On a sleepy street corner in Strong City, Kansas, one building stands out. It’s not brightly colored, crumbling, or of a peculiar design, but it magnetically catches the eyes of any passerby with even the slightest inkling of a passion for cars. Under the shadow of a restored Standard Gas sign, sprawled out across the oil-stained property, is an epic offering to the gods of speed matched in both stature and range.
As the HOT ROD crew passed through, en route to the Wichita leg of Power Tour 2016, the familiar sound of roaring V8s echoed down Main Street as the faint smell of tire rubber wafted on the breeze. This was a phenomenon we had become used to over the course of the week: enthusiastic local hot rodders lining the curbs in towns on the official cruise route, enticing muscle-car drivers to spin their tires.
It was that fluke of street rod serendipity that caused us to stumble onto one of the coolest vintage speed part collections we’ve seen in a long time. And yet, it wasn’t what it seemed.
As we approached the station for a better view of the burnout action, a row of oil and paint cans line the station windowsill, many of their tattered labels bearing now-defunct branding. Two frog-eyed Sprites shared the front driveway with a ’55 Chevy gasser, and an IMCA Modified racer, while bits and pieces of all four cars dotted the ground. A Model-A hot rod, flathead-powered and all, is visible through period-correct window grime. “This place must be ancient,” we thought. It was as if time stood still, and only rust came and went as it pleased.
We rounded another corner, approaching the open garage bay; a garden hose snaked out, supplying burnout-box water to the whooping gearheads joyfully coaxing tire smoke from passing drivers. Through the door, much to our surprise, the hot rodder inside didn’t fit our hastily conjured mental image of who “should” have been inside. There was no old man, no grumpy gearhead ready to chase us off the property. In his place stood a young man in a clean shirt and blue jeans, a smile lined his face like the lines of rubber rapidly accumulating outside.
His name is Seth Schroer. And, the cornucopia of speed parts, Americana, and all other manner of cool stuff inside his garage isn’t the forgotten accumulation of antiquities it initially appeared to be. You see, Seth didn’t score the barn find of the century when he bought this old service station, this is his personal collection of cars, parts, and memorabilia from America’s golden age of speed.
“My old man had a mechanic’s shop and a salvage yard forever, so that kind of gave me a head start on getting some of this stuff back in the day,” said Schroer. “I buy all kinds of old parts just anything old.” That “stuff” consists of several hemi’s, vintage go-karts and mini-bikes, machinery, gas pumps, a bonafide ’27 Model T drag car, and more assorted antique iron than could possibly be counted. Schroer’s collection is so broad it sparks the question, “What isn’t he into?” To which he jokingly maybe not responds, “I haven’t got an airplaneyet.”
Seth’s collection extends across the street, too. Yeah, that’s a real-deal Candies and Hughes hauler. He uses it to take his ’27 T to the track.
From the artwork on the wall to the unopened parts boxes on the shelves, Schroer’s man cave is the real deal. Midway through our exploration, a wall-mounted, rotary-dial phone rings we’d be surprised if Schroer owns a cell phone.
Schroer’s day job is at his machine shop, his weekends are spent at the track with his IMCA Sport Modified car, but his weeknights; those are spent here. “After work I just come in here and enjoy myself,” he says. “Most everybody my age has left, but I always kind of liked it here.”
“Here” is a place of remembrance, a place that’s walls are plastered with respect for those that paved the way. Pinned to a corkboard, a page torn straight out of HRM from the 1957 Bonneville Speed Records pays tribute. The Perry Boy’s Class B Roadster holds the top spot at 168.7 mph.