CONQUISTADORS CLUB PLAQUE
How do you start a car club? The Sheridan, Wyoming Conquistadors Car Club was founded in 1955. Larry Pointer, one of the founding member remembers it all very well. Lets hear his story…
By Larry Pointer
How do you start a car club? For a motley crew of car guys in Sheridan, Wyoming back in the Fifties, you might well have asked, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” Best I can tell, a car club plaque created the Conquistadors Car Club. It all started in high school metal shop in 1955, with a demonstration of sand casting. Melting odd and assorted metals in a plumber’s crucible in the forge seemed like pure alchemy. Then, when that molten metal flowed into sand to be cast into whatever shape had been previously pressed, Wow! The magic of metallurgy sparked the magic of imagination: “We could make a plaque! A car club plaque.”
The wheels began to turn. What would we use to press the shape into the sand? Wood, we could carve our logo into a chunk of wood. Logo, what should we use as a logo? A hot rod, a wild looking hot rod. Yeah, with a really wild looking cat behind the wheel.
Someone possibly had a daydream (read: vision) in Spanish class. One of the most popular clubs on campus was Spanish Club, “Los Buscadores” (The Seekers). But Don Quixote, racing off to challenge windmills, wouldn’t cut it. Only the brave knights of old would do. Spanish knights, the Conquistadors. (OK, Spanish spelling wasn’t required. Conquistadores became Conquistadors. It was a pretty big word for a hand-carved plaque, one less letter was good.)
It’s a little foggy as to just who made the original sketch, but Frenchy Holbert’s name often comes up. The hot rod of the logo was roughly fashioned after a local runabout roadster built on a 1932 Ford running gear. It didn’t look much like that classic ’32 Ford roadster, the California Highboy. You couldn’t call it stylish, but it was a genuine road racer of the Post-War era, with a bit of sprint car attitude. The robin’s egg blue runabout was hand-built by Cecil Wentz, a local mechanic who had gone to California to race on the sprint car circuit. The car was made for rancher Wailes Wolfe out of what once had been a ’32 Ford sedan.
The sketch was traced onto the scrap of wood, and the background was whittled away to leave the logo to stand out in relief. The blank was pressed into a bed of oil-soaked sand. More sand, also soaked in oil to hold it together, was added around the wooden blank and tamped down flat with the backside of the wood. Powder then was sprinkled over the top (the backside surface). A second wooden form was placed over the first. This in turn was filled and tamped with oily sand, this time leaving two holes. One hole was funnel shaped for pouring the molten pot metal, the second hole as an escape hole.
I found these images online, they will help illustrate what we did back in 1955.
Very carefully, the top form was lifted, the two halves parting at the layer of powder. The wooden blank then was removed.
The top sand-filled form was again placed over the bottom one. Molten pot metal was poured down the funnel hole into the void, until overflow appeared in the relief hole. Once the pot metal cooled, the two forms were separated, and the excess material… where the two holes had filled with material…was hacksawed off, flush with the backside surface of the plaque.
Since this was a school project, a bit of creative metallurgy was experimented. Copper and aluminum were melted together, and as it cooled, the resulting plaque had a unique golden glow. Which shattered to shards when it was fumbled to the floor. The rest of the plaques were made from any alloy with a low melting point. And Yesss…forsaken hood ornaments, door handles and trim headed the list. “Slim” Richards and Marvin Verley did much of the casting.
Palle Johansen shows an other way to cast some plaques. This way the back side will need some work on the flat belt sander.
A second version of the original plaque came about, from a clay plaque copied after the wooden blank. Don Jacobson was taking art classes at the Junior College, and as a class project, he shaped a “duplicate” out of wet clay. The clay was then fired to harden it, and some more plaques were poured at the high school, using this blank. There are subtle differences, including a larger checkered flag.
Those crude plaques were nothing less than pure funky folk art. With pride, each charter club member hand-painted the background details and attached his plaque to his car by hanging it from the rear bumper by twin thin chains. Those that survive are highly prized to this day. They also have holes drilled in them for more solid mountings.
Two photos of surviving plaques of the old, a bit crude once we made in shop class. The bottom photo shows one without mounting holes, it was never used.
Club member Harry Schwartz still had his jacket with the plaque logo on the back.
The Bushmaker ’47 side-by-side with Frenchy’s ’50 Mercury Monterey. This photo clearly shows the club plaques hanging below the rear bumpers.
Cecil Wentz was a mentor to these young men, and he had, as well, given them a gift beyond measure: access to his small shop. There, through the long Wyoming winters, engines and tall teen-age tales were swapped. At least one Conquistador called it his home for a while.
The ’32 “sports car” fashioned for road racing by Cecil Wentz also may have come to sport a plaque in its own image. When Wentz went to California to pursue his sprint car racing passion, the roadster stayed. Dick Baldwin got it and…the story is a little muddled…hit either a cow on a country road, or a band of sheep somewhere south of Sheridan. Either way, the results were the same: the front sheetmetal was trashed. Baldwin survived, only to later lose his life when his motorcycle tangled with a bridge abutment.
Here are the only images of the Cecil Wentz “sportster” I could locate. Two were at Harry Schwartz’s home. Wyoming snow!
Harry Schwartz salvaged the speedster. Another ’32 grille shell was located and cut down to fit the low profile. ’32 fenders were hard to come by; a pair of faired ’33 fenders were welded into place. We had a lot of fun skimming along with wind in our faces, our butts barely off the terra firma. The old torque tube ’32 rear end let go, but Harry rebuilt that, too. After re-installing the pumpkin right-side-up, it had three speeds forward again, instead of in reverse. After that, eventually the roadster gave up its flathead in donation to a rare ’32 Ford panel truck that Harry’s younger brother Roy put together. The body and chassis were sold and sadly have been lost in the mists of Time, or California.
Remember that rancher Wailes Wolfe? The next unique sportster he would bring out for Sheridan’s bemusement would be a Muntz Jet from the imaginings of California’s Earl “Madman” Muntz. It was a rare 1951 model in Pepto-Bismol pink!
The third shows the car at a picnic at local Lake DeSmet. You can see how we added 33-34 Ford fenders in repair after its collision with livestock. (the front end of the Roadster can be seen just behind the 59 Ford nose.)
In Time, the old Conquistadors plaque also became passe. Club President Bob Prill had taken up drag racing, at first campaigning a ’31 Chrysler coupe with ”Jake” Jacobson, later with a rail dragster, and finally with factory Ford race cars. He also became a Regional Advisor in the National Hot Rod Association sanctioning group. The old guard was moving on, young recruits were into racing, and by 1960 efforts were being mounted to build a dragstrip. It was time to have the club plaque come of age. Bob Prill created a new design. A checkered flag, along with a stylized Spanish helmet, symbolized the new Conquistadors of Sheridan, Wyoming, Charter Club of the NHRA. This time the design was sent off for professional casting.
This is the last plaque the club did. A new design was made by Bob Prill and the plaques were now professionally cast.
Here are a couple of photos of Bob Prill’s Chrysler coupe, as a survivor. The close-up of the NHRA logo on the car is courtesy Tommy Manning, Gillette, Wyoming.
To project a new and improved image, the Club entered floats in the annual Rodeo parade, performed community services under the auspices of the Junior Chamber of Commerce (to which Bob Prill belonged), and printed up courtesy cards to hand out to those receiving help from a member.
That last didn’t work out so well for this writer. While at school in St. Paul, Minnesota, one Sunday cruising in the city park I stopped to change a flat tire for some elderly ladies. As I opened my trunk to retrieve the tools, the sight of a spate of lug wrenches set the ladies off. “You hoodlums are the reason I don’t have a car jack. Thieves!”
I said nothing, changed the tire, and handed the damsel in distress my card that read, “You have been assisted by a Conquistador of Sheridan, Wyoming.” I wished the maidens Marian a pleasant afternoon, and drove off. I wonder if such things happened to the chivalrous conquistadores of old?
In my last article I showed you a Conquustadors car club parade float photo, here is another parade float we did. Bob Prill’s dragster is on this float.
When shop teacher “Papa” Carlson retired not long after marshalling the boys through the plaque-making adventures, the fellows awarded him with a wall hanging they put together with the carved wooden blank, the clay plaque, and one each of the fragile golden-hued plaque and a pot-metal one. A fascinating side-bar note is that “Papa” Carlson had never done sand casting before this project, either!
In 2009, we held a reunion at Jimmy David’s home. Seventeen survivors from both eras showed up. Buddy Benth brought the Prill and Jacobson ’31 Chrysler coupe out of mothballs. We shared photos, stories, and caught up on the years between. A group photo was taken and, all too soon, everyone went his own way. Today, there’s talk of reforming a Conquistadors Car Club. I hope it does come to pass, but I wouldn’t trade my old school memories for anything. Except, maybe, for one of those pot metal plaques I somehow never did get for my own.
The 2009 reunion group photo. I’ll list, left to right, the who’s who. Back row: Elmer “Pickles” DeTavernier, Merle “Cass” Campbell, “Buddy” Benth, Steve Songer, Steve “Shooter” Benth. Middle row: Stanley Kuzara, Bob Prill, Jim David, Gary “Slim” Richards, Gerald “Butch” Brantz. Front row: Jack “Bushy” Bushmaker, Dick Holcombe, Harry “Schatzy” Schwartz, Larry “Forrest Gump” Pointer.
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