Some among us...
by Richard Lewis
Every once in a while, we find some among us who simply astonish us with their unexpected talents. We always expect an engineer to be able to build a bridge, or a doctor to be able to remove our tonsils, or a teacher to be able to quote Shakespeare. We don’t always expect a salesman to be able to construct complicated machinery from scratch, or to create remarkable works of art, or to build and operate a foundry, or to not only play a musical instrument, but to invent equipment that improves one’s ability to play that instrument.
Such a person is PBCA member Fred Veenschoten. Let Your Loyal Correspondent (YLC) unspool this remarkable tale. Perhaps you saw the article penned by YLC in September’s Marque describing Fred’s racing career (one more laurel in his crown). Well, during the writing of that article, YLC discovered that there was far more to Fred than someone with some auto mechanical and racing abilities. A visit to Fred and wife Toni’s home revealed this, and quite a bit about Toni’s talents as well.
Fred invited us into his jam-packed workshop, hardly a place where heart surgery could be performed, but filled with equipment that only a master machinist and fabricator could make use. You would expect this to be the shop of a fellow who had training as a mechanical engineer, or a man who spent years designing and constructing complicated things that go humm or pockatapockata- pockata. Well, Fred does not fill that bill. After college, he spent his working life as a salesman. It is true that he was a salesman of heavy equipment, but such a job requires knowledge about invoices, sales charts, customer relations, and sales brochures, and not so much about fine machine tolerances, and certainly not foundry casting or fine art. Yet Fred is skilled in all of these things, too.
Fred describes himself as an early tinkerer. Every toy he got, he took apart and reassembled (sometimes, admittedly, with parts left over). During those early years, he built things like a soapbox derby vehicle, a hot air engine (YLC didn’t know such a thing existed), a radio, and various flying things, and he was soon building hot rods, but he was not headed for a technical career, instead one in business.
As an accomplished guitar player, he toyed with various ways to improve an accessory familiar to all players. Soon, he had designed a capo, a device for altering the pitch of the instrument, that was superior to most models available. Shortly after, he was into the manufacturing of the brass metal instrument. That required that he learn to cast the metal, and he soon had molds, a kiln, and all the equipment necessary for casting, much of which he designed and manufactured himself, working entirely alone in his home foundry. Soon, he was casting as many as 500 capos per week. The “Victor” capo was sold in many musical outlets, with vigorous sales numbers. When a manufacturer bought the patent from him, he felt himself ready to retire and devote himself full-time to things he enjoyed.
Along the way, he taught himself, or someone coached him in, the skills of a machinist (buying an old Navy metal lathe at a bargain price), a metal fabricator, and a mechanic.
When YLC visited Fred’s workshop, purposely set in an isolated region so as not to drive the neighbors wild with noxious fumes and noises, he was working on a miniature railroad engine and tender car. It is likely that many people could assemble such a device, but the remarkable thing about this one is that, with the exception of the boiler, Fred built all the parts — the levers, valves, fittings, piping, etc. This iteration is not the first train he has built, but it is likely the most elaborate. He joins with other enthusiasts who often participate in charity events for the welfare of needy children.
After visiting Fred’s shop and foundry, we (PBCA members Gus Fell and Bob Manske, both equally amazed at what they saw) were invited into his home, where he demonstrated his artistic ability.
After taking a few art courses at West Florida University, Fred embarked on a new field of study and accomplishment. We viewed his metal bust of a man whose features, by turning a few knobs, could be radically changed. All of it is made of interlocking pieces of metal that Fred cast and machined and polished. There was an ingenious clock, a metal endless tape, another bust of a similar nature, and other testaments to Fred’s abilities. Entering several juried art shows, he has won numerous awards for his work.
Fred is not alone in his family as far as talent goes. Toni is an accomplished etcher and maker of brilliantly designed kaleidoscopes.
One can be constantly amazed about what people do or know. Being better acquainted often realizes amazing results. There are many ways to be smart, and Fred demonstrates so many of them.
Next month, President Tabor Tompkins will command the Editor’s chair when he does his review of the year’s accomplishments, which are many, and plans for the future. Tabor will retire the role of President next year, having ably served the requisite two years. Mr. President, we thank you for your service and appreciate all you have done for PBCA.
Now for a review of recent happenings and what’s in the future. Recent:
September 24 — Dog Days Rally. Once again, PBCA member Tom Matsoukas did an outstanding job of organizing this event, all proceeds going to the Pensacola Humane Society. PBCA has supported this group, which does extraordinary work rescuing and finding placements for adoption pets of various stripes. Collecting 416 lbs. of pet food and donations of $295, we again aided the fine work of the Humane Society. After the donations were collected, some 15 cars left for a 112-mile drive through the backwoods of Florida and nearby Alabama, traveling some wonderful country roads through beautiful scenery. The scrambled questions on the rally sheet challenged some of us, but Jeanne and Tom Schmitz got the most correct, with Rich and Darla Willows a close second. Third place honors went to Bill and Melissa Silhan. Other winners were recognized with prizes, and the coveted Mickey McNair Broken Compass Award went to Jack and Jerry Rowles for managing to stretch the time out the most. Good food at Jimmy’s in Cantonment ended a great day, all thanks to Tom.
September 30 — Fancy Friday. This took place at V Paul’s Italian Restaurant, with 15 members and guests enjoying a great meal in a beautiful setting. This event has grown in popularity as all take this opportunity to dress up and dine at outstanding restaurants. Next month, we go to the Grand Marlin on Pensacola Beach, a fine dining venue (see below).
October 15 — Montgomery Car Show. Three of our members, Tabor Tompkins and Franz and Monica Bachman, enjoyed this small but well-presented show, with 45 exceptional cars. Franz and Monica managed to carry away a 1st place prize.
October 16 — Historic North Hill Home Tour. A number of PBCA members displayed their cars in this beautiful section of Pensacola. PBCA members Werner Kettlehack and Henry Henson took major roles in organizing this event. Thanks to you both.
October 21-22 — South Alabama British Car Club Welcoming Party and Show. Our good friends, many of whom are also PBCA members, always put on a stellar event.
November 1 — Breakfast at the Grand and Show Committee meeting. Great breakfast and continued work planning for our 25th anniversary show.
November 5 — Orange Beach Glass Arts/Road Trip/ Lunch. Organized by Tom and Jeanne Schmitz, this will be a rare treat as we visit a practicing glass artist and enjoy a spectacular drive to Orange Beach, followed by lunch. One of the best sponsored by PBCA.
November 18 — Fancy Friday at the Grand Marlin. Details via e-mail.
November 19 — Drive to the Derail Diner. Tom and Jeanne Schmitz will also arrange this trip through some of the prettiest parts of Escambia County, into Alabama and with lunch at the exceptional Derail.
November 20 — Executive Board planning meeting, 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., Richard Lewis’ home. All are welcome.
November 21 — PBCA monthly meeting at Sonny’s at 7 p.m. Business and program followed by prizes.
December 3 — Holiday Bake Contest at the Bagdad Museum followed by a driving tour of historic spots in Milton. Lots of fun. Details via e-mail.
December 6 — Breakfast at the Grand and Show Committee. Good food and planning for the show.
December 10 — Lillian Christmas Parade. Details via e-mail.
December 16 — Executive Board meeting at 7 p.m. at the Manskes’ residence to continue planning for next year’s events.
December 17 — Christmas Party at Heritage Hall in Seville Quarters. Details via e-mail.
Here’s wishing you a happy Thanksgiving, and remember those funny straps in your front seats are there for a reason. Use them.