Enjoying the stop

Gregg Lange of Saginaw, Michigan, munches a cookie Saturday during the New London to New Brighton Antique Car Run’s stop at Central Park in Litchfield.

Gregg Lange broke three vertebrae in his neck in a May car crash.

But even though he’s still recovering, Lange wasn’t going to let a few broken bones keep him from participating in the New London to New Brighton Antique Car Run Saturday — even if it meant being a passenger instead of a driver in the annual salute to the earliest automobiles.

“I’m really disappointed I don’t have my Autocar here, but I’m pleased to be able to ride with my friend,” Lange said as he perched in the passenger seat of Bruce Van Sloun’s 1907 Ford during a stop in Central Park in Litchfield. “My car’s not broken, but I am.”

Lange, a resident of Saginaw, Michigan, has participated in the New London to New Brighton run “16 or 18 times,” he said Saturday. The crash on Mother’s Day weekend left him seriously injured, and he had to learn to walk all over again

“I’m lucky to be alive,” Lange, 82, said with a grin. “But I’m tickled to death to be here.”

Lange usually drives a 1904 Autocar in the run. The 2-cylinder “horseless carriage” is one of several vintage automobiles he owns, including a second Autocar, a 1910 Baker electric, and Buicks from 1915 and 1916.

The fascination with old vehicles took hold in his younger years and only grew from there, Lange said. In addition to participating in the New London to New Brighton tour, Lange has organized tours himself. It has given him a strong appreciation for the Minnesota run, which marked its 35 year this year.

“I’ve been to several tours around the country, and this is the best one, best organized group, and the people are just awesome,” he said. “I mean, both the organizers and the people that play with this junk are just really nice people.”

The run recreates the annual London to Brighton Commemorative Run, which began in 1896 to celebrate repeal of the so-called “red flag law,” which required motor vehicles to be led by a man carrying a red flag to warn horse-drawn carriage drivers to hold reins of the horses, lest they be frightened by the horseless carriage’s approach.

The New London to New Brighton Antique Car Run is a 120-mile jaunt with three stops in Meeker County – Grove City, Litchfield and Kingston. Participation is limited to vehicles manufactured in 1908 or earlier, or to 1- or 2-cylinder vehicles up to 1915. An average of 60 vehicles, sometimes including bikes and motorcycles, as well as steam and electric cars, participate each year.

“I always thought they looked nice, the old cars with the wooden spoke wheels and rickety tops, and I collected old photographs from magazines and things of early cars and steam tractors,” Lange said. “And then, by the time I had a driver’s license, I had three old cars — my parents tolerated my addiction. I have found the disease is not fatal, but it’s a lot of fun.”

His addiction has been encouraged through his participation in the Horseless Carriage Club, a national group that caters to the interests of vintage automobile owners. The club’s bimonthly publication includes stories about automobile history and tutorials on how to repair the vehicles.

That knowledge has helped Lange keep his cars in shape for the New London to New Brighton run, and he hopes that by next year his body will be in good enough shape to be back behind the wheel again.

“I’ve told my physical therapy people, my goal is to be able to crank my Autocar and drive my Autocar and put it in a trailer and chain it down and drive it to Minnesota,” Lange said with a chuckle. “I want to be back here next year, but driving myself again.”