WOOSTER – Gene Varns has never been one to shy away from adventure.
A lifelong Wooster resident, Varns, 70, still skis at least once a week on a variety of runs each winter.
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Now retired from a long career as a machinist, he maintains an active repair shop in a freestanding structure behind the house where he and his wife, Joyce, have lived for 34 years.
Gene can fix just about anything, from lawn mowers to classic cars, and his fondness for automobiles took him on a remarkable journey more than 50 years ago – a journey that united him with a other love of his life – right behind his wife, children and granddaughter. — a 1948 Pontiac Silver Streak, which he takes care of and drives occasionally to this day.
It all started in the fall of 1969, when Gene’s grandfather, Clifford, was about to take a cross-country trip to Pierre (pronounced “pier”), South Dakota, to buy calves for his buffalo herd, which had resided at Flickinger Hill in Wooster for many years.
Clifford and his wife, Lucille, had made this trip many times in the past, starting in the 1960s. Years earlier, in the 1930s, they traveled even farther – as far as Montana – to buy lambs from fattening to Christopher and Anna McRae for a separate operation.
Family friends from Montana were looking to sell their 1948 Silver Streak
In 1948, the McRaes sold their ranch. That same year, they purchased a brand new Silver Streak Straight 8 after moving to the town of Terry, Montana. Over the years, they maintained a close friendship with the Varns, even visiting each other every few years. In 1969, the McRaes were looking to sell their 21-year-old Silver Streak and asked if Clifford’s twin grandsons – Gene and Dean – might be interested in buying it.
Unsurprisingly, the two brothers, who were seniors at Triway High School at the time, jumped at the chance. They had worked on nearby farms in Wayne County, including the Walter Jones-owned Burkey Farm on State Route 83, where the Hampton Inn stands today. Their work earned them enough money to pay the $550 price of the car, with each boy contributing $275. They were able to get out of school for four days simply by explaining where they were going and what they were planning to do.
Clifford and Lucille owned a Ford F-350 farm truck with a bench seat in the cab – clearly not enough room for four people on a 1,250 mile trip. So Clifford asked Harry Dilyard to make a tin roof that could be attached to the top of the lorry’s cattle rack. Then he had Wooster Lumber build an arched headboard for the front with a perspex window and added a used car seat which he bolted to a sheet of plywood and placed on several straw bales. , giving the twins a panoramic view of the road. before.
The trip began on the afternoon of September 30, 1969, as the four Varns were heading west on Highway 30 (because Clifford, who was quite frugal, didn’t want to pay the tolls). They drove for about eight hours that day, stopping somewhere after Chicago for the night before setting off again the next day, feeding on sandwiches packed by Lucille.
Finally, they arrived at the Pierre Motel on October 1 and settled in for the night. Early the next morning, they piled into the cabin of the F-350 and headed north on State Road 83 to Onida. After stopping for breakfast at Clifford’s favorite local restaurant, the Varns headed west out of town on a gravel road to Sutton Buffalo Pasture along the east side of the Oahe Reservoir.
By then, cars, trucks, trailers and cowboys on their horses had gathered for the 9 a.m. muster, which would separate the adult buffalo from the calves, and was quite a sight. After that, the Varns headed south to Okabojo Creek Park where they enjoyed a picnic. Gene remembers the loneliness and beauty of the site where the only sound was the rustling of the wind in the prairie grass.
Varns flies from Pierre, SD to Terry, Montana
Upon returning to the Pierre Motel, the Varns drove to the local airport where Clifford had chartered a twin-engine plane for the nearly three-hour, 416-mile flight to Terry, where they spent the night with the McRaes.
The next morning, they took photos in front of the Silver Streak and prepared to head back to Pierre on the desolate roads of Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota, where, according to Gene, there were only grain silos and a few gas stations. along the way.
Among the highlights of their journey from Terry to Pierre was a junction that crossed the Oahe Reservoir to Mobridge, not far from the grave of the legendary Sitting Bull. Soon after, however, there would be trouble. A squealing noise from the right rear of the car forced the two boys to pull over and remove the right rear tire where they discovered a problem with the brake drum. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the proper tools to remove the drum, so they sat by the side of the road contemplating their next move when a good Samaritan stopped and offered to help.
After assessing the situation, the man said he should go home (about four miles away) and gather the necessary parts, while Gene and Dean patiently waited for him to return. The Good Samaritan did come back and help the boys make the necessary repairs.
Safely back at Pierre, the twins shared the details of their adventure with their grandparents as they sat in the motel lobby, when the phone in the motel office rang. It was the Good Samaritan calling to make sure the boys had passed. Gene and Dean then planned to drive all night back to Wooster…until fate intervened.
Just before they left, a young woman named Chris, who happened to be the daughter of the motel owners, appeared in the lobby and asked her mother to accompany her to her high school prom that night. .
The Varns twins from Triway High School attend a school dance at Fort Pierre High School
The Varns twins quickly chimed in, stating that they were headed in that direction and would be ready to drive her to the ball. Her parents gave her permission and the three of them left for the dance at Fort Pierre High School.
Along the way, Chris invited the boys to the dance, so they dropped her off at the door, rushed to get some suitable clothes out of their suitcases, and entered the gym, proudly wearing their Triway High jackets School, causing the crowd inside. stop what they were doing and watch in wonder.
In the gym, Gene and Dean met Chris, who introduced them to his friend, Pat, who happened to be the comeback queen and had just broken up with her boyfriend. So Dean teamed up with Pat and Gene hung out with Chris at the homecoming dance, about 1,200 miles from home. How lucky can two farm boys in rural Ohio be?
After the dance, the four exchanged phone numbers and addresses in hopes of staying in touch. They later went their separate ways, though Gene and Chris keep in touch all these years later via Facebook.
At that point, Gene and Dean got back into the Silver Streak and resumed the long journey home, traversing Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and more than half of Ohio in one very long night. and a very long day before arriving home on Heyl Road just around midnight on Saturday 4th October.
The long journey was over, but the memories would last forever. Eventually, the Silver Streak became Gene’s property, and his relationship with that car continues to this day, over 50 years later. Needless to say, the boy and his dream machine live happily ever after.