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 Dopey Duncan

Dopey Duncan

Death 12 May 1990 (aged 69)
Burial Unknown
Memorial ID 34732775 · View Source
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His birth name was Luther W. Gehringer, but no one knows that, so he's listed by the name folks do know. And anyone who knew him was probably shocked, as we used to say, "as all get out" when they learned he took his life after a long battle for his health.

Iffya wern't from the Lehigh Walley, yeh mida had a liddle trupple with Dopey Duncan's accent. We people who grew up in the Lehigh Valley with the heavy old Pennsylvania German vernacular, known as "Pennsylvania Dutch" had no trouble at all. It was the bastardized language of our ancestors, and the way our grandparents spoke.

People of my generation may not remember Dopey Duncan, and if they do, it is probably because he used to host a weekend brunch radio show from the locally renowned Walp's restaurant, one of the few places left in Allentown in my day where you could get a real Pennsylvania Dutch meal. (Think schnitz and knepp, wiener schitzel, or fresh shoo-fly pie.) I was not familiar with him, until one of my elderly grandma's caretakers got tickets to his show and took me along.

To be honest, he struck me as corny. The "dumb Dutchman" humor was old, and I was approaching my teens, too cool for that. Still, he had a well-developed schtick and a devoted audience, and he really could encapsulate the Dutchie persona. The day stands out in my mind the most because we all had to put half our tickets in a hat or bag, and throughout the show, Dopey kept doing drawings for various prizes. I walked away that day with a jar of tomato preserves. Lest you curl your lip in disgust (as I confess I did) they are delicious.

Anyway, looking back, I wish Dopey Duncan and his ilk were still around. I'm old enough now to recognize that that unique humor isn't coming around again, and that in hearing him I heard the voice of every one of my grandparents and probably great grandparents. It's charming, and now it's hard to find.

From time to time I think of locals that should be remembered on Find A Grave, and Dopey's one for sure. It surprised me though, to find out that he had a life before the radio stuff, one that was very active in -of all things- racing. He truly did a lot for young people and the sport. The stories I found will tell you more about him than I ever could, so without further ado...

Luther Gehringer of Eustis, Fla., better known as "Dopey Duncan" when he was a WKAP radio and entertainment personality in Allentown 1949-73, is taking therapy this week at Allentown's Good Shepherd Home for a stroke he had in February in Eustis.

Gehringer, 66, an Allentown native who also operated a repair garage near Wescosville, Lower Macungie Township, for many years, has some residual paralysis on his right side, affecting his leg and arm. But he has overcome a slurring of his speech and his mind is unimpaired.

"They told me that every case is different and it depends how hard you were hit. Mine was serious. I came home from work one day, very tired, and was stricken in the middle of the night. I became paralyzed on the right side," Gehringer said Friday.

"They have a wonderful program here at Good Shepherd, where I take two hours of therapy every day. I feel that the therapists are helping me a lot and they provide the incentives to stay on a program for continued improvement. I had some therapy in Florida, but it was not of this high caliber," he added.

While he's receiving treatments, Gehringer and his wife, Betty, are staying at the Allentown home of his mother-in-law, Marion Knauss. The couple will leave tomorrow morning for Eustis.

Gehringer can drive a car and walk without assistance; but his coordination is impaired, and he lacks some strength on his right side. Vehicles - sprint cars, Indianapolis cars and modified stock cars - became a big part of Gehringer's life after he was discharged from the Army after World War II.

An experienced auto mechanic, Gehringer established a general- service garage in 1949 next to his home near Wescosville. There he modified engines for racing, experimented with various designs and made frequent trips to sprint car races. The Indianapolis 500 became an annual pilgrimage.

"The Lehigh Valley Timing Association was really started at that garage," said Gehringer, who later sold the business to Robert Horvath, a friend. Horvath continues to operate the garage on Minesite Road under the name Duncan Autos. Settling in Eustis in 1977, Gehringer opened a garage called DD (Dopey Duncan) Specialties in that town and started building his own house with the help of some friends who also had come to Florida from the Lehigh Valley. "It was built from plans in a how-to book published by the Reader's Digest. It took us five years to complete, and in that time I became a carpenter, plumber, electrician and everything else," Gehringer said.

Gehringer also purchased a warehouse at Eustis and leased part of it to Richard Layton, a former member of his Tophands country- western band in Allentown.

Starting his radio career with Allentown station WSAN, Gehringer was a comedy character on a show sponsored by the Allen Cab Co. At the weekly show broadcast from a ranch mock-up in Dorney Park's Castle Garden, South Whitehall Township, Gehringer once came on stage as the comic ranch hand Dopey, carrying an oversize cup and dunking a doughnut. The name Dopey Duncan stuck, and he used it through an entertainment career that included 24 years on WKAP, performances for Bethlehem Steel, Mack Trucks and the American Institute of Banking.

"I was doing shows down in Eustis and had to cancel about 50 of them after I had the stroke," said Gehringer, who is determined to entertain next month at the regimental reunion of the Army's 124th Horse Cavalry, his World War II outfit. "We were over there in the China-Burma-India theater. We were the ones who marched down the Burma Road to relieve Merrill's Marauders," Gehringerrecalled.

Although he likes living in Florida, Gehringer occasionally misses the Lehigh Valley. Why did he leave at age 57? Replied Gehringer, "Well, what it boiled down to is that I just couldn't stand the cold any more."

Friends and associates of Luther Gehringer, also known as DopeyDuncan, are holding a testimonial at 5 p.m. June 28 at the Days Inn Conference Center, South Whitehall Township.

Gehringer was a rodeo clown, a part-time mule skinner in the China- Burma Theater during World War II and a builder of race cars for some of the top drivers in the Lehigh Valley, but to thousands of Lehigh Valley old-timers he was known as Dopey Duncan.

His outrageous costume - featuring a checkered suit, goofy hat, string bow tie and oversize yellow shoes - gave him an unforgettable appearance and a permanent place in the hearts of his Pennsylvania Dutch neighbors.

His vocation was auto body repairs, but his 20 years of broadcasting on radio station WKAP thrust him into the forefront of community and youth- related issues, where he often lobbied for community improvements.

His garage in the Wescosville area of Lower Macungie Township was a second home to dozens of young men who under his leadership established a safe- driving hot rod club, the Lehigh Valley Timing Association.

He paid tribute to race drivers when he wrote the song "Hercules" in honor of driver Jim Hurtibise, who fought doggedly to recover from injuries he received in a track accident so he could race again.

Gehringer is recovering from a stroke, but will be in the Lehigh Valley in late June. Tickets for the testimonial are $20 per person, with a portion of the proceeds going to his favorite charity. Serving as honorary chairman for the event is race driver Mario Andretti.

It was a night of jokes, memories and thanks.

It was a night to honor Dopey Duncan for his many contributions to the Lehigh Valley area over the years.

Dopey Duncan, an alias for Luther Gehringer, was the main attraction at a testimonial and roast attended by 781 friends and fans at the Days Inn Conference Center, South Whitehall Township.

Gehringer was active in many aspects of Lehigh Valley life, from entertaining as Dopey Duncan both live and on radio station WKAP for many years, and as a proponent of activities benefiting the area's youth.

"People do indeed remember you and what you've done for this community," former state senator JimRitter told Gehringer. "There's a lot of love in this room tonight, Luther Gehringer, and it's all for you."

Ritter read Gehringer one of the many proclamations he was to receive during the evening. Ritter presented one from the state Senate, honoring Gehringer for his service to the community. Ritter's daughter, Karen, D-131st District, presented another from the state House of Representatives honoring Gehringer. In addition, Allentown Mayor Joseph Daddona made June 28 "Dopey Duncan Day in Allentown," and Lehigh County Executive David K. Bausch proclaimed it "Luther Gehringer Week in Lehigh County."

Congratulations and good wishes also were sent from Gov. Robert Casey and President Reagan.

Many of Gehringer's long-time friends and co-workers roasted the 66-year- old, who now resides in Eustis, Fla. But before the jokes and fun got under way there were some more serious moments from Gehringer's fellow veterans of the China-Burma-India theater in World War II.

While an address was being read by a representative of the veterans' Great Valley Basha, Gehringer's face reddened and his eyes began to tear. He took off his glasses and wiped his eyes, then tried to hide his emotions from a touched crowd by covering his eyes.

Later in the evening, the roast began and Gehringer was forced to laugh at himself as his friends recalled stories of his past.

Gehringer got the last words in, however. He thanked everyone for their efforts in organizing the diner, which he thought was going to be nothing more than a little get together with friends. He wrapped up the evening with a poem, which he said was always important to him: "The Face In The Glass," about the importance of being true to oneself.

Gehringer received a standing ovation and, after the benediction, was kept at the head table for aboutan hour as streams of well- wishers approached him. Walley Ely, chairman of the event, presented the honoree with an oil portrait of Gehringer and his wife, Betty, painted by Ronald DeLong of Allentown. He also presented a caricature portrait created by Allentown artist James Musselman, featuring scenes from Gehringer's life.

Betty Gehringer was presented with a video cassette recorder, because Gehringer has never agreed to have a VCR in the home, and they would need one to view a video tape made of the evening.

In his role as comedian Dopey Duncan, Gehringer used to dress in an outrageous costume including a checkered suit, a goofy hat, a string bow tie and oversized yellow shoes. His act, which was performed before a variety of audiences, often featured Pennsylvania Dutch humor.

Gehringer also was a radio celebrity, performing regularly on WKAP for more than 20 years. The achievement he was most praised for last night was not the fame he gained through entertaining, however. It was how he used his fame.

Gehringer was long an activist for community change and for a positive approach to local youth. A mechanic by trade, he was instrumental in forming the Lehigh Valley Timing Association, a "hot rod" group for teen-age boys in the 1950s. The group held controlled drag races on an abandoned air strip at Queen City Airport twice a month. The innovative group was later copied in communities around the country.

In continuing with his benevolence, Gehringer requested that some of the proceeds of last night's dinner, which cost $20 a seat, be donated to the Lehigh Valley Heart Fund and to Good Shepherd Home and Rehabilitation Hospital.

Mario Andretti, the honorary chairman of the event, was unable to attend last night because of his involvement with a grand prix race at the Meadowlands in New Jersey.

Gehringer is still partially paralyzed on his right side from a stroke he suffered in February of 1986.

May 1990
Luther Gehringer, better known as "Dopey Duncan," whose career spanned four decades as a Lehigh Valley radio personality, comedian, country band leader, celebrated war veteran and race car builder, died Saturday night at his Eustis, Fla., home. He was 70.

For Gehringer, who made generations of area residents laugh with his outrageous costume featuring a checkered suit, goofy hat, string bow tie and trademark oversized yellow shoes, the end came tragically. He was found in his backyard with a gunshot wound to the head. A Lake County, Fla., medical examiner ruled the death a suicide.

Gehringer was suffering from a 1986 stroke that left the right side of his body paralyzed. Friends said that over the last few years, the injury also crippled the trademark charisma of Gehringer, who often used his celebrity status to raise money for Lehigh Valley youth programs.

Gehringer's professional singing career began in 1941. His last performance was about three weeks ago at an stroke clinic, where he entertained fellow stroke victims.

"Dopey was one in a million. He did so many things," said Les Baer, whom Gehringer recruited as a radio colleague at the former WKAP radio.

"Dopey was always known as my friend, my father, my teacher and my brother," added a choking Baer, who also played in the 1940s with Gehringer's country band Dopey Duncan and The Top Hands. "I can never repay him."

News of Gehringer's death rippled sadness through the overcast, damp Allentown area yesterday.

"He never wasted a minute," said Frank Kleckner, a childhood pal of Gehringer. "He was always doing something. If he fixed one car, he fixed a thousand."

Gehringer started his radio career with Allentown station WSAN. He was a comedy character on a weekly show, broadcast from a ranch mock-up in Dorney Park's Castle Gardens, South Whitehall Township. Gehringer once came on stage as the comic ranch hand Dopey, carrying an oversize cup and dunking a doughnut. The name Dopey Duncan stuck.

Although known for his humor, Gehringer had a serious side. He was most known for his WKAP radio career, which thrust him into the forefront of community and youth related issues from 1949 through 1973. Gehringer had two programs, 7 to 9 in the morning and 4 to 6 p.m., where he would send out his hard-hitting radio editorials on community issues, such as municipal services or the revitalization of downtown Allentown.

His name, program and credibility gave Gehringer more power and influence than some elected officials, friends said.

"He could point out the bad in the city and not get everybody mad," said Ogden "Oggie" Davies, who hired Gehringer when he served as vice president of Rahall Communications, which owned WKAP. "Everything he did was corrective. He was just a likable guy."

Gehringer's love for comedy, the stage and music was equal only to his passion for automobiles. An experienced auto mechanic, Duncan established a general-service garage in 1949 next to his home near Wescosville, where he modified engines for racing, experimented with various designs and made frequent trips to sprint car races.

Gehringer built race cars for some of the top Lehigh Valley drivers. The Indianapolis 500 became an annual pilgrimage for Gehringer, who was good friends with racer Mario Andretti. Yesterday Andretti finished taking his qualifying run at Indianapolis for the May 27 Indianapolis 500 race when he was told about Gehringer's death.

"He was one of the good guys that was always recognized as part of auto racing in the '50s," said Andretti in a phone interview after tentatively winning a second-row starting spot in the nation's most prestigious auto race.

"He was one of those rare breeds," Andretti said. "There were just so many who were like that and the mold was thrown away."

Andretti said he remembered Gehringer most as an announcer on the local midget racer circuit, where Andretti raced in the 1960s.

"He was very, very well known by Eastern fans," said a solemn Andretti, who was named honorary chairman of a local Gehringer roast in 1987. "I cherish the friendship."

Gehringer used his knowledge of mechanics as a positive way of reaching local youth. He was instrumental in forming the Lehigh Valley Timing Association, a "hot rod" group for teen-age boys in the 1950s.

Youths needed a place to race their cars, so Gehringer helped control drag races on an abandoned air strip at Queen City Airport twice a month. The innovative group was later copied in communities around the country.

"He was like a father to them all," said Baer, who also worked in Gehringer's auto body shop. "All those kids used his tools and paint equipment and he never took a dime from them."

He kept the garage, and three of Gehringer's band mates, who were also auto body artists, became his work mates.

Gehringer went to World War II and served in the Army's last cavalry unit, the 124th Horse Cavalry out of Brownsville, Texas. He fought in the China-Burma-India theater, but rarely talked about battles, even with his friends.

He later was asked to join the Canteen Caravan, a group of traveling war musicians and comics. After returning from the war, Gehringer opened a barn with horses at the Allentown Fairgrounds, where he trained horses.

Much of Gehringer's routines were performed in the Pennsylvania Dutch community, where he was active in Grundsau (groundhog) lodges.

In 1977, Gehringer and his wife, Elizabeth, settled in Florida to get away from the cold weather. He continued his community activism, becoming president of the Kiwanis Club in Eustis.

He opened a garage and warehouse known as DD (Dopey Duncan) Specialties. He built his own home from plans in a how-to book published by Reader's Digest.

In February 1986, he was working on the roof of a garage, cutting beams with torch. He went home tired and during the night had a stroke. Over the last four years, Gehringer spent many days in rehabilitation, including at Allentown's Good Shepherd Home.

In 1987, many area residents gathered at the Days Inn Conference Center, South Whitehall Township, to honor and roast Gehringer. Allentown Mayor Joseph Daddona and Lehigh County Executive David Bausch led 781 friends who paid $20 a seat for the affair. In continuing his benevolence, Gehringer requested that some of the money go to the Lehigh Valley Heart Fund and to Good Shepherd.

Over the last few years, the impact of the stroke worsened. Gehringer explained to friends that the right side of his body had a constant burning sensation. The sensation got worse and kept Gehringer from sleeping.

"He couldn't even play the guitar anymore," said Davies, who talked to Gehringer last week. "It was pretty hard for a man like Dopey who was handy with tools and everything else."

Richard "Dick" Layton spent much of his life with Gehringer, serving as a guitarist in the Top Hands and an ace repairman in Gehringer's garage. He even moved to Florida with Gehringer and joined him in his new shop and warehouse.

About a month ago, Gehringer called Layton and asked if he would play guitar for what he called "the stroke club." Gehringer agreed and the two got together to practice. In the middle of the practice, Gehringer broke down crying because he forgot some of the words to the old songs.

"He could still sing good, (but) some of the numbers he'd forget," said Layton, who first met Gehringer in 1941 when he auditioned for the band at Allen Cab Co. "I said `Dopey stick to the easy stuff and we'll get through.'"

In his "show must go on" style, Gehringer performed for the stroke victims, telling jokes and singing the songs he knew.

Family members are planning services for Gehringer today. An additional memorial service will soon be held in the Allentown area, according to Gehringer's son, Geoffrey.

Also surviving in addition to his wife and son is Gehringer's daughter, Donna Raedler of Pennsburg, Montgomery County.

Many of Gehringer's friends spent yesterday reminiscing about the man they called "Dopey."

Kleckner recalled Gehringer's young teen entrance into show business.

"As kids sitting in the alleyway in the backyard, he decided he wanted to learn to play the guitar," Kleckner said. "We walked from Jefferson and Chew streets to Ikey Phillips at 4th and Hamilton. I think he paid $4."

Kleckner asked a reporter yesterday if he was doing a story on his childhood buddy.

"You'd better save a big page," he said somberly. "He had a big life."

May 1990
Luther Gehringer was one of the pure products of America, but he was no homogenized man with a flat accent who tried to appeal to everyone. The man who called himself "Dopey Duncan" also was pure Pennsylvania Dutch, and proud of it.

For a generation, everyone within the reach of Allentown radio stations knew his voice. He was a comic entertainer and musician, but he also editorialized on serious community issues. Political leaders envied his influence.

He was a master auto mechanic, of the breed before the arrival of computer-fitted garages, who diagnosed an engine with a good ear and fixed it with a couple of wrenches. Just as he used his entertainer's skill to benefit charities, his familiarity with cars led to his founding in the 1950s of a popular "hot-rod" and drag-racing club that provided safe, supervised fun for teen-agers.

Mr. Gehringer's life was marked by an older era. He performed in the old Castle Gardens; His World War II service was with the Army's last horse cavalry unit; He was self-reliant, and he could fix anything. In his day, the Allentown area still was solidly Pennsylvania German. Of course, it no longer is so. With the passing of Luther Gehringer's generation, the Lehigh Valley continues to change.

May 1990
To the Editor:

A little bit more of "Dopey Duncan's" show business start would be in order. In 1934, Luther Gehringer, Bill Mackes, and myself started a group called "the three small farmers." Both Luther and myself could speak Pennsylvania Dutch. We all wore straw hats, "farmer type" overalls, blue work shirts and red bandanas. Luther played guitar and a harmonica donated to us by "Kemmerer's Music Store." The holder Luther used to hold the harmonica was made out of an old coat hanger. Bill Mackes played the washboard. He had pots and pans and a horn on the washboard. I played the jug.

Luther made us practice just like any good teacher. We would practice at Luther's grandmother's house, at my house, and at Bill Mackes' dad's furniture store on 10th Street between Hamilton and Linden Streets, Allentown.

We played at carnivals, churches, hotels, the Moose Club in Allentown and on W.S.A.N. on Saturday mornings. We also played at the Earle Theatre on Saturday mornings. Our pay was free movies, not bad in those days for kids.

I am sure we all have our good memories of Luther but I have so many because he was such a big part of my family, as my Dad treated Luther as a son. Luther never forgot my Dad 'til the day my Dad died. And, of course, Luther will remain in my memories and thoughts until I no longer am here. Bill Mackes died a very young man while walking in Allentown. I am the last of a bygone time and era.

Bud Lear

May 1990
A memorial service has been scheduled for Luther Gehringer -- the late radio personality and comedian better known as "Dopey Duncan."

The service will be at 3 p.m. Sunday at Asbury United Methodist Church, South Whitehall Township.

The 70-year-old entertainer, also an honored war veteran, country band leader and race car builder, killed himself at his Eustis, Fla., home two weeks ago. Gehringer was suffering from a 1986 stroke that left the right side of his body paralyzed.

Although a ceremony was held in Florida following Gehringer's May 12 death, Sunday's gathering will allow the many people in the Lehigh Valley who knew and loved Gehringer to pay respects, said the Rev. Dr. F. Lewis Walley, who will officiate.

"We wanted to give his many, many friends here ... a chance to celebrate his life and be grateful for any kind of relationship they had with him," Walley said. "He was really held up as one of the outstanding guides to youth and what's called good citizenship in Allentown."

The memorial service was requested by Gehringer's family, who will attend the service. The church is at Walbert Avenue and Springhouse Road.

The Rev. Donald G. Nowers, Gehringer's brother-in-law and chaplain of Cornwall Manor, will offer the Scripture readings and prayer at the ceremony. Wallace R. Ely, a close friend of Gehringer's, will supply the personal and community tributes.

Some of Gehringer's favorite hymns, including the religious themes "Just a Closer Walk With Thee" and "Why Me God?", will be performed.

Walley said Gehringer, whom he described as a devout, moral man, is a former Asbury United parishioner. A pastor emeritus at Asbury, Walley knew Gehringer for about 30 years.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to the American Red Cross or the American Cancer Society.

June 1990
The way Luther Gehringer used to tell it, the argument among the church members had been going on for hours. They had been discussing the need for a new light for the Sunday school when a little man in the back stood up and made himself heard.

"Hey, now hold it once," said the man in his unmistakable Pennsylvania Dutch accent. "All night long we were fighting from this business of a chandelier."

The man explained that he was not in favor of the proposal.

"In our church, we don't even have anybody knows how to say chandelier," the man argued. "And if we get a chandelier, we don't even have anybody to play a chandelier. Actually, what we need is a new light."

The story was vintage Gehringer. The radio personality and entertainer, who died May 12, told it time after time during appearances he made before church groups and at fund-raising events. "These are things that happened for sure around here," he used to say.

The crowds loved the stories -- like the one about the woman who walked into a local department store with a little red-headed boy at her side and approached a sales clerk.

"Pardon me. I want such a necktie that has initials on, whatever the ABCs are for the name. Do you have such a one?"

"Oh," replied the clerk, "you mean a monogram tie."

She asked him to search for one with the letter R, but he returned with a disappointed look on his face. "I'm sorry," he said, "but we don't have one with the letter R."

The woman turned to the boy. "See, Arthur, that's what I said. Come on."

Gehringer used the stage name Dopey Duncan when he stood before an audience or leaned into a broadcaster's microphone. Although his songs and stories -- like these from a recording he made at Walps Restaurant 20 years ago -- poked gentle fun at the Pennsylvania Dutch, the people loved him for it. He was one of them, after all.

Gehringer will be missed by many longtime residents of the Lehigh Valley. He contributed to the area's character. He helped make it unique.

To ensure that his humor is not lost, three of his friends are assembling a new 1-1/2-hour recording of his stories. It will include snatches from the morning program "Two on the Sunny Side" that he hosted with Les Baer for 18 years on radio station WKAP. There will also be excerpts from the 1987 testimonial dinner that was given in his honor, and other audio snippets.

Among them are the cuts from a commercial he made years ago for Dorney Park. As he tried to deliver his lines for the ad, he'd break down laughing. He'd start over, but the same thing would happen.

Baer played it for Dorney Chairman Harris Weinstein recently to see whether Weinstein had any objection, and Weinstein loved it.

The producers of the cassette are Baer, longtime friend Wally Ely and Kenneth Happel, an original member of Gehringer's country band. Copies, at $10.50 each, will be available in a couple of weeks by writing to Happel at 812 S. 10th St., Allentown 18102. Checks can be made payable to the Dopey Duncan Tribute. They say any profits from the project will go to the American Heart Association chapter in Eustis, Fla., where Gehringer lived in retirement.

You hardly ever hear Pennsylvania Dutch spoken on the streets of Allentown anymore. And it is unlikely that the future will produce a storyteller with a sense of the people that was as warm and as true as Luther Gehringer's.

Or with as much sting -- like this:

"We have these guys what come from the big town, and they think all the Dutch people are dumb. Well, we have a guy who's at our store at home, and he was behind the counter. And such a couple of sharpies, they call them, came in there one day and said, `Hey, we would like to have change for an $18 bill.' The man, he looked at them and said, `Well, how do you want it, in two $9's or three $6's?'"

Janury 1991
Friends of former Lehigh Valley radio personality Luther "Dopey Duncan" Gehringer have donated $2,800 to the American Heart Association from sales of a cassette tape tribute to Gehringer.

The 1-1/2-hour cassette, which sold for $10.50, captured the music and comedy of Gehringer, who entertained in the Lehigh Valley for four decades. He died May 12 in Florida.

Gehringer was the co-host of the "Two on the Sunny Side" morning radio program with Paul Galgon at WKAP for 18 years. Excerpts from the show were included on the tape.

Gehringer was known throughout the Lehigh Valley as a comedian, country band leader, celebrated war veteran and race car builder. Friends said the heavy sales of the cassette was a testament to his popularity.

"Many touching notes accompanied the requests for tapes," said Ken Happel, an Allentown resident who played in Gehringer's country band, Dopey Duncan and The Top Hands.

"His humor and wisdom will still be appreciated for years to come," Happel said.

May 2005
It's the early 1950s and teenage boys with fast cars are drag racing on lonely stretches of highway in and around Allentown.

They're not juvenile delinquents, but they've got a nervous energy that fuels a desire to soup up old cars and see whose is fastest.

They're hot rodders, restless post-World War II youth who are Allentown's counterparts of characters depicted in movies such as James Dean's "Rebel Without A Cause" and Marlon Brando's "The Wild One."

Then, in a real-life story that reads like a Hollywood script, along comes a local radio personality who takes the youths under his wing.

His on-air name is Dopey Duncan, and he pressures reluctant town fathers to open a drag strip that takes the hot rodders off the streets and channels their energy in a creative direction.

"It wasn't an easy thing," recalled Wally Ely, 68, one of the wild ones. "Dopey used his bully pulpit on the radio to nudge the city fathers into authorizing the drags."

On May 15, 1955 -- 50 years ago today -- the roar of powerful engines echoed across Convair Field (now Queen City Airport) as National Hot Rod Association-sanctioned drag racing came to Allentown.

For the restless youth, it was a life-changing experience.

Thanks to Duncan, a visionary who saw the potential in young people interested in cars, many went on to become regional players in the emerging sport of drag racing. More importantly, they would become successful electrical contractors, mechanics and public relations/marketing specialists.

In tribute to their late mentor, whose real name was Luther Gehringer, some of the hot rodders who raced their cars at Convair Field will hold a car show.



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