Restoring Oconto County history

Oconto County historical vehicles display
(Photo: WBAY)

OCONTO, Wis. (WBAY) – It was a leap of faith to preserve several pieces of Oconto County history. The end result: a number of antique cars and carriages are not only restored but on display in a new home.

Dave Retzlaff has a motto when it comes to restoring old treasures.

“I have a plaque on my shop wall that reads, ‘If the opportunity exists go for it and then figure out how it’s done,’ and that’s the way I look at it. The opportunity was there to restore these. How it’s done, I’ll figure it out,” says Retzlaff with a chuckle.

When Retzlaff became president of the Oconto County Historical Society in 2012, he took on quite the task, restoring three antique carriages and two rare antique cars.

“There are only known to exist about 20 of these left, so that’s why I say even Jay Leno doesn’t have one of these. The vehicles were donated, oh geez, 70 years ago, and they were all stored in the barn which is not climate controlled and they were slowly decaying in there,” says Retzlaff.

As Retzlaff was bringing the cars and carriages back to life, the historical society’s board took a leap of faith by committing to build a $350,000 carriage house before raising any funds.

“Yes we need to do this. Whether we have the ground money or not, we need to do this. We need to just start the project and it’ll all work out,” says board member Victoria Bostedt.

“We were prepared for a long drive. Sometimes it can takes 5-10 years,” adds Retzlaff.

But in this case, it took just a few months.

“Thanks to the Bond Foundation this building is here,” says Retzlaff.

The Bond Foundation, stemming from the former Bond Pickle Company in Oconto, is awarding the historical society $250,000 over the next five years.

Thanks to other fundraisers, the building payoff amount is down to $60,000.

“This is a miracle, it truly is, it was meant to be,” says Bostedt.

“It exceeded my expectations and I’m thinking everybody else’s,” adds Retzlaff.