Spokane family donates 1926 Star sedan to Spokane Community College automotive program

Students at Spokane Community College check out the 1926 Star Wednesday. The car was donated to the college by Ken and Barbara Brown and the rest of the decendants of the Brown family. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
On behalf of the decendants of the Brown family, Barbara and Ken Brown, donated a 1926 Star automobile to Spokane Community College during a ceremony on Wednesday. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
The hood ornamental temperature gage of this 1926 Star is photographed during a ceremony at Spokane Community College on Wednesday, May 10, 2017. Ken and Barbara Brown and the rest of the descendants of the Brown family donated the car to the college. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

In the winter of 1880, an adventurous 26-year-old named Samuel Leonard Brown left his family’s homestead in rural Iowa and set his sights on Washington Territory.

Decades before the advent of consumer automobiles, the journey involved a train to San Francisco followed by an ocean steamer to Portland, Oregon. From there, Brown traveled by boat along the Columbia and Snake rivers before settling in Almota, Washington.

One of the earliest homesteaders on the Palouse, Brown eventually bought a car – a black and blue 1926 Star sedan with four doors and a six-cylinder engine. Envisioned to compete with the Ford Model T, the Star lineup was produced by Durant Motors from 1922 until 1928.

The car stayed in the family for nine decades, the last five collecting dust in a barn north of Spokane. His grandson, Ken Brown, vowed to have it restored and recently gave it to the automotive program at Spokane Community College.

During a ceremony Wednesday morning, Brown, who taught aircraft maintenance at SCC for 25 years and later worked at Fairchild Air Force Base, said he’s excited to watch the transformation.

“This kind of donation is pretty rare for us,” said Eric Christensen, who’s taught car repair at SCC for 15 years. “I’ve done a lot of restoration work and a lot of hot rod work, but mostly with ’40s and ’50s models. So I’ll learn as much as the students will.”

Donated cars are usually junkers from the ’80s and ’90s that students use for training and parts.

“We call them cadaver cars,” Christensen said.

The Star will get a different treatment. Students in SCC’s new metal shaping and restoration course, which started last quarter, will mend the exterior panels and give it a fresh paint job.

“When I heard that Eric (Christensen) was starting up this class, I thought it was a perfect fit,” Brown said.

Growing up in Iowa during the Civil War, Samuel Brown didn’t get much formal education, and so he implored his children and grandchildren to apply themselves in school. Ken Brown said donating the car to a college is a way to honor his grandfather.

Work also will be done on the engine to make the car roadworthy again.

“Students are thrilled,” Christensen said. “No one has experience with a car of this vintage. There are a whole new set of things they can learn and practice on.”

SCC President Ryan Carstens, who attended the donation ceremony, said he looks forward to the day when the car is “parade-ready.”

It will belong to SCC indefinitely and will be featured in the college’s Spring Fling Car Show at the end of the month. Christensen said it will also be used as a prop to recruit new students to the automotive program.

“I hope to get it done before I retire,” he joked. “I may delay retirement just to work on this.”