By Daniel Strohl:
In the late 1940’s, it wasn’t at all unusual for a boy to work odd jobs around town so he could buy a grape Nehi or save up for a Daisy BB rifle. Neal Daglow was one of those boys, mowing lawns, raking leaves, doing whatever it took for another quarter.
Each quarter he earned, though, he then took straight down to the American Legion in his hometown of Litchfield, Michigan, where he bought yet another raffle ticket for the brand-new 1946 Crosley two-door sedan the Legion had on display. Ticket after ticket he bought, and with each ticket, he became more sure the little Crosley – just the right size for a 12-year-old boy – would be his. Yet when the big day came, a buddy of his who just bought two tickets the day of the drawing ended up winning the Crosley.
It wasn’t that big of a loss, though: “Later on, I was able to fool around with that Crosley, which was good,” Neal said.
Good, because with that two-door sedan – far from the last Crosley Neal would ever work on – he began a passion for the little wonder from Cincinnati that lasts to this day.
Five years later, Neal next attempted not just to obtain a single Crosley, but an entire Crosley distributorship. For that, he needed the financial assistance of his uncle, who suggested to Neal, then a high-school junior, that they first get their hands on one “to know what we’re dealing with.” In came the test model, but then two days later, when Neal and his uncle were ready to take the plunge, Neal called Crosley headquarters only to be informed that the plant was shutting down and that Crosley would be building no more cars.
Unsoured by the experience, he later bought a 1949 Crosley sedan as an everyday car to travel to and from his factory job after high school.
“People nowadays say they were prone to trouble when you used them everyday, but I never had a problem with it as long as I kept it maintained,” Neal said. “There’d be five of us carpooling together, and I could fit three of them in the back and another in the front. They all gave me a dollar a week, and that covered both my gas and my insurance for the year.”
With a steady job, a wife and a baby daughter (“We kept her in the bassinet sideways in the back seat.”), Neal thought he could handle stepping up to a larger car, so he bought a used 1948 Ford, and he instantly regretted it.
“Dumbest mistake I ever made,” he said. “What I spent in gas tripled, and my insurance bill doubled.”
Eventually, Neal, the son of a mechanic, bought into a Mobil service station and later opened up his own independent garage, Neal’s Auto Clinic. By 1974, however, he and his wife tired of the Michigan winters, so they sold off the major equipment in his garage and moved to Cape Coral, Florida.
While Neal kept the business name and eventually found more auto repair work than he could keep up with down in Florida, he said that he found himself becoming more interested in Crosleys again after the move south.
Neal soon enough found a 1951 Super Sport to rebuild and drive around, and then after that a 1949 sedan and a 1950 sedan convertible that he eventually restored to AACA Grand National standards. Even in the late 1970s, when it was still possible to find somebody driving a Crosley as everyday transportation, Neal said some parts were already becoming very difficult to come by, particularly the parking lamp and taillamp lenses.
“There were just no lenses to be had anywhere,” Neal said. “So I went down to a little local tool and die shop to ask him if he could make up a mold for the lenses. He said he could do that in a heartbeat, and he even did plastic injection there too.”
With the means of production right in front of him, Neal could just as easily have a couple hundred lenses popped out as the few lenses he needed for his own purposes. So when the Crosley Automobile Club next held its annual get-together in Wauseon, Ohio (this would have been about 1979 or 1980, Neal recalls), Neal took the whole batch of lenses north and sold them out of the back of his truck for seven hours straight.
“It wasn’t a big money maker, but I didn’t go after it that way,” Neal said.
He later got his own plastic injection machine and turned out radio knobs and all sorts of other smaller plastic parts for Crosleys that he would then take up to Wauseon and sell. “I can’t remember everything I’ve made and taken up there,” he said.
Word-of-mouth and the ad that Neal placed in the Quarterly soon enough brought him customers from across the country, and Neal would not only reproduce parts for his customers, but also rebuild components from water pumps all the way up to complete engines and transmissions, and even restore complete cars.
Along the way, Neal picked up a loyal group of customers – a group that continued to patronize him when he moved to Georgia in the 1990s, then a few years later moved back down to Florida. He attributes their loyalty to the reputation heís tried to build of doing things the right way.
“I’m square with them; I won’t cheat them,” he said. “I don’t ship anything out that’s not ready to bolt right on to a car, with the right paint and the right finish. And if the customers send me a bad part, I’ll tell them it’s bad rather than try to rebuild it.”
Neal said he’s always been conscious of costs – one of the reasons he’s always been attracted to the Crosley in the first place – and he tries to keep an eye on his customers’ costs as well as his own.
“I’m not a tightwad, but I hate to see money dumped down a rathole,” he said.
If anything, though, that’s the one aspect of the Crosley hobby that he’s seen change in his 30 years of involvement with it.
“The customers are not as frugal as in years back,” he said. “Today, they don’t argue as much on price as they do on quality. I do get people who argue on price, but those are the old boys. There’s more people today doing these cars as right as they can because they want nice stuff in their collections.”
One would expect Neal to have a couple dozen Crosleys around, but as the years have passed, he sold all the ones he restored for himself, leaving just a couple projects: a 1951 sedan convertible he’s restoring for his son and a rust-free 1950 station wagon he plans to restore once he’s done collecting parts for it.
“It’s getting much harder to find parts nowadays, even just to rebuild them,” Neal said.
Still, Neal fields calls for parts or advice every day of the week.
“I can’t believe that a car that hasn’t been built since 1952 still generates so much interest that I have the following I do,” Neal said.