On Jan. 1, 1960, Lester Butler started Butler Funeral Home in Rockville, Ind. Since he was just starting out he didn’t have a lot of money and had to settle for an older hearse for funerals. In 1967 he replaced it with a used 1960 Cadillac hearse that had just been traded in to a coach builder for a new one.
Lester was quite proud of the Cadillac and used it through the early 1970s until it developed an engine problem. At that time he was forced to buy a newer one, but he kept the Cadillac in a seven-car garage at the funeral home. He died in November of 2000, but the car remained part of the company.
Lester’s grandson, Roger Butler, took over the business at that time, and the hearse remained right where his grandfather had parked it in the early 1970s. By 2002, Roger needed the space and moved the old coach to a barn on the family’s farm.
Bob Lamon provided cremation services for Roger’s funeral home, so the two had known each other for many years.
Roger was aware that Bob had been looking for a 1961 hearse to restore. Old hearses are rare because back in the day about the only thing they were used for after retirement was parts cars or occasionally a painter or handy man might utilize them as work vehicles until they were thoroughly worn out.
In 2011, Roger offered Bob his grandfather’s Cadillac, knowing he would do a nice job restoring it. Bob wanted a 1961 model because that was the year he was born but decided that the 1960 was close enough.
Bob bought the coach for $3,500, and he and his friend Jim Ahlmeyer towed the car from the barn to Jim’s house, where they promptly pulled the 390 V-8 engine and sent it out to be rebuilt.
Once reinstalled they discovered that the transmission would not shift properly, so it was removed to be rebuilt. Jim also rebuilt the brake system and did some wiring work; the old Cadillac was soon roadworthy again.
The interior was in perfect condition since the car had only 52,000 miles on it; the inside only needed to be cleaned.
Bob found that the body was in outstanding condition with no previous body work. Only minor dings and slight surface rust had to be repaired before applying a fresh paint job and carefully matching the original pale yellow and slate gray finish. Both of the bumpers and all of the trim are original and have not been refinished.
Roger and Bob explained that prior to the mid 1970s that all hearses were also set up to be used as ambulances because there were no formal ambulance companies, especially in rural areas. Bob told me that even the Indianapolis Motor Speedway used to contract with funeral homes to provide ambulance service for practice, qualifications and the Indy 500.
Since this beautiful old Cadillac coach has been restored, Bob has driven it about 2,000 miles and taken it to about a half-dozen car shows. The most amazing thing, however, is that it has been used in about 10 or 12 funerals for car nuts who have passed away and for the families who just like the nostalgia of the sleek old hearse.
Bob says that whenever kids see the car they immediately think it is the car from the movie, “Ghostbusters.”
He stated that he rarely pulls up to a stoplight without someone making a comment or giving him a thumbs up.
Well Bob, I hope that you and your cool old hearse keep on cruising!
Here are a few more pictures from Big Dan's Great Adventure to Hershey, Pa.
I took more than 500 pictures, and this week I am sharing a few more with you.
Be sure to check in next week for my annual Halloween column.
Until next week, keep on cruising.
Car Nutz Contributor
Big Dan Pfeiffer