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55 Years and Count”ing
Some call it old while others refer to it as tradition. Whatever side you are on, Counts of the Cobblestone Car Club has been around for 55 years. Ask any car enthusiast in the Black Hills if they are familiar with the club and most will say yes. Even as you travel across the state, the recognition of this venerable car club is impressive. Their mid-winter Counts Car Show is a big reason for their recognition.
In 1957, several young men decided to form a new hot rod / custom car club in Rapid City. After a few meetings, the group decided on the club’s name and South Dakota’s oldest continuous car club had it’s start. Over the years, the club has seen members come and go. One member that has been around since the beginning is Jim Neuzil. “I think a major reason for our club to last 55 years is weekly meetings,” says Neuzil. “We have met every Tuesday for the past 55 years. With a meeting every Tuesday, you never have to think about when a meeting is.”
“A lot of clubs had similar names when we started the club. There were a lot of cobblestone streets at the time. About half of the members liked it and the other half hated it but it has endured over the years. We have always been an open club as far as model year goes, as long as their car is NOT stock. It must be modified. We have had guys come in with a Camaro or Corvette and then they start hanging around with guys that have street rods and they start to turn over to the street rod side.”
According to member, Joe Tennyson, “We didn’t have anything else to do. That’s basically why we started the club. We enjoyed working on cars and helping people. I remember at one of the first meetings, we cut coils on all the cars and had a line-up that was about a block long. Back then safety wasn’t a factor.” “In the mid-sixties, most of the cars were orange and I thought that was a pre-requisite for joining the club,” adds Kurt Designer. “Orange must have been cheap paint. It must have been the trend at the time. In the early years, we rented a garage where guys would meet and work on their cars. We no longer do that after we built the new clubhouse because of the insurance factor. In the old days, you didn’t worry about the insurance, until one rod run about 20 years ago, when we had an accident. One guy left some space in between the parade of cars and a stray car pulled in to the run. During a run you have to pay attention to the guy in front of you and this guy didn’t do that and they crashed. It ended up an insurance mess. That was the last time we had an event without insurance. Now a lot of car clubs are insured. We have a policy that covers the clubhouse and all of our activities. There have been other accidents over the years but the first one made us aware of the need for insurance.” Jim adds, “I remember one rod run when we were going down Hwy 16 and the tourists were gawking at our cars and one of the tourist had to hit the brakes. He was carrying a boat on the roof and it was launched into the next car. No one was hurt so we thought it was hilarious.”
There are numerous Black Hills Rod Runs, 44 so far, but the attendance has declined over the years, as there are a lot of competing events. Today many of the events are one-day runs and they are more family oriented. In the early years, beer was a big factor in their rod runs. It got a little out of hand and they had to stop it. The club president at the time said this is not good for the club. Luckily nobody ever got hurt.
“When you look around at a meeting, it may look like a commercial for Viagra,” says Kurt. “Our average age of our club members is over 50. When we all started, we were teenagers. It is hard to get young people in the club because you have to have a car or have a project you are working on. We need to get more young people involved. The youngest member is JR Harvey, who is 30 years old. We have an honorary kids membership for young people, who do not meet the requirements of membership but want to be involved in the club. Economics is a big deal for young people. In the old days you could buy a car for $50. Today, it is a ‘little more expensive’.”
There are other car clubs in the Black Hills but the Counts is the oldest. In fact, they are as old as the Oakland Roadster Club, a well-known club in California. The Counts has people from all walks of life in the club. Some are in the car business, while others are business owners, some are mechanics, and others are professional people.
“We were always drawing pictures of cars in high school,” according to Jim. “Being a car guy has to start some time. Not everybody’s dad was a car guy. When I got into cars, we started on our bikes looking at cars. My dad didn’t want me in the garage making a mess. It was the guys that we hung out with that got us started in cars. Rock n’ roll and hot rods was our life. It was the days of cruising. Today we don’t cruise like they used to. In the days, Rapid City had its’ own loop-Mount Rushmore Road and 8th Street. The J&L Drive Inn was on West Main (across from the Guard Camp) and was a popular place in the late 50’s. We also made sure we got along with the highway patrol. They would even clock our speed in our cars. There was a road out by the truck stop where we could really ramp up our speed. 120 MPH is not bad when you are driving, but when you are riding it is scary!”
“When I first joined, going through a case of beer on a Tuesday night was no big deal,” says Joe with a smile. “The treasurer always had to get the beer before we started the meetings. Today it is more coffee and diet coke than beer.”
A highlight event was the Greaser Dance, which was a 50’s style dance. They rented a bar and struck a deal where they got all the beer they could drink but the bar got the booze sales. The band D. D. and the Pharos played a lot at those dances. Joe’s aunt owned the Robbinsdale Lounge at the time and we held events there. The dances were very popular. They would even have guys that came up from Scottsbluff, Nebraska.
One member that stands out as a character is Carl Satterlee, a former member. Duane remembers, “Whenever there was a function with food, Carl was there. He would look at your plate if you were not finished and say “got any plans for that?” He loved buffets too! He had a great collection of cars and cycles. He never seemed to have any money, but whenever somebody had to sell a car, they would go to Carl. Carl would always low-ball the price but they would still sell it to him. When he passed away five years ago, he had about 30 cars. His dad owned a Triumph and BSA motorcycle dealership. Carl and his brother split up the collection of motorcycles his dad had when he passed away. He had the largest collection of Triumph and BSA motorcycles ever at the time. Some of them were still in the crate. There was a 40’s Indian motorcycle sitting out in back of the shop for so long that a tree was growing up through it. He chopped the tree down and later sold the cycle to Tommy Smothers, the comedian.”
Dave adds, “What I miss most is the friendship of the club. We used to meet in guys’ garages before we had the clubhouse. We had fewer than 20 members at the time and none of us ever missed a meeting. Once we got a clubhouse, we quit going to each other’s garages to fix things and this started to change things. We were all friends and we would help each other. We still had fun but we missed the close friendship and helping each other fix their car. Today, we don’t even know where everybody lives. The club is still about friendship but today we only drive our cars to a ‘show and shine’. Back in the old days, we drove them everywhere. We used to have a uniform of a blue polo shirt with a Counts logo and white jeans. When you were at a show everybody knew who you were because of the uniform. Garage tours are still done but in the old days, you would work on a guy’s car. Today, it is about looking at the cars. I liked helping work on them.” Street rods today dominate the club. There is one rat rod member, however. The members agree that the rat rodders today get together to work on each other’s cars like they used to.
Duane Wamsley recalls a night when Chip Foose was in Sanford’s Restaurant. ”One weekend, while he was in town visiting the Legends motorcycle people, I recognized him. I just watched his TV show Overhaulin’. I went over to his table and we started talking cars and had a few beers. I asked for his autograph and handed him a Sanford’s napkin. He actually drew a 3/4 shot of a ’32 coupe like the one I’m building, for me. He drew it so fast it was amazing. He put his phone number on the bottom and said give me a call sometime. That was pretty neat.”
The new clubhouse was completed in 2010. The construction would have never happened if not for the generous donations of time and materials from numerous businesses and the members. The businesses appreciate the fact that the club donates a lot of the money they raise to local charities. Club members did all labor. They started the week after the Rod Run in July 2010 and they had their first event in October that year. They laid the floor in the morning and had the awards event that afternoon. It was truly a group effort as everyone pitched in to complete the project.
The Counts Car Show, held every year in February at the Rapid City Civic Center, is a great mid-winter break for motor enthusiasts from the area. “The fact that the people know that some of the money they are spending on a car show is going to charity, really helps the success of the show,” according to club president Chad Raterman. “We try to stay with local charities and most of the charities we donate to affect members of the club. We do try to change them up every year but the KOTA Care and Share Food Drive is one we donate to every year. KOTA helps us out with advertising in return for our donation. We also donate to the police cadets and they provide security for us at our car show. Carly Jo Elingson is a junior drag racer (She has now moved up a class) from the area and we have donated to her over the years. It is a family affair following her as a junior woman driver, which is kind of unique. We have donated over $70,000 over the years. We are looking to hit that magic number of $100,000 soon.”
The Counts took over the car show 13 years ago according to Neuzil. “That was the best thing that happened to the club. Now the money we take in pays the club’s bills and allows us to donate to the charities.” The car show committee is trying new things every year to keep the event fresh. This year they have added the Pro Builders Class. This showcases a builder’s best work. “We have sent out hundreds of invitations to as far as Utah, Texas and Tennessee,” according to Chad. “They are competing for a $5,000 top prize, awarded for the best display, which should include a neat car.”
“I remember going to an early show in 1963 (the first indoor show) where we had to haul in sawdust for the floors,” recalls Jim. “We brought in a Model A sedan from Denver as a feature car, and it really was a hit. Our show started off as an outside show at Baken Park. We had our first indoor show at the fairgrounds building then moved to the City Auditorium from 1964 to 1970. Bill Napoli held a show at the new Civic Center and when World of Wheels came to town, we had two shows. The Counts Club wanted to stay neutral and support both shows. The World of Wheels really made Rapid City a car show town. It gave it credibility. The World of Wheels show left in 1998 and we had two years of Black Hills Motorsports shows put on by Jim Neuzil, Bob Beatty and Bill Colsen. The Counts took over the show in 2000.”
“The show has always had a feature car. One year in the late 60’s, the Counts had the Batmobile and another year the Munster Coach as feature cars. After the show, they gave club members a ride around town in the car. I remember kids were pointing at the car and people were gawking at this unique car.”
Neuzil adds, “We are not getting any younger and we are not getting many younger people into clubs. Cars are a great outlet for young people. It keeps them out of trouble. Our club has been one of the most organized over the years. We have the show, the Awards Banquet, the Black Hills Rod Run, swap meets and our weekly meetings. There have been a lot of clubs that have come and gone but our club has endured. Most of the members are from Rapid but we also have members from Deadwood, Lead, Sturgis, and Newell. We do not have a strict attendance policy and have about 30 people attend every week. Rapid City has always been a car-oriented town. There has always been a lot of car interest out here.”
The Counts of the Cobblestone 55th Anniversary event was held at the Ramada Inn Convention Center in Somerset Saturday, November 17. “When we had our 50th reunion in 2007, a lot of guys said they would like to come back again,” according to Neuzil. “It was brought up at the September meeting and we pulled it off over the next eight weeks.” The estimated 120 guests (coming from as far away as Aberdeen and North Dakota) enjoyed the entertainment of the Potter Family, a local singing family that entertains at events throughout the region. Besides being a very talented family, mother Clover Potter spent time in the entertainment business, performing in Las Vegas. The group sang many famous songs from the 50’s and 60’s era of nightclub entertainment made famous by such artists as Elvis Presley, Bobby Vinton, Dean Martin and others.
Looking around the room at the reunion event, you would see men and women of all ages; all brought here by one thing…their love for cars (and having a good time)! Congratulations Counts on 55 years.
See these photos and more on Facebook at www.facebook.com/themotormarket.
Learn More About The Potter Family
Both together and on their own, the members of The Potter Family have been singing and performing since childhood. Mother Clover Potter cut her teeth on gospel music in church before adopting the role of entertainer and professional singer, performing in such venues as The Golden Nugget in Las Vegas, and with such artists as Wanda Jackson. Eldest daughter Natana, second daughter WoAbba, and son Orion also grew up singing gospel- the family traveled back and forth across the United States for over eight years, singing together for numerous churches and religious venues. In 2005, Natana and WoAbba formed the duo “The Potter Sisters” and were nominated two years running at the CCMA’s for Duo of the Year. Orion spent 20 years performing an eclectic blend of music in various groups, and in 2007 was three times invited to sing at the Apollo Theatre in New York City. Orion met his wife Stacey in 2000- she studied classical music and voice in college. Since she was small she has played piano, and maintained a private piano studio where she taught students for over 10 years. Together, Orion and Stacey perform with their own unique style of humor and talent. Today, The Potter Family enjoys performing a variety of vintage, classic country, 50’s and 60’s, gospel, and modern music. Their new CD, “Sunday Morning,” is a blend of bluegrass, gospel, and treasured hymns, and showcases The Potter Family’s deep belief in God and country. TMM