Deane Sherman: In the Crosley Hobby, the More Things Change, the More they Stay the Same

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By Daniel Strohl:
Change is constant, as we all know. Nowadays, if one season brings the same things that the previous season brought, most people see it as a failure, a sign that we’re not moving forward and progressing, or that we’re not keeping up with the times.

Even old cars, even little old cars like the Crosley that presumably ceased to develop the day the last one rolled off the assembly line in 1952, continue to evolve in unexpected ways, thanks to the ways in which the people who admire those cars change. Take, for instance, Deane Sherman’s hood ornaments.

In the early to mid-1990s, as Ferrari prices were reaching astronomical highs and buoying much of the rest of the collector car market along with them, as enthusiasts started to restore non-muscle 1960s cars in earnest, and when many mainstream collector car restorers already enjoyed widespread availability of reproduction parts, Deane decided to reproduce the hood ornaments for the Crosley CD and VC cars. Using the lost wax method, he cast them in solid stainless steel and turned out a decent product. Yet he couldn’t market it to his fellow Crosley enthusiasts at all.

“I said, ‘This ain’t gonna be a multimillion-dollar business, and that’s fine,'” Deane said. “But it was just ahead of its time, so I gave up and didn’t do any more.”

The problem, as Deane pointed out, was that Crosley restorers could still find NOS hood ornaments at that time, and they were perfectly content using the pot-metal ornaments that the factory churned out rather than Deane’s high-quality ornaments.

Yet, over the last 10 years, a new kind of enthusiast started to take interest in Crosleys. These enthusiasts put more money, time and effort into restoring Crosleys than ever before. They started restoring cars from the ground up rather than simply repairing them and making them look presentable. They even started taking the little economy cars to concours events. These were exactly the kind of people who would have bought Deane’s hood ornaments.
“In today’s world, I think they’d sell again,” he said. “I think guys would want to buy items like that, it’s just one of those things that I’m not willing to try again.”

And that’s just one of the many changes, especially in the Crosley hobby, that Deane has had a front-row seat to over the years.

His involvement in Crosleys started in 1959 when his younger brother, then living in town, dragged a 1947 CC pickup home. Because his brother’s neighbors didn’t want to see the beat-up little truck around, his brother brought it to his farm outside of Liberty Center, Ohio.

“I kind of inherited it then,” Deane said. “It had been rolled over, so it wasn’t in dandy shape, and we used it for a yard truck around the farm. We had it around forever.”

By the early 1970s, after years of hard work, Deane finally decided he could afford a toy of some sort – just as long as the price of that toy wouldn’t exceed $100. That led him to his second Crosley, a CC sedan that he bought for $80 and restored over the next couple of years.

“As a result, I bought most any Crosley I could buy over the years,” he said. Most of those cars fell in the $50 to $150 price range. “I bought ’em for parts, and some of ’em ended up getting restored.”

He even ended up buying one car – a post-war station wagon – three or four times. “I’d sell it, but it would just come right back to me, usually looking better this time than the last!” he said.

For a farmer, welding and general mechanical work came natural to Deane, and his natural self-reliance – and the fact that nobody else around him did it – led him to start rebuilding the engines of the various Crosleys he restored.
“That engine is so unique, it was a major contributor to me liking the cars,” he said.

Eventually, he started to take on more and more of the restorations himself, even getting into upholstery and interiors in recent years.

“But as far as doing 100 percent of the work, I find that the closer and closer I get to that, the lazier and lazier I get too,” he said. “If somebody’s already reproducing a part, like the plastic taillamps, then it’s a lot easier to go to the phone and buy it off somebody else.”

That he can buy so many reproduction parts for Crosleys is one change he particularly appreciates seeing, and it’s one that he believes has led to both the increased quality of today’s Crosley restorations and to the increasing prices paid for Crosleys.

“I never ever thought we would see the day when Crosleys bring the money they bring today,” Deane said. “Beyond a shadow of a doubt, I believe the prices paid for Crosleys today are probably pushing some people out of the hobby, but they are helping the hobby in general by attracting new people into it.”

Those new people, Deane said, would often get into Crosleys after sinking plenty of money into a Camaro restoration, then see how a Crosley attracts much more attention than a Camaro at a car show.

“And these guys coming into the hobby from other cars, they’re doing some high-grade restorations,” Deane said.

“They’re asking us questions like, ‘What direction does that zerk fitting point?’ and we’re saying ‘Gee,’ and doing some backpedaling, because we never paid much attention to those things!”

That’s led to a big dilemma among Crosley restorers, Deane said: Whether to restore the cars or over-restore the cars. Or, as Deane framed it: “Do I want to restore it historically, or do I want to get my (Antique Automobile Club of America) Senior award?”

“If you go back and look at the factory photos, the cars look just like washboards,” Deane said. “Historically peaking, I really hate to cover that up – I want to show how poorly they were really built.”

On the other hand, he noted that the judges looking at the cars are likely to evaluate a car on modern standards, and thus will look more favorably on a car that’s been straightened out than one that is restored to look as it came from the factory.

“I’m not knocking the Crosley, but it’s just another thought when doing a restoration,” he said.

In part, that’s one reason why Deane has in recent years gravitated toward Farm-O-Roads – to avoid the dilemma altogether. “Farm-O-Roads were generally straighter than your typical VC from the factory, for one because there were fewer complex body parts, and for two because the factory didn’t build as many of them, so the dies didn’t wear out.”

Deane has, in fact, become intimately familiar with the Farm-O-Road as he not only restored a Farm-O-Road-based ice cream truck, but also worked with Jim Bollman, a lifelong friend, to reproduce the Farm-O-Road’s wiring harness to the highest level of precision possible.

“It’s not a cheap date, but I’m not gonna retire on it either,” he said. “I’m doing it, well, because nobody else would do it, and I’m also doing it for the good of the hobby.”

It’s a hobby that he served for 30 years as a member of the Crosley Automobile Club’s board of directors, and that he continues to serve today as a liaison between the fairgrounds in Wauseon, Ohio, and the club. It’s a hobby that’s becoming more visible with more favorable press on Crosleys appearing all the time. And it’s a hobby that’s drawing younger people into it seemingly every day.

“We do have younger folks getting into it because it’s not the high end of the market – I think the Crosley is an extremely good entry-level collector car,” Deane said. “And it’s the youth who are bringing new direction to the club.”

For all the change in the Crosley hobby, Deane noted, the quality of the people hasn’t wavered.

“One thing that has kept me interested all these years is that I’ve met so many great people,” he said. “Have I made a fortune in this hobby? Not at all. But I wouldn’t trade the experiences I’ve had with these people for a million dollars. The folks are probably as important to me as the cars are.”

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