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Archives Considering future of Guggenheim camp car

January 5, 2022

By Andrew Lauria
Contributing Writer

WELLS – Sometimes in life, things just find me. If I could explain the phenomenon in any more detail, then I would be known for that explanation instead of “Oh, Andrew, he’ll know what to do with it.” “It” could be anything, but most likely a bike, a piano, or a car. Enter “Machine Gun Dolly.”

Some may recognize her immediately from their time at Camp Guggenheim, where she was originally purchased by the diocese to be the service vehicle for the camp property. Machine Gun Dolly is a 1987 GMC Suburban 1500, white over blue vinyl interior, two-wheel drive, with a 5.0 liter V8 with throttle body injection, and automatic transmission. This particular truck is the basic trim level and so it has two bench seats and an AM radio. She is a simple, straight-forward and supremely durable truck.

I met Machine Gun Dolly in the late 1990s when I was first a camper at Guggenheim. I remember the truck was used to carry campers to hikes as well as cart all the materials to over-night sites, which were at that time, hosted in lean-tos out at Paul Smiths. She was also mercilessly “decorated” for these overnight trips, being painted an unknown number of times with washable paint and other types of products. She is in the background of countless camp photos, quietly doing her job of moving things, regardless of guise.

It was the summer of 2006 that Machine Gun Dolly caught the hearts of staff and campers alike. After sitting for years outdoors, she had acquired a healthy layer of moss and other fungal growth upon her acres of sheet metal. So being a conscientious staff member, I suggested we make “Cleaning the Suburban” an afternoon activity, as a means to get her back into service. It seemed everyone wanted to join in the party and it was one of the most popular afternoon activities to date.

The recommissioning process required campers to climb all over her with sponges and soapy water, while quite literally scraping the moss off. All the windows were cleaned inside and out, she was swept out and wiped down inside and, when complete, looked almost new. Well, except for the dull white paint that was permanently ruined by all that “decorating” and subsequent “cleaning” with dish soap, which strips paint of any protective wax. Kids are hard on cars.

It was during this time that Machine Gun Dolly began daily use around camp for any and all functions where a vehicle was necessary. She was heavily featured in the Olympic ceremonial parade and even continued to bring overnighters to the newly constructed on-site camp lean-to. And it was during the Fourth of July this same year that she received her name.

While driving into town one day with Kelly Bobak, then camp director, we decided to listen to the single speaker AM radio. Instead of music coming out of the speaker, there was a loud repetitive noise that sounded like a recording of a machine gun (The sound is created by electrical interference between the ignition system and the radio, a problem of which persists to this day). We laughed and laughed and for a brief period of time, joked that it was “Machine Gun’s” soundtrack. The second half of her name came when Dollywood arrived at Guggenheim.

During this era of camp history, it is important to note that holidays and festive celebrations were taken very seriously, and the staff often escalated traditional camp ceremonies to sometimes literal new heights (some celebrations included Santa Claus in a seaplane, but that’s another story for another time). In this spirit, Machine Gun was dressed with a seemingly impossible amount of patriotic paraphernalia in honor of the celebration of our nation’s birthday. Upon seeing this rolling parade float of national pride, an on-looker remarked “It looks like something from Dollywood,” the family amusement park created and operated by Dolly Parton. And so, with her single speaker soundtrack and all-encompassing embrace of the Fourth of July, the name “Machine Gun Dolly” came to her. And she has been lovingly acknowledged as such ever since.

Machine Gun was purchased by the Bobak family in 2007, and, under private ownership, she continued to be a staple at camp for many more summers to come. She was the daily driver for many members of the Bobak family for the next 13 years, where she was in residence at Franciscan University for most of those years. In time, salt-heavy winters, countless collisions, and mechanical breakdowns eventually rendered Machine Gun too lame for use and, in very poor condition, she was removed from service in 2020. And after some convincing from the Bobak family, she is now in my driveway. Like I said, sometimes things just find you.

Currently, work is being done to determine what exactly is necessary to rebuild this now classic truck. In the world of automotive restorations (which are just inherently difficult) Machine Gun would be as “easy” as it gets because she is not mechanically complex, parts are very readily available and because of the number of vehicles produced, prices for parts are fairly low. But the truck is 20 feet long and every single body panel needs to be addressed, if not cut out and replaced. Most of her mechanical systems, including her transmission and brakes, are operable but they all need to be refreshed, restored, or entirely replaced in order to be safe again for the road.

Nostalgia runs deep with this truck, but the scope of work ahead could indicate that the nostalgia is deeper than the pockets, space, and time required to bring her back to life. Some good math and a recommitment to our Catholic belief in resurrections is in order to make the right decisions about what is next for Machine Gun Dolly. And if you’re reading this and would like to help keep a piece of camp history alive and/or you are into automotive restoration work, then maybe the resources you can offer will help make the decision a bit more clear. Machine Gun Dolly has helped keep our camp community going for over 30 years and it is time to help her continue her mission beyond the camp gate.

To learn more about “Machine Gun Dolly” or the work needed to restore the vehicle, contact Andrew Lauria at porscheforlife@yahoo.com.



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