View Full Version : Speaking of the '47 Woody

01-13-2012, 06:38 PM
I wrote this recently to get a little extra creadit in my English class at school. It turned out ok so it also go published in the Michiana chapters "Home of Champions". I saw the recent thread about the Woody and now that the car is coming back together, some may find this an interesting read.


Chris Dresbach

It all started a few days before Christmas in 1979 over a set of vent windows for a 1941 Commander, that a car would be saved, and a museum improved. This is the true story of the infamous “Woody”, a 1947 Studebaker prototype that went from rejection to restoration with the help of some very determined SDC members and the beginnings of the Studebaker national museum as we know it. The 1947 Woody may be one of the most influential vehicles in the history of the SDC and the museum.

In the days leading up to Christmas eve, 1979, Pam Miltenberger had in her car a set of vent windows for a 1941 Studebaker commander, wrapped up and sitting on her front seat in a parking lot somewhere in South Bend. Somebody who apparently thought the package was a Christmas present broke into the car and stole the vent windows! This was a bad deal. Imagine a car without a focal part like vent widows! I know personally that these parts can be difficult to find, especially for pre war cars. Rex Miltenerger is a friend of Mike Lenyo, whose father worked at Studebaker at spent quite some time at the proving ground in New Carlisle, Indiana. Mike’s father remembered that Studebaker would discard their old test vehicles and prototypes in a remote location in the woods of the proving ground, and distinctly remembered a 1941 Commander. The only problem was that the specific location of the cars were uncertain, and the proving ground was fenced off. Being that it would be difficult to get to the cars, and probably a little dangerous, no effort was made to get to the ’41 in the infamous “Studebaker Graveyard”, that is, until after Christmas!

At some point in the summer of 1969, the “Studebaker Graveyard” was “rediscovered” by some car enthusiasts. Some video was taken, even a couple cars were removed, but nobody really ventured into the graveyard since. Ten years later at the 1979 Michiana Chapter SDC Christmas party the old videos from 1969 were shown for entertainment. The videos showed the cars and the removal of two prototypes. By studying the videos, some of the people in attendance figured out the exact location of the cars! The following morning, in the freezing snow, half dozen members made an unofficial excursion into the graveyard, and I’ll add that it’s probably a miracle they didn’t get caught! Mike Lenyo was with this group and he still remembers first seeing the cars. The sun glistening off their windshields, the snow, the history, it would have been a sight to behold. The cars were there, more than 50 prototypes, all Studebaker’s, sitting in the woods rusting away. Among the cars were a few 1952 model “N”s which would have been the 100th anniversary cars, but were never produced. There was also a 1951 “Desert Explorer” more commonly known as the “Sand car” built for desert exploration in oil fields. There was also the Woody, a 1947 station wagon that was never produced. This car was known about as pictures of it existed and it was actually a very handsome looking car. It’s really too bad Studebaker never produced it as this writer thinks it would have sold. However, it would have cost a fortune in new tooling to produce this car and the idea was scrapped. After a short time in the graveyard, the guys remembered how cold it was and got out of there.

Fast forward to spring 1980 at the Reedsville, Pennsylvania swap meet. Max Corkins was the International SDC president at the time and he was in attendance. He expressed interest in removing the ’47 Woody from the “graveyard”. (He wasn’t part of the group that snuck out there earlier, but he knew about the cars.) At the same time back in South Bend, several SDC members, especially Phil Brown, were also considering removing the ’47 Woody and restoring it. It was decided that Max Corkins and the members in South Bend would combine forces and save the Woody. The only problem was getting permission to get the woody, and the challenge of physically removing it! Mike Lenyo, Cindy Brown, and Max Corkins took charge of the project. Cindy Brown called the president of Bendix Corp. at that time, Mr. Cox, and got permission to enter the graveyard with a truck and trailer and they could take anything they wanted that was related to Studebaker, (Bendix Corp. owned the proving ground at the time and have since been bought out by Bosch corp.) the only condition was that it had to be done in one day and one day only; The day would be May 20th, 1980. According to Mike Lenyo, the project was a pain. The crew consisted of Mike Lenyo, Max Corkins, Pete Wilson, Phil Brown, Jim Bressler, Jim Name, John Borkowski, Gus Saros, Brian Webster, and two tour guides from Bendix, Pete Leatherwood and Jim Baugh. Gus Saros was the coordinator at Discovery Hall which was a museum inside the Century Center. Max Corkins and Pete Wilson showed up in a very nice Studebaker Transtar pickup pulling a trailer to the proving ground. Since the cars are out in the woods, they can’t exactly be driven to easily. It was decided that an access road should be made to back in the trailer. This was no easy task as many trees had to be cut down, this took several hours. Finally, the truck and trailer were able to get to the Woody, this presented a new problem. Since the woody was just a body shell, not a rolling chassis, how do you get it on the trailer? Brute strength apparently. Some pieces of wood were wedged under the car and all the guys there gave it all they had to lift the woody up. They were successful as far as lifting the body, but it’s hard to walk and carry a car at the same time! They got the car high enough where the trailer could be backed under it and then set the woody down. It was a victory as far as saving the Woody, but a loss in saving anything else. The whole project took 8 hours and the Woody was the only car removed. Unfortunately, the 1952 model “N” was never recovered. Looking at photographs from the day the Woody got removed, the model “N” is one of this writers favorite cars.

The Woody was home free, it was on the trailer and now it was time for it to leave the proving ground. Max Corkins drove the Transtar out of the gate and on to state road 2 towards South Bend and ultimately Mishawaka, Indiana. Now, the Woody was made of wood, just as its name stated. The only problem with that is it was 50+ years old and the body had been rotting in the woods for years! When the truck and trailer pulling the Woody got onto Western Avenue in South Bend, the Woody’s body took a turn for the worst and collapsed in on itself. It didn’t fall apart into a big mess, but the roof was “sinking” into the interior. The crew limped the rig over to Mike Lenyo’s house in Mishawaka and then went to a local hardware store and bought some lumber to make framing and supports around the Woody’s body. The wood framing was good enough to support the Woody for its next stop, Max Corkins home in Pennsylvania. By this point the crew that saved the Woody decided to call it a day.

The following morning Max Corkins and Pete Wilson wanted to see the Studebaker car collection in South Bend. When they got to see the cars, they weren’t pleased. The majority of the cars were being stored in the old Drewrys beer brewery on South Bends Northwest side and at that time the cars didn’t really have a future. At the 1981 International meet in St. Louis, MO, Max Corkins suggested that the cars should be placed in an open museum, or shipped to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania where John C. Studebaker, the Studebaker brothers father, had a blacksmith shop before coming to South Bend. The next day the South Bend Tribune held the headline: “Studebaker Collection Going to Pennsylvania”. This really got the ball rolling as far as opening a new, permanent Studebaker National Museum. A short time later Eli Spicer, of Freeman-Spicer, that was a Studebaker dealership directly next to the factory sold the dealership building to the city of South Bend to serve as the new museum. Finally in January of 1982, the cars were moved out of the Drewrys buildings and into the new, official Studebaker National Museum. The new museum officially opened on January 21st, 1983. However, the Discovery Hall museum at the Century Center stayed open into the 1990s until those cars were brought over to the main Studebaker museum. From this point on the museum system only improved to what we have today, a state-of-the-art museum.

After being recovered, the Woody sat in Max Corkin’s restoration shop untouched for 14 years until in 1994 when he donated it to the Studebaker National Museum where the restoration would begin. In the spring of 1994, Mike Lenyo and Phil Brown drove to Lewistown, PA with the museum car hauler and got the Woody to bring it back home in South Bend, this is when the real restoration began. Chuck Naugle, a Studebaker man from Arizona, donated a 1948 Champion for the cowl and chassis and any other parts that might be needed. A group of hard working and dedicated museum volunteers began work grafting the roof of the Woody onto the body of the donor car. The effort to put the prototype roof on the ’48 was lead by Chuck Collins, a master model builder for Ford motor company. Some people from the original crew helped with the restoration too, like Jim Name. Other people were Max Gretencord and Frank Sitarz. Jim Maxey rebuilt an engine for it and Tom Molnar did a lot of the work on the roof of the Woody. Today the Woody is in its final stages of wood working before being painted and assembled. It should also be mentioned that the Michiana Chapter and International SDC president, Tom Curtis, donated the paint. When the car is done, it will be a nice shade of Maroon, just as it was originally. It should also be known that the Woody wasn’t always a Commander either. When the Studebaker engineering department started building the car, they started out with a Champion chassis and basically made it a Commander. The basic design of the Woody was done by none other than Virgil Exner. When Studebaker was done building the Woody it was decided that they wouldn’t produce it due to cost, but they had a nice car, so why not use it? The Woody was still owned by the Studebaker Corporation, but was given to Ray Sharp, a Studebaker service representative, to drive to dealerships throughout the country. In all, the Woody had a lot of miles on it by the time it was retired! Today, there is only one man alive who remembers riding in the Woody, and that’s none other than Ed Reynolds. At some point probably in 1954 or 1955, Studebaker retired the Woody, removed its chassis, and dumped it in the proving ground graveyard. Through the dedication of many, it has been removed from the graveyard and will be done in time to be revealed at the 2012 SDC International meet in South Bend.

I’m just the writer who does his part to preserve as much history as accurately as I can, but there are some people who deserve recognition in this project, it couldn’t have been done without them.
Bosch Corp. for allowing the SDC into the proving ground. They are a great group of people and are friends of the SDC.
Max Corkins. It was his idea to save the car and he pursued it. He also set the groundwork for establishing the “modern” Studebaker National Museum.
Mike Lenyo. Mike worked hand-in-hand with Max Corkins.
Phil and Cindy Brown. They did a lot of the foot work to get the Woody out and Phil chaired the project beginning in 1994.
The Studebaker Drivers Club restoration fund. The Woody would have never gotten this far without the monetary donations from the restoration fund, generated by SDC members.
The Studebaker National Museum for leading the restoration.
Max Gretencord for chairing the project after Phil Brown’s untimely passing.
And to all the countless volunteers and donors who put their time, effort and money into making this restoration happen.
Thank you!!

C. Dresbach 2011

01-13-2012, 06:56 PM
Nice job, young man ! Thanks to those folks you mentioned, but also to you for helping make others aware and doing your part in preserving the cars, parts, and history. John

01-13-2012, 07:01 PM
My wife made a contribution to the Woody fund and got a T-Shirt. I will remember this every time I wear it.

01-13-2012, 07:53 PM
Excellent thesis! And sure covered the subject.


Desert Explorer
01-28-2014, 08:11 PM
That is really cool. A fitting tribute and well put together!

01-29-2014, 12:45 PM
That is quite a write up. Your story helps to preserve the facts of the "Woody".
I will leave it up to your English teacher to dock you on the numerous grammatical errors and at least one factual error (1980 was not "50+ years" after 1947).

01-29-2014, 01:26 PM
Chris, you're a teriffic writer. I loved your account of the saving of the Woody and all the folks who were involved.
My wife & I had the privilege of seeing the restored car at the last South Bend Int'l meet in 2012. I couldn't stop taking photos of the car. It truly is beautiful and the restoration is sensational.
By the way, I appreciated your guided tour of the new Studebaker International facility in South Bend.
Thanks again.

01-30-2014, 10:43 AM
Soo.. was this woody the only one ever produced by studebaker? I did a google image search and found hundreds of them.

01-30-2014, 12:43 PM
Soo.. was this woody the only one ever produced by studebaker? I did a google image search and found hundreds of them.

It was the only car based 1947 wooden wagon. There were many Studebaker wooden wagons built on a Studebaker truck chassis.