Real Michiana: fire-fighting Studebaker fanatic
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- In our new series, Real Michiana, we're sharing the stories of everyday heroes working to make a difference--no matter how big or small. We start with a fourth generation firefighter with a unique collection he hopes will help preserve South Bend's history.
24-year-old Chris Dresbach has been working for Clay Fire Territory since he got out of high school in 2013.
He represents his family's fourth generation in the fire service.
Click below to hear about his great-grandfather's, grandfather's, and father's ties to local departments.
“If I can make a difference in somebody’s life, that’s what makes it worth it to me," said Dresbach.
When he sets down his helmet for the day, he kicks back and immerses himself in his passion.
“I am a die hard Studebaker fanatic," said Chris.
“When he was about three,...he just developed this liking for these cars...He became very interested in the history," said Chris's mom, Chris Dresbach.
Chris said back in those days, most of the factory buildings were still standing.
"For me, it’s not all just about the cars...South Bend as it exists is almost I’m not going to say exclusively because of Studebaker, but they had a huge impact."
His mom said she's often wary when he brings home a new artifact.
“At first I shake my head, and then it’s like what is this? Why is it here?" she said, laughing.
"I am just a keeper of stuff...I want to see the name Studebaker not fade into history," said Chris.
In his parents' backyard sits a '64 cruiser, which Chris says is one of the last Studebakers ever built in South Bend as well as a 1953 Studebaker commander prototype.
"This car here is probably the most historically important car in my collection," said Chris, referring to the prototype.
So while the cobwebbed, crusty, corroding cars may not at first glance seem an enviable collection, it's Chris's Garden of Eden.
“Even though they’re rusty and grungy, and you can't drive them...it’s a part of a story that otherwise wouldn’t be told," he said.
Chris has made it his life's mission to tell the blue collar side of the Studebaker story.
“I am ‘the guy’ when it comes to leading tours...once you get to walk in the factory, you know Studebaker employees were working right here...a totally different feel, and one that I think is important," he said.
Chris inventoried thousands of parts at the old Chippewa plant, which he dubs "the forgotten factory."
"All these green bins and racks are original from Studebaker’s parts department...my hands have been in literally every single box in this building...It took me about four years," he said.
The young firefighter's favorite collectible is anything from the factory, including employee badges, service pins, and tools.
“You can hold this artifact and think wow, a Studebaker employee had this with them in the factory, building these cars, making history," said Chris.
So while he carries on his family's history of saving lives on the clock, off it, he's working even harder to preserve the history of his hometown.
“I want to keep the story of the Studebaker employee remembered, you know the faces and the names behind it that built the cars could be easily forgotten," said Chris.
Click below to see a slideshow of more of Chris's collection.
Real Michiana will air every Friday at 6 o'clock.
To nominate someone for a feature, please reach out to Jess at firstname.lastname@example.org.