November 2017 was a bad month in the old iron community, witnessing the loss of two of the hobby’s – and GEM’s – staunchest supporters; Dave Rotigel, who passed away Nov. 10 at the age of 79, and Bob Crowell, who passed away the next day, Nov. 11, at the age of 76. Diagnosed with cancer, Dave’s passing wasn’t altogether unexpected, but Bob’s came unexpectedly, apparently suffering a heart attack while doing yardwork, a favorite pastime of his.
Of the hundreds of fine people I’ve had the pleasure to meet and get to know in my time at GEM, Dave and Bob stand out in particular. In 2001, when I took over the helm at GEM, Dave and Bob were the first to personally call and congratulate me on my good fortune. They were both genuinely excited for me, and they quickly appreciated that at that time I knew little about the old iron hobby. I had a strong mechanical background, with lots of wrench time on cars and motorcycles, but vintage engines? I’d never seen or worked on an IHC M or a Fairbanks Z, much less even contemplated flame ignition or half-breed oil field engines.
Dave called me within a few weeks of my hire, and over a series of subsequent conversations he patiently gave me a crash course in Hit-and-Miss 101, explaining the variations and intricacies of the engines he collected, helping me understand and appreciate why he collected them and what they – and the community – meant to him. Bob’s call came shortly after, and I’ll never forget his bubbling enthusiasm for GEM and the people who populate its pages. Where Dave, one of the most intelligent and critically insightful people I’ve ever met, could be challenging and direct – a byproduct, no doubt, of his years in academia – Bob could disarm with his wide-eyed embrace for the people and the engines they collected. It’s no wonder he spent much of his life involved with younger people, whether through coaching high school track or supporting various clubs and initiatives.
I first met Dave and Bob in person at Portland in 2001, and since then they have been constants, regular contributors and diehard supporters of the magazine – Dave forever chiding fellow engine collectors to send articles and subscribe to GEM and Bob and his lovely wife, Linda, promoting GEM and Farm Collector subscriptions at Portland and other shows. Their influence had become so regular, it became easy to take it for granted.
I hadn’t seen Dave or Bob in a few years, and it’s sobering to realize the next time I go to Portland or Mt. Pleasant, Dave won’t be there making some wise-crack and Bob won’t greet me with his regular “Hey, Kiddo” as I walk toward our tent. Those are sad thoughts, but they’re made happier by having known Dave and Bob in the first place. They were rare men, and we’re all poorer for their passing.