A 1921 Velie, the most successful of the half-dozen automobile brands made in the Quad-Cities during the early 20th century, is now on permanent display at the very mansion where its creator once lived.
The Velie (pronounced VEE-lee) is a touring model that was donated to the Rock Island County Historical Society by Lynn and Nicholas J. Feola III of Chatham, Mass.
The car was transported to Moline this spring and secured in the carriage house of the society’s museum, 822 11th Ave., Moline. (To arrange tours of the carriage house and museum, call the society at 309-764-8590.)
It was there that Willard L. Velie, the founder of the Velie Motors Corp., Moline, lived during 1901-02. At the time, he was president of the Velie Carriage Co. and the secretary of Deere & Co.
Restored right down to the installation of new parts matching its original white oak frame, the society’s latest acquisition joins several other vintage transportation conveyances at the museum. The others are a carriage once owned by Susanne Denkmann, the daughter of a lumber baron, a carriage once owned by a Moline grocer and a small horse-drawn hearse made to accommodate children.
Obtaining the Velie was the result of a skilled technician’s generosity and the expertise and enthusiasm of Chuck Hoaglund of East Moline, a historical society board member and a nationally renowned Velie collector and authority.
The historical society’s Velie, one of about 230 of the cars known to still exist, had been in the Feola family since 1989, when Nicholas Feola Jr., the father of Nicholas Feola III, bought the car from a New York state resident.
It was mothballed and mostly in pieces, but father and son brought the car back to life. They used it for many years for weddings and other special occasions, and the elder Feola displayed it at car shows and meets when he moved to Florida.
The elder Feola gave the car to his son in 2006, and Nicholas III continued to restore the vehicle over the next several years. With the advice of Hoaglund and others, he rebuilt the fuel system, shaped and notched new wood frame parts and scoured the country for such parts as new head gaskets and a distributor cap. After months of collecting parts, he rebuilt the engine.
In time, though, he decided to part with the car.
“It had become a constant worry: Where do I keep it? How do I take care of it? I decided the best thing to do would be to sell it to someone who would appreciate and take care of it,” he said.
Unable to find a suitable buyer, Feola chose to follow the suggestion of a friend and donate it to a museum. A museum in Massachusetts was interested, but he did not think it was the right fit.
“Then I thought what a great thing it would be if I could find a place out where the car was manufactured. It could be home where it was born,” he said.
So he asked Hoaglund whether he knew of any Quad-City organization that might accept his donation.
Without hesitation, Hoaglund replied that the Rock Island County Historical Society probably would love to have a car in its collection.
Feola’s wife, the former Lynn Baker, is also delighted to have the car back in the Quad-Cities. She was born in Davenport, and her father, Gary Baker, moved back to the Quad-Cities last year.
Feola, who operates a home maintenance and repair business named Yankee Repairman, is thrilled with how everything turned out.
“It was obvious to me that the car belonged back in the Quad-Cities, and I know it will be cared for, appreciated and enjoyed by the people of the Quad-Cities for many years to come,” he said.