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All in the Family
When most families get together, it’s for a backyard barbeque or a friendly game of cards. When Dale “Pete” Page’s family gets together, it’s to race his cars in road rallies. Pete and his wife Lorraine along with son Mike and his family and daughter Mary and her family enjoy racing Pete’s cars at the annual Scottsbluff Rally every June.
Pete’s love for cars started at an early age. Born and raised on the “eastside” in Sioux Falls, he went to school at Whittier and Washington High School. After high school, he spent one year at Augustana. “I was the youngest of two brothers and sisters and my mother said one of her children was going to college. I was elected because I was the youngest and the last one to be able to make this happen,” says Page. It lasted one year. He moved to California after that. “My buddies, Carl Dickey, Gary Hartenhoff, Jim McAlear, and I were playing cards one Sunday night when someone mentioned that we should go to California. The longer we played the better the idea sounded. One week later, we packed the ’40 Ford and drove out to California.” Pete went to work at night for North American Aviation as a machinist. He worked during the day in a fiberglass shop building car bodies. He came back to South Dakota a year and a half later and shortly thereafter married Lorraine. “Pierre Forette and I started a body shop called Flame Service in 1958. The shop was located on east 8th Street. One of our customers was Schoeneman Lumber. We serviced their equipment. One day Cecil asked me if I would work on his Ferrari. He said it had a ‘high speed miss’ and wanted to know if I could fix it. But before I could fix it I had to experience it. Before I knew it we were going by the Starlight Theatre on East 10th Street at 120 MPH! We sold the business in 1969 and I purchased Oakleaf Salvage, located three miles south of Harford.” His son, Mike runs the company now. “I am just a flunky,” says Page humbly.
“We grew up with cars,” says Pete. My first car was a 1928 Chevy coupe, which I purchased when I was 13 years old. I paid $15 for it and I just drove it.” It wasn’t until a couple of years later that he started to tear them apart and make them go faster. “There was a whole bunch of us that ran around and loved cars. Local sprint car legend Marlyn Hanten was one of them. Doug Lease was another friend we hung around with. He ‘moved’ to California in 1953 (with the police not far behind). I remember the night it happened. We were at Ricky’s Drive in on east 10th Street and Doug came in with his ’35 Ford Coupe and the police were right behind him. He ditched the cops, went home packed his stuff and headed to California. He was a wild man. Doug came back a few years later with a 1940 Ford convertible. At the time I had a ’41 Chevy. One cold morning his car would not start and he needed to get to work. Neither one of us had any money but he wanted my Chevy (because it started). We traded even up and I put in a new starter and it turned out to be a great car for me.”
Another passion for Pete is antiques. Pete owned an antique store in Hartford in the late sixties. He was a partner with Larry Larson. “I was always interested in antiques. It was nice that I could continue to run the salvage business while also running the antique store and even make a little money at it. But it took a lot of my time. I ran the salvage business during the week and the antique business on the weekend. I was gone all the time. I was buying and selling antiques and antique cars at that time. Lorraine was tolerant of my passion for antiques and antique cars but one day she told me ‘you could either be a father or continue buying and selling antiques.’ So I sold all the antiques but kept the cars.”
Pete’s first serious restoration was a 1923 Buick Touring car. He purchased it in Buffalo, South Dakota in 1968 and did a total restoration. “It took me a couple of years to restore the Buick. I restored it back to exactly the way it was new. Most of the parts were there but the wood was all rotted out. (They made cars out of wood in those days.) I had all four of my garages full at the time so I sold it to free up a space in the garage. I had my Studebaker, a ’65 Corvette, and a XK120 Jaguar. My wife’s new Dodge was sitting outside. I came home from work in a hailstorm one day and she informed me she wanted in the garage. I reluctantly put the Jag, Corvette, and the Buick up for sale.”
Pete’s most famous car is his Studebaker. “I started the Studebaker restoration in about 1973. It sat out on a farm about 10 miles west of Hartford. All that was there was the body and chassis. Everything else was gone. The previous owner was going to make a street rod out of it. Cliff Foss (Joe Foss’s brother) brought the car back from Arizona. I am not sure how it got from Cliff to this owner,however. We saw the license plates and registration in the back seat when we started working on it. At one time we thought there was only four of them. I was at a national Studebaker meeting and a national magazine did an article on the car. The Studebaker archives burned in 1938 so we never knew how many were actually made. After the article was published, I received a few phone calls from people that had one also. I suspect there are still under 10 of these left. The twin to this car was featured in the movie ‘The Color Purple’. I restored it back to original, which was tough. There were so many parts gone and I had to make a lot of the parts. The engine is stock. I ran it in the Great Race so it had to be stock. I painted it yellow because I liked the color. It is the same color as the car in the movie. I met the owner of that Studebaker. He is from South Carolina. When I advertised looking for parts, he called me. He thought he had the only one left at the time. That car was in the national museum in South Bend but has since been sold.”
South Bend but has since been sold.” After the Studebaker, the 1931 DeSoto was his next restoration. “I purchased it from a guy in Loveland, Colorado. They had started the restoration (only replacing the wood) and gave up on it. That was a tough car to restore, as I had to make a bunch of pieces for it. It sat in a slough and the fenders were all rusted out. I had to make virtually every piece on the car.”
Another restoration Pete is proud of is his 1912 Ford Model T. “I purchased the car on eBay a couple of years ago. I did not do anything to the car. I had a 1909 Model T, which I was not really happy with. I thought there had to be a better model out there. I sold that one and purchased a 1913 Buick. That was a miserable car also. It ran good for the first twenty miles and then it quit. It was an original car. I just put new tires on it. I like to drive these cars so they have to perform. Neither the Model T nor the Buick drove well so I went back to another Model T. In the meantime I purchased a 1926 Chrysler out of a museum in Oklahoma. It was an original car. I found the car in Hemming Magazine. That car was ‘too new’ for me so I sold it and started looking for another Model T. That is when I found the 1912 Model T. I never should have sold the ’09 Model T. It was the first year they made them. I guess, with age comes wisdom.”
“My best work was my 1940 Plymouth convertible. I purchased it in Denver in a million pieces. Someone had started it. It was made with New Old Stock (NOS). That car won Best of show for Plymouth at the Chrysler National Show in Wisconsin Dells in 1998. It was nice to work with because the parts were all “new”. I still have this car. I prefer Chrysler products. They are good solid cars and I just have always driven them. My favorite Chrysler is the ’36 Airstream. It has an 8-cylinder engine and is very rare. There were only 116 of them built. I drove that one in the Sugar Valley Rally out in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. I bought it sight unseen out of Hemmings Magazine in 1999. It was in Pennsylvania in a million pieces. I have purchased most of my cars from Hemmings and they have always been better than I thought they would be. A friend of mine took a trailer out there and brought it back for me. I spent about three years restoring it. It was a complete restoration. When I do restorations I look at photos and just start working on them. By the time they are done, I guess they look pretty much like what they are suppose to look like.”
Another car we race in Scottsbluff is the 1928 Ford. It was a sprint car out east and I purchased it on eBay. It did not have any lights or starter (they push started it) so I made it street legal so it could be driven in a timed race. My two grandsons: Adam Baker and Eric Page drive and navigate that vehicle. The entire Page family looks forward to the summer when they gather in Scottsbluff, Nebraska to race at a local road rally. Pete’s wife, Lorraine, and his son, Mike, along with his wife, Tammy, and their three children (Eric, Darren, Brett) all enjoy the rally. Pete’s daughter, Mary, and her husband, Lanny Baker, along with their children Ryan and Adam also participate in the rally. Ryan is married (wife Jess) and they have two daughters Mackenzie and Brooklynn.
The race is held annually the first weekend in June. It is called the Sugar Valley Rally. “I have been going there for 23 years. The first 15 years the Great Race sponsored it. It is a fundraiser for the Jaycees in Scottsbluff. It remains similar to rules in place by the Great Race. I take four cars down there every year. I usually drive the ’36 Chrysler and my grandson Darren Page navigates for me. Darren is Mike’s middle son. He started navigating for me when he was eleven. We won it when he was twelve. The year we won it was 2005. This year Lanny Baker (my son-in- law) drove my ’35 Studebaker and my grandson, Brett Page, navigated for him. He is 15 years old. They won the race.”
It is truly a family affair when it comes to driving their cars in races. The DeSoto is driven by Pete’s daughter Mary Baker and Tammy Page (Mike’s wife) navigates. Last spring, his four cars were second, third and fourth (and Pete was seventh) in Saturday’s rally. They will put on over 500 miles over the weekend.
Ryan is oldest of the grandchildren. He drove the Studebaker. However when he got married and had his own children he was no longer able to go. His dad replaced him in the Studebaker. Lorraine drove and navigated in most of the cars until the grandkids were old enough. Larry Versteeg was Pete’s first navigator. “We blew the engine in the Studebaker three days before we were to leave for the rally. We replaced it with the ’40 Plymouth. It was not a Rally car and we did not do well but we had fun. Larry navigated for me for six years. My wife replaced him and my grandkids followed after that. My grandkids want me to put another car (making it five) in the Rally but I think four is enough,” says Page.
Pete has also driven the Great Race in 2005. Darren, who was 12 at the time, was his navigator. They drove the Studebaker. “We didn’t do very good in that race,” recalls Page.
Perfection is always the goal in a road rally race. A perfect score is called an “Ace” and it is given out when you are right on time for a specific leg in the race. In 2008 Mary and Tammy had four “Aces” over the weekend. This past year all of Pete’s cars received “Aces” (except for Mary and Tammy).
“The Rally’s are our vacations. It is great family fun. We live out at Wall Lake and the grandkids are out most Sundays and they talk about it all the time. It is something they will remember and tell their grandkids. None of them are motor heads. They all like athletics. But when they start talking about Scottsbluff, they become motor heads.”
Always looking for the “next car”, Pete is currently searching for a one or two cylinder car and heard there is one in Nebraska. “I have never had one of those before. It will give me something to do this winter. I can only take a little bit of sitting in front of the TV.” Keeping busy doing what you love to do with your family, that’s paradise.