News - Sauk Valley

Graybeards meet weekly in Dixon to talk classic cars over coffee

The weekly gathering of vintage car enthusiasts includes, from left, Mike Berogam, 71 of Dixon and his 1964 Ford Mustang, Steve Ketchum, 67 of Amboy and his 1956 Chevy Nomad wagon, Jim Ross, 73, of Grand Detour and his Ford Model A truck, Larry Ellingsen, 71 of Elmhurst and his Ford Model A truck; and Al Reece, 72, of Dixon and his 1929 Ford Model A truck.

DIXON – There’s laughter, coffee and banter about classic cars and trucks.

Every Wednesday for going on nearly 30 years, Larry Ellingsen, Jim Ross and several friends arrive in their custom rides to talk cars over cups of coffee at John Dixon Park on Galena Avenue.

“All of us have some degree of skill, and if you put us all together, we could build the best car in the world,” Ellingsen joked. “But we would rather sit here and talk about health issues and hot rods.”

Back in the early years, cars had a lot of character and different body styles, and that is what I fell in love with.”

—  Mike Berogam

Many of the men are childhood friends. Ross and Al Reece graduated high school together and served in parallel units during the Vietnam War.

Reece owns a 1929 Ford Model A truck that he restored with the help of his friends. He finds simple pleasure in the work.

“When we were growing up, when you bought a car and something went wrong with it, you and your friends figured it out and fixed it,” Reece recalls. “There is as much enjoyment in fixing it as standing back and looking at it when it’s all done. The process is a major part of it.”

The men take great pride in their vehicles, having invested countless hours and thousands of dollars.

The weekly gathering of vintage car enthusiasts includes, from left, Mike Berogam, 71 of Dixon and his 1964 Ford Mustang, Steve Ketchum, 67 of Amboy and his 1956 Chevy Nomad wagon, Jim Ross, 73, of Grand Detour and his Ford Model A truck, Larry Ellingsen, 71 of Elmhurst and his Ford Model A truck; and Al Reece, 72, of Dixon and his 1929 Ford Model A truck.

However, each one is different and, in some respects, reflects its owner.

“I like the beat-up look of mine,” Ellingsen said. “I tell people if it’s got a shine, it ain’t mine.”

Ellingsen owns a battered – yet restored – brown Ford Model A truck. Ellingsen won’t stick it in a showroom: “She’s meant to go to new places and see new faces.”

Steve Ketchum’s love for classic cars led him to New York. That’s where he bought his red and white 1956 Chevy Nomad station wagon. He sold two cars in his collection to acquire it.

“I’ve had about 200 cars come and go in my life, so I guess you could say I was bitten by the car bug early on,” Ketchum said.

For Mike Berogam, it is all about “the look.” Berogam owns a 1964 Ford Mustang and has worked as an auto body mechanic for 56 years. He also is a member of the Gateway to The Pines Car Club in Polo.

“Back in the early years, cars had a lot of character and different body styles, and that is what I fell in love with,” Berogam said. “Sadly, nowadays, they stamp ‘em out, and you can’t tell one from the other.”

The iconic Ford was the childhood car of Berogam’s dermatologist, Dr. Mark Stees of Dixon. The vehicle was purchased for Stees as a teen and had been sitting in a barn for decades. Stees invited Berogam to check out the car after discovering his patient’s love of classic vehicles.

“It was kind of a mess when he showed it to me, and he wasn’t interested in fixing it up,” Berogam said. “I’ve had a few Mustangs in my time, so I asked him to sell it to me.”

Berogam completely restored the car, even finding an original engine.

Like replacing parts on one of their cars, the group has seen several members come and go over the years. Over time, the conversation and faces have changed, but the laughter and love of cars remain.

As winter approaches, the group will move their weekly gathering inside the nearby McDonald’s.

That’s one order of coffee with a side of laughter.