Clintonville man keeps historic vehicles running

Hupke a treasure to FWD Museum

Grace Kirchner Leader Correspondent

Photo by Grace Kirchner Bill Hupke spends many hours a week working on the antique vehicles in the FWD museum. His knowledge of the vehicles has earned him the respect of many.

Visit with 83-year-old William Hupke for a short time, and you will be amazed at his knowledge of historic FWD vehicles.

Hupke typically drives the historic Model B ammunition carrier in Clintonville’s Fireman’s Festival and Memorial Day parades. That’s because if the World War I-era ammunition truck stops, Hupke is the guy who can get it running again.

“Bill Hupke is an invaluable resource,” said Daryl Schroeder, a collector of FWD fire trucks, “with his long and in-depth knowledge of FWD history, and particularly any specific truck models. But he is best with his care and work of keeping the oldest vehicles in the collection repaired, maintained and running. He relishes the chance to work on the cars and trucks of the oldest part of the collection.”

Recently, Hupke was instrumental in repairing the transmission on a war-built 1919 Model B FWD truck that was transformed into a fire truck, Schroeder said.

Prior to beginning his 46-year employment at FWD, Hupke — now retired — served in the U.S. Army. He recalled that while he was in Chicago with the Army, he was injured in a car wreck and spent eight weeks in the Great Lakes Naval hospital. Later, he said he took a course for engineer foremen that would put him in charge of building roads and bridges.

Yet Hupke said he was always interested in vehicles and mechanics.

“I overhauled tractors while in high school in the ag shop,” he said.

When Hupke was shipped to Alaska, he said he operated a 5-ton wrecker.

“I talked to the major, and he had me drive a wrecker 24/7,” Hupke said. “Sometimes I drove school bus on base.”

He said he also drove a government vehicle for a game warden and recalled the unique challenges of driving in Alaska.

“I remember there were many moose and only one road to Fairbanks,” Hupke said.

When he completed his military service, Hupke started working at FWD in 1957.

“I had been out of the U.S. Army for 10 days when I was hired,” Hupke said. “My dad had worked at ‘the drive,’ and I think he talked to Sam Finch about me, and I got hired right away. I worked on the equipment floor and did whatever needed to be done.”

In many ways, Hupke’s FWD career is interconnected with the history of the company itself. For instance, when FWD entered the Indianapolis 500 in the 1930s, it was with the first four-wheel drive race car built in the United States. Later, in the 1950s or 1960s, Hupke recalled that master machinist Joe Lehrer wanted to race the FWD race car against Jack Benny. Lehrer, Hupke said, wanted the race car to be installed with a regular plate clutch, and he narrowly missed the opportunity.

“They were going to send me to Indianapolis, but they decided I was too young, and they sent Clarence Verch instead,” Hupke said.

Hupke did not, however, miss out on the opportunity to work on the FWD teracruzer, which was designed to transport missiles.

“I think it was in 1955 when (FWD) designed the teracruzer for the U.S. Air Force. It was with unique balloon tires,” Hupke said. “The air pressure in all the tires could be adjusted on the go by a switch on the dash.”

He said the teracruzer could travel on the highway, off-road and over large obstructions in the sand or mud.

Hupke recalled there were times when they would remake teracruzer parts three times to get them just right. He also spent several months in Akron, Ohio, at Good Year Air City Wings Foot Lakes to test the teracruzer. Often his wife, Eudine, could accompany him, he said, and FWD sent him to other locations as well.

Hupke said he has a fondness for FWD’s enduring Model B, which helped transport troops and supplies in World War I, pursue Pancho Villa and his guerrillas through Mexico in 1916 and, later, serve U.S. State Highway Departments as the nucleus of the first highway and road maintenance fleets in America.

In later years, FWD reacquired and updated two of the Model Bs and put them in the 11th Street museum in Clintonville. Hupke now keeps them running. He said the “John Payne” is a favorite of his.

Before the new museum was located on 15th Street, the older museum was in need of repair. The Nancy Hank 1911 roadster, which had been used for hauling mail for FWD, was falling through the floor and had not run in some time. Someone suggested that perhaps Hupke could take it out to his farm and get it running again.

These days, Hupke is working on restoring a fire truck for the Marion Fire Department. While vehicles have always been a passion of Hupke’s, this one is making him frustrated, he said — having taken apart portions of this fire truck three times to get parts modified.

He will persevere.

“I was born with the urge to monkey around with machines,” Hupke said.