was a forerunner of the Willys Jeep, built to drive through rough terrain, and Josephine has been a working car all her life, except for those few years spent in storage.

Dave and his wife Marlene cruising around in Josephine. / Photos by Chip Hubert

Grandpa Raymond operated a cement and tile factory, and tiled many of the farms east of Newell, introducing agriculture to the area for the first time. Dave has a photo of Josephine on the job, with his grandfather's steam-powered tractor. Dave used it for work before he was a teenager- "I remember delivering papers in this car in the 1960's." Dave says Josephine was perfect for the job, because he could stand on the running board and grab papers out of the back seat, then trot up to the customer's door.

Dave says Josephine's mechanical attributes are "hilariously simple." The engine is a "jug head," which is to say each of the four cylinders stand separately, instead of being bored into a common 'block' as modern cars are. The pushrods and springs are beside the jugs, and you can watch them pulse as the engine runs. The crankcase is made of aluminum, a bit surprising for a car made in 1914. Cooling water circulates by convection- there is no water pump. Josephine has no fuel pump either, the gas tank is under the seat, and gravity draws fuel to the carburetor. The throttle is a nickel-plated wheel attached to the steering wheel. Beside it is a smaller nickel-plated wheel that adjusts the spark advance; no distributors here.

A great engine should make a great sound, and the Willys delivers. The pistons have a long stroke, which makes a lot of torque and gives the engine it's unique sound. "It's not quite a Harley, and it's not quite a John Deere," Dave says. "People love it when they see me crank the engine by hand, and when they hear it running." As if to prove the point, a neighbor drives up and says, "I was going to the store, but I heard a 'putt, putt, putt,' and I knew it was Josephine, so I came by to say 'hello.'" And as Dave and Marlene take Josephine around Arnold's Park, everyone stares, smiles and waves. Driving past an elementary school, one child yells, "That is one SEXY car!"

The nickel plated wheels control the throttle and the spark advance

The seats are soft and wonderfully bouncy- leather, buttoned over springy horse hair. "You can still get horse hair today, and it's still one of the best materials for stuffing furniture because bugs don't like it. The car has been caught in the rain a couple of times, and I hate to see it get wet. My mechanic said rain won't hurt it, but I said, 'It's not your car.'"

Josephine was built by Willys Overland Co., Toledo Ohio, and delivered on an Illinois Central rail car. It cost $950, considerably more than Ford's Model T at $500. Dave says she is so old, she is more of an historical artifact than a car. "Most collector's cars are from the '70's, '60's and 50's. My car is too old for them. I took it to the Allee Mansion 125th year anniversary, and the historians were more fun than other car collectors."

In 1954, Grandpa Raymond drove Josephine to the Iowa State Fair, and won an award for driving the oldest car the furthest distance. Dave had hoped to repeat the feat in 2014 for Josephine's 100th birthday, but wasn't able to get her ready in time. "I might make it for her 105th anniversary, though," he says.

Nickel plated hubs shine like mirrors.

As Marlene says, "You can't just look at her, you have to drive her."

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