Julia Pittinger and Larry Ross believe in teamwork, whether they're fostering dogs, fixing old cars or finding auction bargains.
Ross grew up in Muskogee and recalls tinkering since a young age.
My father bought a brand new lawnmower from OTASCO when I was about 8 years old," he said. "When he came home for lunch, I had it all taken apart, and you think he didn't throw a fit. He said 'son, when I get home this evening, that lawnmower better be together and it better run.' "
The lawnmower got fixed that afternoon, Ross recalled.
Ross said he began working in construction in 1971. He operated Larry's Kart Track with his father for about 15 years. He worked at Georgia-Pacific for 40 years before retiring in 2016.
Pittinger, an Indiana native, said she has lived all over Oklahoma.
"My father was in the Air Force," she said. "We moved so often because Dad was in the military. I went to three different high schools."
You're likely to see several unusual old cars where Ross and Pittinger live. Ross belongs to the Muskogee car club Cruis'n Angels.
One is a yellow CAE (Culbert Automotive Engineering) sprint car, which barely has room for one driver.
"This is what we call a true survivor. It runs on pure alcohol," he said.
He said racing it "is like having a giant pop bottle strapped to your back."
However, most of his old cars are not for keeps. Ross and Pittinger buy and resell cars and other items.
Ross said he met Pittinger when she visited one of his car club meetings.
“We met through one of her family members,” he said, adding that the family member "kind of put us together and we dated for a while.”
Pittinger said she decided it was more convenient for her to move from Tulsa to Muskogee. The two have been together since 2011.
“She refers to me as the old man,” he said.
Model T a
Of all the old cars Larry Ross works on, a 1914 Model T seems closest to his heart. He's had it for nearly 20 years.
"When I got it, it was pretty much a basket case," Ross said. "It was pretty much all together, but it was just in need of restoration. It didn't have a top and the tires were rotten and the engine was really rattled. I could probably drive it in the neighborhood, but it was by no means ready for a tour."
He said he first pulled the engine out and worked on it.
The 105-year-old car has unique features, such as carbide headlights.
"You actually have to light them with a match," Ross said. "They had lightbulbs before 1914, but the cars would shake them and they wouldn't take the vibration."
The car also has brass trim, kerosene side lights and tail lights, wood-spoked wheels and inner tube tires.
Ross said he had to go out of state to get an authentic tag.
"In 1914, Oklahoma didn't have a tag law," he said, showing red 1914 California tag. "I actually had the tag before I had the car. A friend gave it to me. When I had the tag, I had to buy a car."
for shelter dogs
Julia Pittinger says she's cared for animals since she was a child. She said people thought she'd grow to be a veterinarian.
"I actually got into animal rescue when I walked into a Home Depot when I was 20 years old," she said. "There was a group there called Pets and People. I started out walking dogs. They talked me into fostering one. Then I adopted it. Then it kind of snowballed from there."
She now offers foster care for dogs, for three days to six weeks, before they are taken to other shelters or rescues.
"To go on a commercial transport, they have to be out of shelter for two weeks," she said.
She said she spends a lot of time at Muskogee Animal Shelter networking with other rescue providers. She also operates the Muskogee Animal Shelter Helpers Facebook group, which seeks to provide visibility, transportation and emergency vetting for shelter animals.
Pittinger said she said she rescues animals because they have "neither a voice nor a choice."
“They can’t say ‘hey, somebody’s hurting me,’ so we kind of have to stand up for them,” she said. “When they end up in the shelter, we have to make sure they have a good life, too. Be with people who really want them.”
selling a hobby
Ross and Pittinger now make money by buying items at auctions and flea markets, then reselling them. Ross said they're so successful, he hasn’t had to tap into his Georgia-Pacific retirement account.
Pittinger said the key to auction success is “buy cheap and sell high.”
“We go and buy specific things we know that, if we buy cheaply enough, we can make a profit,” Pittinger said. “Sometimes it’s cars. Sometimes it’s heavy equipment. Sometimes it’s small things.”
Pittinger said they have fun at auctions “and feeling that adrenaline when we want something.”
She compared their work with the cable TV show “American Pickers.”
"We buy things that we know we can sell and make money," she said. "We want to hold onto stuff a long time."
She recalled buying antique rocking horses.
"One was from the 1890s," she said. "We sold them and doubled our money."
Ross said they don't go far to find things. They're regulars at the monthly Chupp's Auction 412 near Chouteau.
They sell online or from their front lawn.
"We just love doing stuff like this," Ross said. "It's fun."
Q and A
HOW DID YOU COME TO BE AN OKIE FROM MUSKOGEE?
PITTINGER: “I met him (Ross) through a family friend. We dated for a while. I was living in Tulsa and I moved down here.”
ROSS: “If it had not been for the paper mill, I probably wouldn’t be here. I worked on construction building it. I realized this construction job was going to end. I needed something that paid well. It was the best decision I ever made.”
WHAT DO YOU LIKE BEST ABOUT MUSKOGEE?
PITTINGER: “That it’s not Tulsa, that I can actually drive through the town in less than an hour. I like the guitars. What I really like was the fire hydrant painting.”
ROSS: "I like its size. If you want a big town, it’s less than an hour away. We’re starting to have the restaurants here that Tulsa has.”
WHAT WOULD MAKE MUSKOGEE A BETTER PLACE TO LIVE?
PITTINGER: “Having a spay and neuter law. Having a new animal shelter if a new shelter ever does get built.”
ROSS: “Cleaning up the old buildings that crumbled and burned and fallen in.
WHAT PERSON IN MUSKOGEE DO YOU ADMIRE MOST?
PITTINGER: "I admire Larry Ross for his tireless work with both the Shrine, car club and helping me with the rescue dogs. He is always willing to help someone."
ROSS: “My dad and my grandpa. They were teaching me life lessons. I think back about things that happened. They made me who I am.”
WHAT IS THE MOST MEMORABLE THING TO HAPPEN TO YOU IN MUSKOGEE?
PITTINGER: “When I won that zero-turn mower at a garden show last year.”
ROSS: “Coming into the Shrine in 1999. My father had been in one since the 1960s.”
WHAT DO YOU DO IN YOUR SPARE TIME?
PITTINGER: “I don’t have spare time, honestly. There’s always something that needs to be done. This is a big place.”
ROSS: “We’re members of the Muskogee Boat Club. I like to spend time with the Shriners."
HOW WOULD YOU SUM UP MUSKOGEE IN 25 WORDS OR LESS?
PITTINGER: “It's that small town feel with big city amenities.”
ROSS: “The perfect size town."
Meet Larry Ross
EDUCATION: Muskogee High School, 1971.
PROFESSION: Retired from Georgia-Pacific.
FAMILY: Two daughters; two grandchildren.
CHURCH: Trinity United Methodist.
HOBBIES: Automobiles and tinkering. Buy and sell items.
Meet Julia Pittinger
HOMETOWN: Peru, Indiana.
EDUCATION: Earned G.E.D. Attended Oklahoma State University in Oklahoma City.
PROFESSION: Animal rescue volunteer. Buys and sells.
FAMILY: Three sons.
HOBBIES: Cooking, swimming.