Pierce-Arrow Society Feature Article
A Friend Remembered
by Merlin Smith
Enrico Brocato loved Pierce-Arrow automobiles, particularly 1932 Enclosed Drive Limousines. He owned three. The first one he restored was sold to John Lovrich, a PAS member in New York. I have the good fortune to own another and the third was a donor for the first two.
I met Enrico in 2002 as a result of advertising in the PAS Emporium for parts needed for my first Pierce restoration. Enrico telephoned me and said: "I don't have any of the parts that you need but I have made a few repairs to the 32 model and I'm available to help you if I can." A solid friendship soon developed in spite of 119 miles between my driveway and his. When I first saw Enrico's near-complete restoration of the big green EDL I realized how understated "made a few repairs" really was. The car was nearing the end of a meticulous fifteen-year owner restoration, with one LaFrance Fire Engine restored for a diversion.
Enrico departed this life March 11, 2007. Each time I drive (or just look at) the '32 limo, it evokes fond memories of good times spent with him. For Jane and me, it will always be Enrico's car.
Last August the car provided a successful long distance road trip (touring in an antique car is my most-favored pass-time). And this trip was tremendously enjoyed before, during and after. The "before" took place when I announced to several old car friends that Jane had agreed for us to drive Enrico's car to Southern Michigan for a Pierce-Arrow Society event called "The Gathering at Gilmore". The first question was: "Is it possible to drive the old car that far in summer heat?"
"I think so," I said. "Enrico restored the car for touring. It has a high-speed pinion and ring gear. He enlarged the exhaust pipe from 2" diameter to 2 1/2" and put in two large resonator mufflers. The car is a little noisy but it does exhaust well at highway speed. Most important is the addition of a modern oil cooler. Hidden gauges monitor both oil and water temperature. The oil line tubing to the cooler has an in-line valve that is only open when engine temperature is high enough to evaporate any gas that might get into the crankcase. I have used the cooler, at interstate speed in summer weather, and found that both the oil and water temperature run about 170 degrees. I have not experienced a hint of vapor lock. This trip is not only going to be fun but a tribute to Enrico's mechanical restoration ability!"
We pulled out at 11:00AM, Tuesday, August 21. Local temperature was 98 degrees with a heat index of 104. I didn't let on that I was having second thoughts about the plan because, at that moment, Jane was having serious second thoughts about the plan. On the north side of town I pulled over and opened the valve to circulate the engine oil through the cooler. As we left the Monroe city limits, I felt that the adventure had begun. With the archer's arrow pointing north on US 165, the big car purred comfortably at 62 miles per hour. It seemed as if it knew that Dave and Diana Stevens had made great plans for it to run and play with other Pierces in Southern Michigan.
The first leg of the trip, to Jean and Larry Smothers' home at Little Rock, was uneventful and toasty. After the brief and enjoyable rest stop we were on the road again. It was comforting to see Larry's truck in my rear view mirror. At 11:00PM we pulled into a Holiday Inn Express at Poplar Bluff, MO according to plan.
Shortly after noon on Wednesday (and after the first of four flat tires) we pulled up at John Parks' home at St Louis. From there Jean and Jane opted for the air-conditioned truck while the boys rode in style. The passenger compartment of the EDL was the perfect size for John. At midnight we arrived at Yarrow Conference Center, headquarters for touring before Sunday's Gathering at Gilmore.
All reports concerning the Gathering are true. The Stevens and the Great Lakes Region provide a most enjoyable event; good food, great touring sites and all done in good company. The PAS members who have not attended don't know what they are missing. I hope to never miss another!
Sunday's judging was conducted by the method that gives me the best chance at a trophy: Peoples Choice rather than knowledgeable judges. My second place trophy possibly was helped by the sign Jean had prepared that was taped to the car window during voting: "Because of Enrico Bracato's exceptional restoration ability we drove this car from Monroe, Louisiana to Hickory Corners, Michigan".
After a wonderful Gathering at Gilmore, the car was driven home in spite of a leaking water pump (caused by my bursting a seal with too much grease).
The enjoyment of the road trip came from (1) driving the good car and (2) reflecting on many happy hours spent with Enrico. As Bob Sands said: "Enrico was a true ambassador for Pierce-Arrow". As a new-comer, I so appreciated his eagerness to share his vast Pierce-Arrow experience.
Enrico was always available to help a fellow hobbiest; and he did so in a most tactful manner. One night he telephoned and asked: "How is your '35 Club Sedan coming along?"
"Well", I said, "I've found out that a startix will never work with a bad generator. After my generator rebuild, the startix works but the generator wobbles."
"Now I've made every mistake that is possible with a Pierce-Arrow," Enrico said, "Once I had that problem and I had not lined up a peg in the mounting yoke with a hole in the generator body."
"What peg?" I said.
Enrico could laugh at himself. Gene Reeves' favorite story that Enrico told on himself was an incident when he used a portable mechanical lift to raise his EDL body off of the chassis. Just as the heavy body reached maximum height, one of the 4 rotten rubber tires on the hoist exploded..... then another on the same side. Enrico reached up with both hands and managed to hold the frame upright until the car body stopped swinging. Enrico knew that he couldn't hold the contraption up-right forever, so he must get Dorothy out to help, ASAP! His calls for her got progressively louder. Over his shoulder he could see her walking back and forth by the kitchen window, but because of the noise from the washing machine and air conditioner she couldn't hear him no matter how loud he screamed. Finally a neighbor heard the commotion and summoned Dorothy.
After giving Enrico relief by securing a rope from a clothes line post to the hoist, Dorothy asked: "What on earth were you thinking?!!!!!"
"I was thinking I was about to make a lot of body work for myself," Enrico replied.
During many happy hours spent with Enrico, only one sad moment occurred. After his illness had debilitated him beyond enjoying his cars and hobby shop, we arrived at a fair value that would transfer the EDL and the spare parts to my stable. The day I came for the car and parts, I detected Enrico's despair. As we stood in his driveway with the car's engine running Enrico told me: "This car is ready to drive to Alaska, but I'm not fit to go around the block. I am really happy for you to have this car because you're a driver. But it's still hard for me to see it go. In the next few minutes it will be 28 years since there has not been a Pierce in my shop. So let me get in the house before you go. I can't bear to see the car turn the corner."
But many times, a happy result comes from an earlier sad moment; and it did in this instance. On January 20 I telephoned Dorothy Brocato and after a brief exchange of news I asked: "Do you still keep your grandson after school?" When she said yes, I asked and received permission to drop by the next day. Alex seemed pleased with the second place trophy his grandfather's restoration had won at Gilmore. I also gave him the long distance trophy the car had won and a framed copy of Jean's sign.
I have some very insignificant but cherished items that remind me of my grandfather. I thought Alex might feel the same as I do about this sort of thing, and I believe I was right.
My Sunday school teacher tells me that heaven is a place of unending happiness. I believe him. For this reason I know that there is at least one Pierce-Arrow in heaven. It is a 1932 EDL and my friend, Enrico Brocato, is working on it now.