Iowa Alumni Magazine | August 2009 | People

Car Talk

By Kathryn Howe
Honk if you love cars!

Author Bill Jepsen turned his passion for motor vehicles into a book.

We know about Maytag refrigerators and that famous blue cheese. But a Maytag automobile, designed and built right here in Iowa?

Self-professed antique car fanatic Bill Jepsen, 67BB A, first stumbled upon an article about the Mason-Maytag vehicle in a 1980 issue of Antique Automobile magazine. Even this history buff was surprised to learn about the car—and his discovery inspired a decades-long research project to uncover more accounts and records of Iowa's contributions to the automobile industry business.

"Much is written about Iowa's agricultural pioneers and history, but not a lot about early industrial efforts," says Jepsen, who discovered that almost 20 different makes of cars originated in Iowa. Although the Hawkeye state's influence on the auto industry never reached the heights of Michigan or Indiana, Jepsen notes that Iowa still enjoyed quite an automotive boom between 1900 and 1915. "This information had never been chronicled before, at least not in one place," he says, "and I felt it was important to fill in the gaps about a part of Iowa's story that few people realize."

Jepsen spent 20 years in Iowa historical centers, libraries, and towns, collecting information from hundreds of sources. Then, he devoted six more years to putting it all together in a book titled Made in Iowa: Iowa's Automobiles (An Entertaining and Enlightening History) that recently received a national award from the Antique Automobile Club of America. The self-published book (available in select bookstores and Iowa welcome centers or by e-mailing Jepsen at features some 300 pages of photos, old advertisements, and more than 100 stories—including profiles of Iowa car innovators like Walter Chrysler, William Galloway, and Fred and August Duesenberg.

Jepsen developed his love for cars early. As a five-year-old, he would sit on the front porch of his family's home in Davenport and name the cars that drove past. He can't really explain his passion, but passion it is—how else could someone devote so much time to a project and love every minute of it?

"You are born a car person," says Jepsen, who owns a 1956 Ford convertible, a 1966 Mustang convertible, and a 1958 Ford pickup. "And there's nothing you can do about it."

Except maybe write it all down.