A Thankful Chamber

While we shift into holiday mode, offering thanks in November and sharing gifts in December, we’ll bring this year to a close and welcome in the new, 2020. 

There’s poetry and promise in those numbers, twenty-twenty. Double twenties are round, even, tidy. They balance each other. 

In numerology, 20 denotes infinite potential. Twenties are cleanly divisible. no bothersome remainders. We who are numerically-challenged respect that 20/20 vision, literally and figuratively, is the gauge for perfect sight, hind and fore.  

Being able to see things clearly is a powerful gift and it’s one Kaye McHan, Highlands Chamber of Commerce’s new Executive Director, is working toward during her tenure. 

At clarity’s core is gratitude. 

She says, “Appreciating our exquisite mountains, waterfalls, clean air, flora, fauna, friends, family, and commerce (the business of helping us thrive here) every year, day, hour, and moment reminds us that these precious times are granted to us. They are not to be taken for granted.“ 

There are many ways we already sustain and celebrate our gift. We take care of the land by leaving it the way we found it, by disposing of litter properly, by helping clean the landscape all the way down to the falls a couple of times a year. We think and plan locally while acting globally. In fact, we appreciate our little slice of heaven so much, if smiles were metered, Highlands numbers would be off the charts. 

The Chamber supports these activities, for in keeping our land pristine and those grins on our faces, we attract visitors who back local events, business, and more. Our treasured residents benefit through tourists’ tax revenue, their purchases, workforce attraction, plus arts and cultural patronage. Visitors carry our Highlands inspiration and spirit home with them to entice new travelers to visit the Plateau and perpetuate the cycle that sustains us. 

Whether we are workmen, artisans, retirees, residents, or entrepreneurs, we count on the Chamber to keep the wheel of local economy turning.  

In closing, Chamber Board members offer these words of gratitude to their community for the exceptional contributions residents have made to Highlands.  

“At the top of my gratitude list this Thanksgiving is the Chamber’s warm welcome. As their new director, I shall celebrate not only November 28th, but I’ll extend my appreciation and my reverence each and every day, for years to come.” – Kaye McHan 

“I am grateful to live and work in Highlands for the special opportunities that are here. Sharing its beautiful natural surroundings, great educational choices for families and an abundance of involved and generous people that I am lucky to call my friends, Highlands is one of the finest places to live.” – Kay Craig 

“The Highlands Chamber of Commerce Board is thankful for having a great community to promote, for friendly, enthusiastic business members, for natural scenic beauty, for fresh mountain air and moderate climate.  For proximity to population centers in an intimate hideaway location. In short, we’re thankful that Highlands is home.”
– George Powell 

“I feel grateful to live in this little slice of heaven and be part of a close community of people who really care about each other, our town and our quality of life. There’s something about Highlands that just draws that type of people. We all have our individual preferences and perspectives—which makes for a fun and intriguing culture—and we all engage in our own ways around the things that really matter to us. There’s such a sense of camaraderie and common concern for our neighbors and a deep appreciation for the beauty that we live in.” – Amanda Sullivan 

“Personally, I am grateful to live in a town where you can wave at people and stop on the sidewalk to chat.  The events that the Chamber offers, the Fourth of July Fireworks, Halloween, the Christmas Parade, the Christmas Tree Lighting, all create great memories. It makes living here so very special. As the Executive Director of the Performing Arts Center, I consider being a Chamber of Commerce member is a good business decision.  I am grateful for the continuing education workshops and seminars that are held.  I am very grateful for all of the events and promotions that are done to support our local businesses.” – Mary Adair Trumbly 

“I am thankful to be able to live, work and play in such a vibrant and naturally beautiful community.” – Brad Spaulding 

“As board chair, I am extremely thankful for the amazing professionals that so generously give their time and talents as Highlands Chamber Board Members. I am so proud to be a part of this group that has exhibited endless dedication, passion and pure hard work on behalf of our beautiful town.” – Hilary Wilkes 

“I’m thankful for the over 5,000 worldwide visitors who come to the Visitor Center every year, the over 10,000 residents and visitors who attend the Chamber sponsored events including July Fourth Fireworks, Friday Night Live, Saturdays on Pine, Halloween, Tree Lighting and Christmas Parade.  And, I’m extremely grateful for the volunteers who give their time, knowledge and enthusiasm every day at the Visitor Center and at our events.” – Beverly Wichman 

“I am thankful for the huge support system that is in place in Highlands.  It is a place where people are committed to their friends, families, businesses, churches and community – it is a place where people go out of their way to help others.  In Highlands it is the little things that become big things in our life.” – John P. Woods 

“I’m grateful to live in a small town with a degree of diversity and acceptance more associated with large cities. Highlanders, I’ve found, are united less by social status, careers, and religious affiliations than they are by a common love of our quaint but sophisticated town and the natural beauty that surrounds it.” – Jack Austin

While we’re on the subject, allow us to express our gratitude for both the Cashiers Area Chamber of Commerce and the Highlands Chamber of Commerce. 

Browse through this issue of The Laurel and note how many stories are about events and institutions that rely upon the support of these twin powerhouses. Consider how impoverished, both culturally and economically –  life would be on the Plateau,  if not for the generosity and wisdom of the Chambers. 

With Gratitude to both, Janet Cummings and Marjorie Christiansen, Publishers

The American Woody:The first generation of depot hacks boasted open bodies constructed of wagon-style solid planking. But by the mid-1910s, closed station wagon bodies became more common and lighter construction was required. The rib-and-panel style that is familiar today made its first appearance on these vehicles and allowed for the first partially enclosed wooden station wagons with side curtains, two or more rows of seats, and side doors. These new wagons could still be considered depot hacks, but were now called Suburbans, Combinations and Country Clubs. (Versions of these names still appear today.) The lower halves of these wagonette bodies resembled the earlier versions and were now combined with a flat roof. These designs found favor with non-commercial customers, and an increasing number of firms began building them. Major manufacturers such as Ford started offering woodies through dealerships, although independent body builders performed the actual construction. The Martin Truck and Body Corp. in York, Pennsylvania, made so many bodies for Ford, Dodge and others during the 1910s and 1920s that they billed themselves as "The Largest Commercial Car Builder in the World." The golden age of the custom wood body maker ended during the Depression, as many of the small independent firms went out of business. Some reorganized and diversified, like the Kentucky Wagon Manufacturing Company, which stopped making wood Ford Model T and Model A bodies (and its own line of automobiles as the Dixie Motor Car Company) and started manufacturing truck trailers. The company is still in business today as Kentucky Trailer. The major automobile manufacturers acquired many others at fire-sale prices during this time. The fortunes of Martin Truck and Body, who called themselves "The Largest Commercial Car Builder in the World," changed dramatically during the Depression. After merging with failed carmaker Parry in 1919, Martin Truck and Body was acquired by Chevrolet in 1930 and became its first in-house commercial truck body division. Ford, with its vast timber operations near Lake Superior, was gaining experience in woody manufacturing. That experience would be put into practice in 1936 when a plant opened at Iron Mountain that built complete wood wagon bodies that were then shipped to Ford plants around the country for final assembly. While Ford was the only manufacturer building woodies from the ground up, there were still coachbuilt versions available based on GM, Chrysler, Packard, Willys, Hupmobile, Graham, Hudson, Studebaker and even American Bantam chassis. The trend toward luxury continued through the 1930s, although woody amenities lagged far behind those in production automobiles. Pontiac, for instance, did not offer full glazing until 1939. As the country began to recover economically, woodies were increasingly perceived as upscale vehicles and sales rose accordingly. Ford easily maintained its dominance, selling almost 10,000 redesigned Standard and DeLuxe station wagons in 1940 alone. Chrysler introduced its first truly car-quality woody, the Town & Country, in March of the following year. It boasted an all-steel roof and a white ash and mahogany body by Pekin Wood Products of Helena, Arkansas. With Willys, Buick, Pontiac and Plymouth all getting serious about passenger comfort in their woodies, things were about to heat up when the manufacturers were told to cease production of passenger cars and contribute to the war effort. A trickle of cars continued for a brief time, but all domestic automobile production had ended by March of 1942. Ford continued to produce a small number of Ford and Mercury woody sedans and ambulances used during the war. We reach Crystal Cove and its landmark Shake Shack and pull in to switch drivers. Remembering the earlier starting difficulty, we leave the Ford idling while photographer Joseph Puhy shoots some images. Little do we know, the ethanol-laced modern gas blend is busy vaporizing in the fuel line, a common Ford flathead V-8 problem. It happens on the uphill leaving the Shake Shack, the woodie chugging slower and slower, until it can’t chug anymore. Now we’re stranded beside the Coast Highway, with Audis and Acuras zipping past at speed. Bad scene. With no luck re-firing the engine, I resort to bump-starting it backward downhill. This works, and the ’34 has just enough power to get us turned around and find safe haven in a nearby park. But the woodie’s day is over. “I think this has cured me of wanting an old car!” Dean says, laughing. Oddly enough, another “Surf City” lyric has portended our current situation: “And if my woodie breaks down on me somewhere on the surf route/Surf City, here we come/I’ll strap my board to my back and hitch a ride in my wetsuit.” With the photo and video teams close behind, our rescue isn’t quite that dramatic, and we all safely return to the museum in modern cars, leaving the generous McPherson and his beautiful ’34 awaiting Hagerty Plus Roadside Service. The last great year of the woody was, by some accounts, 1949. Handcrafting complicated and maintenance-intensive wood frames and panels was becoming very difficult to justify in the red-hot, new-car market. The epochal Chrysler Town & Country switched to Dinoc vinyl (still available in aftermarket "wallpaper woody" kits today) with ornamental ash framing, and the 1949 Ford used all-steel construction with experimental plywood-like panels that underwent a dramatically high rate of failure. General Motors abandoned wood framing after 1948, and from 1948 through 1951, Packard produced station wagons with window framing and ornamental wood door trim by Briggs Manufacturing. The few coachbuilders that survived the Depression and World War II were again in jeopardy during the 1950s. Despite efforts to make the transition to more modern products such as hearses and other steel bodies, the wood-body manufacturers, steeped in old-world hand craftsmanship, were almost all gone by the end of the decade. Car design and manufacture, as well as the tastes of the car-buying public, were undergoing radical changes and the woody, redolent of 1930s and 1940s country clubs, fell from favor. The Chrysler Town & Country was discontinued in 1951, and while Fords continued to sell well, they now increasingly used vinyl and paint instead of real wood. The 1953 Buick wagons were the last real woodies from any major American manufacturer. Various wallpaper woodies or "vinylies" are still offered by Detroit to this day, but the age of the real woody ended in 1953. Fiberglass would come to substitute for ash and Dinoc for mahogany. It was a slow death, and the last real wood exterior trim of any kind on an American vehicle appeared on the Dodge Adventurer 150 "Li'l Red Express Truck" option available in 1978 and 1979.By the time I had my summer epiphany in San Diego, woodies were already in their second incarnation as an American icon. Furniture makers constructed the first of them on truck frames in the late 1920s. The car replaced the horse-drawn vehicles–jitneys or hacks–that had hauled passengers from train depots to hotels. Woodies were, literally, “station wagons,” and you’ll see them turn up. In Southern California, the place to see any style in wood cars is the annual Wavecrest meeting, held every September at Moonlight Beach near San Diego. Trophies are given for Best 1960s Surfing Woodie and Best Hot Rod Woodie. There are big-money restorations and Model A’s with rotting wood, Buick Estate Wagons with fewer than 50,000 miles on the odometer and more Town and Country wagons than Pasadena’s Rose Parade. Lovely as these ghosts are, there’s nothing that can duplicate your first time. Nearly 40 years ago, on the afternoon when I saw that first woodie in a San Diego gas station, I was just way to my part-time job in a suit and tie. What I watched from across the street was a preview of another kind of life, one that was raw and vital, one where a whole world was spread out along the coast waiting to be discovered. It was a moment that changed my life–because that day I quit my job and started surfing.