Tag Archives: How I Roll

The Genetics of Speed

October 9, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The family that accelerates from 0-60 in under 3 seconds together stays together. That observation holds true for at least one area father-son duo, Drs. Kam and Max Chiu. They are both radiation oncologists (Kam practices in Lincoln, while Max is completing his residency at UNMC). They both developed a love for automobiles early in life. And they both own ultra-high-performance sports cars built in Woking, England, by storied race car manufacturer McLaren.

The elder Dr. Chiu, whose love of fast cars is rooted in the hours he spent playing with toy cars at his father’s Hong Kong toy factory, kicked off this family’s mini British Invasion in 2013 with the acquisition of a McLaren MP4-12C Project Alpha. This English answer to Italian and German exotic dominance boasts 616 horsepower from a 3.8-liter, twin-turbo V-8 engine nestled behind the carbon-fiber passenger cell. The description, along with assorted industry reviews, was compelling enough to encourage Kam to make his purchase without driving any McLaren, let alone this $300,000-and-change special edition.

“I bought it off the internet…from [a dealer] in California,” Kam nonchalantly admits. He even traded in his beloved Ferrari F430 as part of the deal, not knowing if he would instantly regret the decision.

“So [the dealer] picks up the F430 and drops off the 12C, and that first spin? I take it out and it’s just fantastic,” recalls Kam. “The 12C is a lot more comfortable than the 430.” As one of only six Project Alpha cars created in collaboration between dealer McLaren Chicago and the factory’s McLaren Special Operations division, the orange-and-black 12C is a rarity among rarities.

Following his father into the world of mechanized speed was an easier decision for Max than following him into the medical field. And when it came time to dip his own right toe into the exotic market, the answer was obvious: The third generation of the MP4-12C, now christened the 720S (for 720 metric horsepower, or 710 by U.S. standards). “The 720 is definitely a lot more refined [than the 12C]. I drove it almost every day for the last month,” Max says of the 2017-edition vehicle. “But then I took it out on some twisting country roads last week…and it’s insane. I don’t know how else to describe it.”

While the doctors’ McLarens are two of only a handful in the area, they are part of a (perhaps surprisingly) thriving exotic automotive scene in Nebraska. “In a state of only a couple million, you have plenty of Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Porsches, things like that,” reveals Kam. But the pair lament a lack of dealerships or other service options—the closest McLaren locations are in Chicago and Denver.

Numerous cars have cycled through their hands over the years, and the Chius currently own a handful of other high-performance vehicles, including a rare-for-America JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) Nissan Skyline GT-R. But the McLaren magic doesn’t seem likely to fade anytime soon. “I would most likely purchase another McLaren sometime down the road,” offers Kam. “It has the substance to back up the looks.” 

Although, when pressed to pick his favorite among all the vehicles he has owned in three decades of collecting, Kam admits, “If I could only own one car ever, it would be a minivan.”

Because even in the world of cars, sometimes function is more important than fashion.


Visit mclaren.com for more information.

This article was printed in the August/September 2018 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Dr. Max Chiu between the 720S McLaren (left) and the Project Alpha 12C.

Ridin’ the Rails

September 10, 2018 by
Photography by Contributed

Robert Owen sipped a drink, smoked a cigar, and enjoyed the view from the back end of his “yacht on the tracks.” He didn’t have a care in the world. The rush of catching a plane, loading luggage, or dealing with the airport crowds faded in favor of the looming Rocky Mountains. The train chugged along at a leisurely pace after it left the station in Chicago. The pressures of being CEO of Owen Industries, a metal fabrication business, drifted away with the chugging of his 1928 vintage train car. The slick silver, red, and blue Pullman gleamed at the rear of Amtrak’s westbound No. 5 California Zephyr. He, along with other members of the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners (AAPRCO), headed to Napa Valley along the sturdy steel of the rail tracks just as their ancestors may have done in the late 1800s. The countryside, unhindered by automobiles or highways, seemed so primitive one could almost imagine an outlaw waiting in the wings for an old-fashioned train robbery.  

The inside exuded the same plushness as the outside. The lounge’s soft blue chairs, creamy leather sofa, and refinished woodwork is the picture of refined elegance. The dining room is a throwback to the original Pullman. A long table is covered with a white tablecloth and linen napkins. Dinner was prepared by a chef and guests could partake of caviar, a filet, or champagne. Photos of the Boston Red Sox’s Ted Williams sit on a table, showcasing the history of its famous passenger. 

It’s a timeless travel adventure. Owen, 75, has taken 10 trips across the rails to different states in his very own private car. In his youth, taking a train was a popular way to travel. The rooms were fancier and bigger back then, but it allowed time for the family to bond and enjoy the countryside.  

“Riding a train was a real treat,” Owen recalls. 

Owen and his grandfather would hitch a ride on the Burlington Zephyr, a stainless steel speed demon. The diesel-powered and electrically controlled locomotive blew Owen’s mind. He thought it would be cool to own his own railcar. The thought never really left him, even after air travel boomed in popularity. 

In 2011, Owen turned his boyhood dreams into reality. Owen contacted Warren Lucas, who worked at Union Pacific at the time, to purchase the executive car of a former railroad tycoon president, who affectionately named it Suitsme. A private rail car can cost anywhere from $300,000 to $800,000. That’s why Terry Peterson, president of Omaha Track, jumped on board to become co-owner of the former Bangor and Aroostook railcar. 

But the cost of owning a railcar doesn’t stop with the initial price. Many of these antiques require refurbishment and restorations. Peterson laughs, saying he has sunk anywhere between $100,000 to half-a-million into this car. Owen says his particular railcar needed updating “on and under the frame.” Peterson elaborated that this meant new wheels, axles, suspension, brakes, and more. The railcar also needed a new HVAC system, water and holding tanks, a new electrical system, and plumbing fixes. An outside company from New Jersey that repairs passenger cars did most of the work.

To those who can afford it, however, the luxury of traveling in a private railcar is worth any cost.

“It’s like owning a private jet or like being in a five-star hotel,” Peterson says. “The goal is for the food to be special, the service, everything.”

The first trip aboard Suitsme took Owen and friends down to Chattanooga, Tennessee, followed by others to Washington, D.C.; Seattle; and wine country in California. Members of the AAPRCO will sometimes attach their cars to the same engine for trips, which increases the chances for comradery or a party on wheels. 

“It’s a fabulous way of seeing America. It spoils you. It is the very essence of enjoying the journey,” says Julie King, executive director of AAPRCO. 

AAPRCO hosts excursions that include tours, museums, and sights, sometimes of historical railroad spots. The membership fee of $90 a year includes a subscription to their magazine and an invitation to an annual convention.

Additionally, there are costs for fuel and parking. Amtrak rates for trips have risen to $3.26 a mile to pull the private railcar plus $155 or more for overnight parking.  That doesn’t take into account the cost of the crew, which includes a cook, steward, and mechanic. 

Yet, the cost doesn’t stop Owen’s love for his hobby. He purchased a second railcar with co-owner Mike Margrave, a 1953 golden beauty called Promontory Point. It is named for the site of the completion of the first Transcontinental Railroad, when the Union Pacific and Central Pacific rails were reportedly joined by a golden spike in 1869. 

“They [my family] all thought I was crazy, and I probably am,” Owen says with a laugh. “I always wanted to have one, and now I have two.” 

The added benefit of two cars is a more spacious voyage, with more bedrooms and bathrooms. Since then, Owen’s son and daughter, along with his seven grandchildren, have made use of them. Some will say railcar travel is a disease, an obsession, that hooks owners from every walk of life once he/she takes the first step back in time. Sure, some things have changed. Cigars are no longer allowed, but Owen still enjoys waving to people as the train disembarks for unknown adventures. 


Visit aaprco.com for more information.

This article was printed in the August/September 2018 edition of B2B.

From left: Ron Shaw, Bob Owen, and Dave Henegar with Bob’s Pullman car in 2013.

An Agile, Aerodynamic Arachnid

April 18, 2018 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Jay Leno…Jerry Seinfeld…Jason Pittack.

These “Js” are three of less than 1,000 people in the world to own a Porsche 918 Spyder—specifically, they are three of 918 owners of this vehicle.

“In the Midwest, there were only two copies of this car that I am aware of,” says Steve Gehring, president of the Great Plains Region of the Porsche Club of America. “Jason drove his around Omaha, so it was spotted here and there and people got to look at one.”

Pittack, the dealer principal for Woodhouse, likens his liquid-silver, 887-hp Spyder to a rocket ship—the car sports a 600-horsepower, eight-cylinder engine and two additional electric motors.

From left: Jason Pittack and his wife, Shelbi, with their Porsche 918 Spyder

That’s because the 918 was developed to have a powerful hybrid drive with the efficiency and ecologic consciousness modern drivers desire. Porsche, Pittack says, comes out with a “supercar” about every 10 years to serve as a showcase for the future of its technology.  The hybrid technology tested on the 918 is today available in the Porsche Panamera Turbo S (which was unveiled last year) and is in production with next year’s Mission E, Porsche’s first fully-electric car.

Besides being the dealer principle for Omaha’s Porsche dealership, he is a car guy.

“It’s been in my blood since day one,” he says, as evidenced by the fact that the first word he ever spoke was “car.” (The second two, for those who are curious, were “here’s” and “Johnny.”)

He owned, and enjoyed owning, the previous Porsche supercar, and knew when Porsche announced the 918 that the hybrid supercar would be a hot item. He put a deposit on the $950,000 car the first day they announced the concept in 2010.

Then, the wait began. Concept to production on this car took three years. The specific car he purchased was the 34th off the line and the fourth to come to the United States from Germany. The vehicle was flown to Atlanta by jet (it had a plane ticket) and was loaded onto a trailer from Reliable Carriers, the company known for delivering cars to the Daytona 500 and Barrett Jackson Auction.

The car was worth the wait, as he saw in October 2014. The acceleration will make a car fan’s hair stand on end, but the stops for fuel are infrequent.

“It’s a zero to 60 in 2.2 seconds, and we average 40 miles per gallon with it.” Pittack says.

Not that he accelerates that fast that often. Pittack and his wife don’t take it on long trips, or even the speedway, but it might be seen at the grocery store or the parking lot outside their favorite restaurant. The top pops off easily to turn into a convertible, making it a good all-seasons car. The fact that it’s built with carbon fiber makes it very lightweight.

And about that engine?

“You can use [the hybrid engines] in any combination. You can drive the vehicle like a true hybrid in all-electric,” he says. “You can drive it in electric to where the gas kicks on when you romp on it a little bit. You can drive it in the electric/gas combination at all times, and you can do it in just a full-out race mode where everything is just going nuts.”

And you do all that with the touch of a button on the steering wheel.

“It’s meant to be very intuitive on the inside. Just everything’s touch-feel,” Pittack says. “Using the inside of this car is like using an iPad or iPod.

Like the rare piece of art that this is, its value has appreciated to about $1.5 million. Given the value, one may be inclined to let it sit and never drive it at all. In fact, the second Porsche 918 in the area was never driven. That was owned by Pittack’s father, Lance, until February. Jason, though, loves using his car. It’s a fact that makes Gehring happy.

“Porsche cars are meant to be driven in our view, all of us who have them love to drive as many different models as possible,” Gehring says. “That one, for the average enthusiast is unattainable. Most of us will never see one, never drive one.”

“I drive all my stuff,” he says, and the Spyder is his current favorite vehicle. “It’s the fastest, but it’s also the most user-friendly.”

This article was printed in the April/May 2018 edition of B2B.

Back to the 1980s

February 14, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Aaron Gum can tell you several movies he loves, but ask about the one—the film that he most associates with his childhood—and his eyes sparkle. The clock tower…the electricity…the burn marks from the tires of Doc Brown’s DeLorean as it travels Back to the Future.

“Nothing really sums up a decade, as far as pop culture goes, as much as a DeLorean,” says the freelance producer of commercials, music videos, and other media around Omaha.

As a kid growing up in the 1980s, Gum always wanted a DeLorean, but he never expected to fulfill the dream. The DeLorean DMC-12—the only car ever produced by the DeLorean Motor Co.—had a limited production period between 1981 and 1983. Around 10,000 vehicles were made, and less than 7,000 are still in existence.

While perusing social media in April, a photo of the vehicle on a flatbed in a Facebook post by a friend of a friend changed his mind. The car was headed for Woodhouse Auto, which had taken it on trade for an Alpha Romeo.

Gum, also the synthesist for the local new-wave synth duo Glow in the Dark, originally wanted to borrow the vehicle for a photo shoot. As soon as he saw the DeLorean on social media, he called the marketing director at Woodhouse Auto Group, with whom he worked on commercials, and asked about it. The vehicle, at that time, was not running and he was not able to use the car.

Two months later, Gum visited Woodhouse to shoot commercials and asked about the vehicle. Yes, it was still there, and yes, it was now running. Gum bought the vehicle for around $30,000. It was a whim for the normally frugal Gum, whose high-ticket purchases tend to be more career-focused, such as film cameras or synthesizer equipment.

The vehicle has become his promo car for the band, taking him to gigs around the city.

Gum goes overboard in his devotion to hobbies, and he soon began making the futuristic-looking car even more 1980s in style. The fuse was out on the lights, so he replaced the lighting with LEDs. He acquired such movie props as a flux capacitor, hoverboard, a Mr. Fusion home energy reactor, Marty McFly jacket, and a 1/6 scale DeLorean time machine.

Gum isn’t a “car guy,” but the car—and what it symbolizes—has captured his heart. In July his friend Scott called and told him to get down to Quaker Steak & Lube in Council Bluffs. A second DeLorean, one Gum knew nothing about, was participating at the Wheels of Courage auto show taking place at the restaurant’s lot. Gum quickly drove over to check out his vehicle’s twin, parking outside the show’s perimeter near the other DeLorean.

“It was kind of crazy,” Gum says. “I had no idea there was another one in the area, but there it was, right over in Council Bluffs.”

Gum’s is a 1981, the other was a 1983, so the two men compared parts. The 1983 was more authentic to the one in the movie, having no aesthetic grooves or fuel door stamped into
the hood.

But the thing about owning a DeLorean that makes Gum smile most is his encounters with movie fans.

“This kid came up wanting to sit in it,” Gum says. “Afterwards his father said, ‘you made his day,’ and I thought that was pretty cool.”

“You know,” he says, “you see a classic Lambo or something, it’s really cool, but you don’t just go sit down in it. People do that all the time with this car. They sit down and then go, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, I should have asked. But I was so excited to see it!’ ”

They are fellow movie buffs, fellow obsessors over Marty McFly and his travels back to see his parents as teenagers. The affable Gum doesn’t mind (although it would be nice if people asked before plopping themselves down).

The DeLorean appeared as a featured vehicle in January’s Midlands International Auto Show alongside brand-new, high-end vehicles such as Corvettes and Lamborghinis. It was another chance for local fans of Back to the Future to interact with, and dream about owning, the iconic vehicle.

As for Gum’s DeLorean, it is a frequent prop in Glow in the Dark’s photo shoots and was used onstage at an August concert at OutrSpaces. Gum jokingly asked about bringing the car onstage and—to his surprise—was told, “You know, if you drive it around the back, you can probably get it in the door.” He did, and the car was positioned between Gum and bandmate Lawrence Deal during
the concert.

Since then, he hasn’t worked on making the car more movie-authentic because he’s been working on restoring another piece of movie-themed nostalgia, a Back to the Future pinball machine that was manufactured for only four months in the summer of 1990.

“How many people get to have a pinball machine with their car in it?” Gum says.

Visit @glowglowdarkdark on Facebook for more information about the band, including images of the DeLorean.

This article was printed in the February/March 2018 edition of B2B.

Let It Snow So We Can Roll!

January 13, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Kate Stutheit does not often see her husband, Stan, at their business in Syracuse, Nebraska. This dynamic is nothing new to the married couple of 36 years. Kate says they rarely cross paths at Stutheit Implement Co., a John Deere retailer about 34 miles southeast of Lincoln. She manages the merchandise while her husband makes sure operations run smoothly.

“It can be stressful just like anything else, but it’s a lot of fun,” Kate says. “It’s rewarding.”

After business hours, especially in the winter, the Stutheits devote time to snowmobiling, their biggest hobby. The couple ride Polaris 800 Pro RMK snowmobiles, which Stan says is “definitely a good sled.”

Their ride is a mountain snowmobile, which is long and narrow to allow for riding hillside in mountainous terrain and through heavy powder. The vehicles have specially designed long lug tracks, which allow them to maneuver through deep snow.

The Polaris 800 PRO-RMK 163 features a lightweight AXYS chassis and 800 H.O. Cleanfire engine.

Stutheit Implement at one point sold snowmobiles. John Deere designed and built snowmobiles from 1972-1984. In fact, the popular company slogan, “Nothing runs like a Deere,” was first used to promote a line of snowmobiles. In the early 1980s, John Deere sold their product line to Polaris.

Kate says the lack of snowmobiles at work has never stopped the couple and more than two dozen of their friends from traveling multiple times a year for an adrenaline rush of winter fun.
They say their hometown of Syracuse used to be a regular go-to spot for snowmobiling, but that changed after the area started getting less snowfall.

Part of the allure of snowmobiling is the travel. The couple have snowmobiled in Colorado and Montana. Wyoming remains their favorite spot for its snowy ranges and sometimes challenging terrain.

“I like being out in the open and the scenery,” Kate says. “He usually leads. I usually ride behind. We have a good time. It’s a lot of fun.”

The couple often travel with members of the Nebraska State Snowmobile Association or Syracuse Sno Flakers Snowmobile Club. Kate says the local group is comprised of about 40 members, and Stan says the majority of Sno Flakers also are members of the state organization.

He should know. Stan currently serves as president of the state association. Along with providing fun and friendship, the association has raised thousands annually to benefit individual cancer patients, Toys for Tots, and local back-to-school efforts. At presstime, Stan was busy preparing for the 2017 NSSA Convention Nov. 17 and 18, where Stan, Kate, and other snowmobilers gathered to network and discuss their hobby with fellow enthusiasts.

Kate is also a former officer. She has served various positions with the group since becoming a member in 1981 and especially enjoys the camaraderie with fellow snowmobilers.

“There are always stories to be told on trips,” Kate says. “It’s a whole other family and friends with the state association.”

Stan says the outdoor thrills give them a chance to get away from their business.

“When we’re gone, I don’t worry about it,” he says. “I know someone is back there doing it.”

Look up Nebraska State Snowmobile Association on Facebook for more information.

This article appeared in the Winter 2018 issue of B2B.

Kate and Stan Stutheit

Who’d Love to Have an Oscar Mayer Wienermobile?

June 29, 2017 by
Photography by contributed

The Oscar Mayer Wienermobile is not your father’s muscle car of the 1960s.

Don’t tell that to Ashley Eisert, a 2016 University of Nebraska-Omaha graduate who relishes her job driving and promoting one of the world’s most famous vehicles.“It really does have a lot of pick-up,” Eisert says as she gets ready for another day on the job as a “Hotdogger.” (Yes, that is her official title.) “It might take a little bit to get from zero to 60, but it does have a lot of power to it. It can definitely haul bun,” she says.

If you get the feeling Eisert savors rolling in the 11-foot-tall, 27-foot-long hot dog, she does. Since last June, the former Papillion-LaVista South student has been wheeling through 27 states in one of six Wienermobiles as part of the company’s team.

In terms of famous four-wheelers, the Wienermobile ranks right up there with Doc Brown’s DeLorean, the many incarnations of the Batmobile, or—for you old-timers—that whiz-bang of a grand prix car, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. All of them gained fame on the silver screen. (What do you mean you didn’t see the Wienermobile in 1992’s Ladybugs starring the late Rodney Dangerfield?)

But has there ever been such a novelty advertising vehicle that can get people to stand up through their sunroof, camera phone in hand, to honk and wave?

This bunderful story could get eaten up fast.

The first Wienermobile dates back to 1936 when Carl Mayer had an advertising idea for his Uncle Oscar: a 13-foot-long hot dog car that would travel through the streets of Chicago, advertising the meat-and-cold-cuts company that Oscar founded in 1883.

General Body Co. of Chicago made the first Wienermobile. Today the cars are constructed by Prototype Source, a Santa Barbara, California-based designer of mobile marketing vehicles. In 2004, the company started working with automotive designer Harry Bradley—best known for his Mattel Hot Wheels car designs—to completely produce the custom-made vehicles. Everything down to the windshield wipers is made special.

So what lies under the 14,050-pound vehicle? (That’s 140,500 hot dogs, according to Oscar Mayer’s official fact sheet.) The custom-made, grilled fiberglass dog sits atop a lightly-toasted fiberglass bun on a converted GM Chevrolet four-speed/W4 series chassis with a V8, 6.0 liter, 300 horsepower Vortec 5700 engine.

Each of the six Wienermobiles features a snazzy interior complete with six ketchup-and-mustard-colored captain seats, a gull-wing door with retractable steps, a removable “bunroof,” carpet featuring a condiment-splattered pattern, and sunny, blue sky ceiling art. There is storage space for thousands of Wiener Whistles, a custom-built, solar-powered stereo with a microphone system on which hotdoggers can  speak to people during parades, and a horn that plays the Oscar Mayer jingle in 21 different music genres. Oh, and it runs on unleaded and gets “thousands of smiles per gallon.”

How long does it take to build one of these specialized vehicles that is 18 hot dogs wide? “Franks for asking!” Prototype Source Owner Dorian Duke did not say.

“From the time we install the fiberglass body on a chassis to installing all the custom electrical, audio, and video, is between 16 and 22 weeks,” Duke says. “We started off with the Wienermobile, and pretty soon people were asking us to make other special product mobiles. We’ve made the Hershey’s “Kissmobile,” the Kellogg’s “Tonymobile,” the Pepperidge Farm “Goldfish,” and quite a
few others.

There is even a free Wienermobile app you can download to track the orange-and-yellow monstrosities. According to the product description, you can “relish the opportunity to ketchup with the Wienermobile” and buckle up, “ride shot-bun, pilot the big dog,” and tour the country with hotdoggers.

Yes, automotive enthusiasts, this car is a real wiener.

Visit oscarmayer.com/wienermobile for more information.

Oscar Mayer owns six Wienermobiles

This article was printed in the Summer 2017 edition of B2B.

Writer Sean Weide passed away unexpectedly on May 30, 2017. He wrote only a few articles for Omaha Magazine, but they were always well-researched and well-written. I personally wish the Weide family the ability to find peace.

— Daisy Hutzell-Rodman, B2B Managing Editor.

 

Polishing a Legacy

December 10, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

America’s long love affair with the automobile is perhaps best told in stories of fathers and sons. The 1932 Chevrolet Cabriolet convertible featured in this installment of “How I Roll’ has for a half century been at the center of one such father/son vignette.

“My dad collected and restored many, many cars,” says Mark Chickinelli, “but he always said that this would be the very last car he would ever do. It was that special to him. He was willing to wait for decades to fulfill that promise. Sadly, he was only half right on his prediction.”

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A debilitating stroke three years ago ended the hands-on stage of Val Chickinelli’s restoration hobby. Known for leading Omaha Plating Co. for 50 years on the corner of 24th and Leavenworth streets, Val had purchased the vehicle known as a “Baby Cadillac” in the early ’60s. Punctuating the point that he was a patient man, restoration began only in 1999. A fire later destroyed many of the car’s key components as fate did its best to thwart what would become a son’s race against time in fulfilling a father’s wish.

After his dad’s stroke, Mark stepped in and also enlisted his father’s longtime collaborator, Bob Chalek, perhaps the area’s foremost authority when it comes to work on classic Chevrolets, Pontiacs, and Oldsmobiles. Chalek had more than a craftsman’s love for the iconic car for he had once, oddly enough, owned this very same beauty back in the 1950s.

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“I grew up in my dad’s businesses,” says Mark. “Ever since I was 8, he had me doing odd jobs, and that often meant moving any number of his 100 vintage cars. We moved this car more times than I can remember. It was disassembled and in boxes, and we moved it from storage place to storage place, but it was like it was always there waiting for us.”

Restoring automobiles, to the Chickinelli family, is an endeavor elevated to high art, something that is second nature to Mark. He is a fine art painter who has done work for such clients as Coca-Cola, Budweiser, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, and the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum.

Val passed away in August, only shortly after the restoration was complete.

“He only got to see it in pictures before he died,” Mark says, caressing the graceful curve of the car’s fender. “My dad will never ride in this car, but I think he’d be very pleased. It’s everything he ever dreamed it could be. It’s now a part of his legacy.”

The Vesparados

August 26, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

They call themselves the Vesparados and they are, indeed, a wild bunch—wild about their Vespa scooters.

About 20 owners of the iconic Italian scooter belong to a loosely knit social group that meets at least once a week, sometimes more in good weather, to tool around Omaha and enjoy the freedom of the outdoors. Rides usually end with libations, dinner, or both.

If the name Vespa doesn’t ring a bell, think Gregory Peck vrooming through the crowded streets of the Eternal City with a laughing Audrey Hepburn on the back of his scooter in 1952’s Roman Holiday. Thanks to the Oscar®-winning film, Americans fell in love with the Vespa.

First manufactured by Piaggio & Co. in 1946 for easy and economical transportation in decimated post-War Italy, the Vespa remains better suited for boulevards and byways, not highways.

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“Most Vespas can reach 80 miles per hour,” says Gil Cohen, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Omaha Magazine. “But I wouldn’t suggest keeping it up there for very long. We don’t travel on interstates.”

The Vesparados come from a wide range of professions. But when the helmets go on, each rider assumes their Vespa persona.

“Everybody has a handle,” explains Cohen. “I’m ‘Jersey.’”

On a recent summer evening, the South Jersey native sat astride his red Vespa GTS 250 waiting for others to gather at a Fiat dealership at West Dodge and 180th streets for a cool, twilight ride along the nearby Lincoln Highway. Cohen’s GTS series scooter features Vespa’s trademark pressed-steel unibody, flat floorboard, and prominent front, but with today’s technology. True to the original premise of economy and affordability, the Vespa averages about 65-70 miles-per-gallon and costs around $7,000 tops, with smaller scooters in the $3,000-4,000 range.

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Ten riders eventually joined Cohen, including new Vesparado Todd Lemke, breezing in on a GTS 300 scooter.

“I had to have a bigger bike than Gil’s,” laughs the publisher of Omaha Magazine, who hasn’t gotten a handle on his handle yet. Lemke has always loved “anything with two wheels and a motor,” and finds the Vespa a natural extension of his motorcycle and dirt bike hobbies.

The parking lot, now filled with Vespas in hues of blue, red, green, and brown, crackled with laughter, indicating long-standing friendships among the participants. Husband-and-wife dentists Bill and JoAnn Kathrein, a.k.a. “Tito” and “Cupcake,” shared good-natured ribbing with longtime friend Dr. Bill Bucy, a dentist who lives in Auburn, Neb., and stores his Vespa in Omaha.

Joining in on the conversations were Spencer “Dragon” Jacobs of Badger Body and Truck and his girlfriend, Kathy Anthes; Dr. George “Doc” Perlebach; Wells Fargo Financial advisor Denis “Ballanca” Roberts; Omaha attorney Dan Smith, clearly enjoying his first Vesparado outing; architect Steve “Itchy” Ginn (no question asked, no explanation offered), whose new GTV series “retro” scooter has the headlight attached to the front fender; and David “Blazer” Parsow, looking very dapper in a crisp, white shirt and black sport jacket. “It comes from being in the clothing business,” deadpans the president of Parsow’s Fashions.

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The riders motored single file down the Lincoln Highway toward Elkhorn and stopped at a plaque commemorating the centennial of the transcontinental roadway. Placed neatly side-by-side, the scooters looked like a multi-colored, metallic chorus line; their owners looked like they were having a blast.

Vespa may mean “wasp” in Italian, but to the Vesparados it means “let’s buzz around.” 

Hangar One’s Fly Boy

May 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

At the ripe old age of 23, Tyler Klingemann, flight instructor at Hangar One, has been flying for seven years. “I began at 16,” he says, “which is the FAA’s minimum age that a pilot is allowed to fly solo.”

The dream took hold much earlier than that though. The night before a family vacation to Disney World, 8-year-old Klingemann couldn’t stop thinking about a Travel Channel episode he’d seen. “The host jokingly stated that all passengers in the back were fed dirt and worms while first-class passengers were wined and dined,” he says. He stayed awake, dreading his first flight ever. The story does end happily; after the trip, it wasn’t Disney World he told his friends all about, but rather the airplane.20130204_bs_4933_Web

“Ever since that moment, I saved every dime I earned,” Klingemann says, “whether it was babysitting, mowing lawns, or working at the local bagel shop to earn enough money to pay for flight lessons.”

His diligence paid off as a junior in high school with his private pilot’s license and again in May 2012 with a degree in professional flight from University of Nebraska–Omaha. Klingemann has his ratings in instrument, commercial, and multi-engine, as well as his flight instructor’s certificate.20130204_bs_4954_Webw

He began working at Hangar One five years ago as a line-service technician, towing, fueling, and cleaning aircraft. He’s since moved on to certified flight instructor, educating students in UNO’s aviation program, instructing business owners in expanding their companies’ outreach, and just sharing his love of flying with anyone who wants to learn. “If you love what you do, you never have to work a day in your life!” Klingemann says. The best feeling, he adds, is seeing a student land an airplane solo for the first time.

He has no problem with the 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week availability to his students, and he doesn’t mind the very late hours of nighttime training. But there is one aspect of flight instruction that Klingemann doesn’t embrace with enthusiasm. “I don’t like others getting sick,” he says. When the occasional passenger gets struck with motion sickness, Klingemann lets them control the plane, opens the air vents, and lands as soon as possible. “Knock on wood, I haven’t had someone throw up yet!”20130204_bs_4981_Web

Though flying is the job that is also a hobby for Klingemann, the bachelor manages to get away from the Millard Airport to hang out with friends or volunteer at Big Brothers Big Sisters. But he’s never away from flying for long; his two other jobs consist of instructing jumpers at Skydive Crete and training students in UNO’s aircraft simulator. “Any time I fly, I’m happy,” he says. “Seeing the city lights and circling downtown at night is one of my favorite things to do.”

Mike Hogan’s Mercedes-Benz SL550 Roadster

November 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

If you were to ask Mike Hogan why he’s been a Mercedes-Benz customer for almost 30 years, the answer is simple: Quality.

Hogan, who owns Papillion-based Hogan & Company, believes it’s important for businesses to focus on the quality customer since 1983 because he trusts the product—and as someone who’s been in the realty business over 35 years, trust means a lot to Hogan. “You would hope a company starts with a quality product and doesn’t cut corners,” Hogan professes. “I feel comfortable and safe with Mercedes-Benz. It’s something I’m proud to own.”

Having driven several Mercedes-Benz vehicles over the past few decades, Hogan currently spends his time on the road behind the wheel of a 2013 SL550 Roadster. As has been the case with his past few cars, Hogan’s Roadster is black, as he’s become quite fond of that choice of vehicular color over the years. “[Black] has a real nice look to it,” he says.

“I feel comfortable and safe with Mercedes-Benz. It’s something I’m proud to own.”

Hogan enjoys the many high-end features of his SL550 Convertible, many of them standard. Some of his personal favorites: the push-to-start engine, the paddle shifters, the navigation system, and the ability to go top-up or top-down in just 14 seconds. The vehicle also contains an economy feature which shuts off the engine while the vehicle idles, another feature Hogan enjoys. No doubt the car’s 4.6L twin-turbo V-8 engine and 429 horsepower, as well as the sport lower-body styling are also appealing.

Prior to purchasing his first Mercedes-Benz, Hogan remembers “having his eyes on their vehicles” for some time, but he never knew if it was something he would be able to afford someday. Fortunately for Hogan, his hard work in real estate allowed him to enjoy the luxury of obtaining his dream vehicle.

One of Hogan’s favorite drives in his convertible is the round trip to Lincoln, Neb., for Husker game days. And though he’d love to drive the car year-round, he’s a protective and practical owner. He doesn’t take the car out in snow and ice or more than 100 miles from home, opting for an alternative ride. Weather permitting, however, he’s rollin’ in the Roadster.