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Pikes peak connection

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Wayne Getz, 102, looks at memorabilia owned by his fatheron Saturday, including safety glasses, a thermometer inside a tube, andsmall tools in a can made by his father.
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Wayne Getz, 102, points to his father sitting in the riding mechanic’s seat of a Connersville-built Lexington race car justafter winning the 1924 Pikes Peak Hill Climb as Sarah Rogers, head curator of the Penrose Heritage Museum in Colorado Springs, Colo., and Chris Friend of Historic Connersville watch. The three, and other local historians, met Saturday at the new Fayette County Historical Museum.

By DARRELL SMITH - dsmith@newsexaminer.com

In his 102 years, Wayne Getz has seen many events, including some of the first automobile racing.

But his father, Henry Paul Getz, saw it from the seat of a race car built in Connersville.

Henry Getz served as the mechanic on the Lexington car that won the 1924 Pikes Peak Hill Climb. The Fayette County Historical Museum has the Penrose Trophy presented to the winner but the car is in a museum near that mountain in Colorado.

Sarah Rogers, head curator of the Penrose Heritage Museum in Colorado Springs, Colo., visited the new location of the Fayette County Historical Museum Saturday and met Wayne Getz, tying the two communities and museums together.

She worked with Chris Friend, founder of the Connersville Built Cars Facebook page to set up the visit with Getz and others interested in preserving local history. Friend is a tour guide at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum in Auburn, Ind.

Rogers, originally from Indianapolis, began her job April 2. She is trying to learn as much possible about the exhibits in her museum, including the Lexington Special 7 that won in 1924.

Another museum had the Lexington Special 7 and loaned it to the local museum in 2000 where it stood on display until early 2001. That museum called and wanted it back, said Richard Stanley, author of the book “The Lexington Automobile: A complete history.”

Rogers said that would have been the The Pikes Peak Hill Climb Museum that loaned the car. It later belonged to the DuPont family and that is where the Penrose Museum obtained it.

“Our museum has it on display and we have a replica of the Penrose Trophy next to it,” she said. “I was excited when I heard from Chris because we have this really great shared history. I knew that I was going to be coming home and this would be a great opportunity to meet all of you and learn more about the history of the car.”

Lexington cars took first and second places in the initial race in 1920 and won again in 1924, which permitted the company to keep the trophy permanently. It’s the trophy at the museum.

The Lexington Automobile Co. began in 1909 in Lexington, Kentucky, but soon moved to Connersville for more space and to be near its suppliers, Friend said.

“Your dad worked for Lexington and when they came to Connersville, your dad came with them,” Stanley said. “You told me that. We built them a two-story factory and that got them up here.”

Getz said his father served as machinist for the company, trying to find problems with the cars that came off the Lexington production line on West 18th Street. He also worked on the race cars, which would be tested by driving up and down the 5th Street hill, sending rocks flying.

When the race team left town, Getz and his brother Dale would stay with their grandmother while his dad and mother, Lillian, went to the race.

“I remember dad talking about the races; of course I was just kid and it didn’t sink in like it ought to,” he said.

Shane Gough, Wayne’s grandson, showed items used by Henry Getz that he found in his house, which was once owned by Henry. The garage and basement had many tools made by Henry.

Among the items is set of points, never used, he said.

“He used to tell me how when he would go home, everybody that owned cars around would bring them to him,” Gough said. “When you think about it, they had not been making cars very long and there were only a handful of people that had that knowledge and were able to do it. He was a motorhead and into that.”

Henry Getz made many of the items in the house he now owns, Gough said. He made picture frames and was a good carpenter.

His dad also took and developed photos, Getz said. 

“There are a lot of people in Colorado that are very interested in this story so I’m excited to go back and share it with them,” Rogers said. “I just wanted to make a connection and establish a relationship between our two museums. The museum where I work has the Lexington 7 and the Penrose Trophy is here. Those two are part of the same story.

“When people come to our museum and we tell them the story of the Lexington, we can tell them the story of the trophy and tell them the story of Connersville. It was phenomenal to meet Wayne.”

“Most people in Connersville have no idea there is an automotive manufacturing history around here ... and I want to change that,” Friend said. “One of my biggest fears is the story gets lost and people never know what happened. I don’t want that lost.”