Over the years my dad offered me many valuable pieces of advice: “Always get a receipt.” “Measure twice, cut once.” “If you start a job, finish it,” and “You can do anything if you set your mind to it.”
I’ve pretty much followed his advice except for when said, “Don’t ever buy a car in the dark.”
I broke that rule when I bought a long-sought-after 1940 Ford Deluxe Woodie. A friend at the huge car show in Hershey, Pa., told me there was a ’40 Woodie for sale in the White Field, so I hot-footed it over there to only discover that a dealer had already bought it and trailered it off to a nearby campground. After some detective work I learned the name of the dealer and the location of the campground.
After wandering around in the dark of night in this large campground, I finally found the Woodie, which had no fenders, hood, running boards, engine or transmission and was perched upon a trailer.
A challenge, I thought to myself. Hah! Anything’s possible. By the flicker of a campfire I could see that there was a lot of stuff inside the car. I borrowed a flashlight, climbed up on the trailer and found that the stuff inside included four fenders, a hood, running boards, several boxes of mechanical parts and all three seats. Having previously restored three 1940 Fords (Opera Coupe, Sedan Delivery and a half-ton ton pickup), I knew what to look for.
The car’s pluses were that all the doors closed well, the correct dash was there and all of the interior hardware: structural and tailgate brackets, front-door window regulators, the seats and the rear (third seat) floor looked good and solid. Among the many minuses were the rusted-out front floor and rocker panels, no spare tire mount or tire cover or face plate, no bumpers, no tailgate handles, no engine, no transmission, no grill, a big hole cut in the dash for a 1950s Ford radio, a cracked steering wheel and a broken-down, worn-out front seat. Visualizing what this “beauty” would look like when it was restored, I bought it immediately and had it shipped back to Indianapolis for storage, where the car sat for four years while I gathered seemingly thousands of “new old stock” and mint-used Woodie parts, plus much hardware from Ed Clarke, the “Woodieologist.”
This Woodie had been stored for many years in a dirt-floor barn in Michigan, which contributed to the rusted-out floor and frame that I had to replace. During the next four-year period I assembled the chassis and drive train with a rust-free frame, which Paul Rutkowski found for me in Oklahoma, an NOS engine from L.D. Arrington in Virginia, a rebuilt transmission, two NOS covered springs and an NOS left rear fender from Dick Jutila, a rebuilt Columbia overdrive axle from Dan Krehbiel, plus NOS Columbia controls found in Hershey in 1991.
In 1993 I finally decided that the wood, though solid, had too many defects to become a 1,000-point Dearborn restoration at an Early Ford V-8 Club National Meet. The only original wood that was salvageable was the roof, so I contracted with Chip Kussmaul of Cincinnati Woodworks for the new wood parts: four doors, two rear quarters, two door posts and the upper and lower tailgates. When it was time to disassemble all of the old wood and start repairing the floor and rocker panels, my biggest disappointment was the (third seat) floor, which appeared to be flat, rust-free and complete. We discovered that it looked nice because a previous owner had applied 12-by-12-inch brown vinyl kitchen tiles over the remaining “Swiss cheese” floor.
My paint and body restorer, Guy Nichols (who had won four Dearborn Awards), fabricated a new rear floor with all of the stiffeners and appropriate cutouts and cage nuts. The front floors from Paul Bradley and rocker panels from Dave Maher of Precision Coachworks went in nicely, so we were ready for the installation and finishing of the wood supplied by Chip Kussmaul. This project took us 150 hours. I engaged the services of a local Woodie specialist Dave Bohart, who applied several coats of marine spar varnish.
The upholstery and roof covering were beautifully done by Gene Bach, an award-winning craftsman. The car was finished around June 15, 1995, and we showed it July 7 at the national Ford meet in Nashville, Tenn., where we received 992 points out of 1,000 points for the coveted Dearborn Award.
My wife, June, and I deeply savored this sweet moment of success after the 5 1/2 years of hard work and countless dollars invested.
But my mind keeps going back to Dad’s words of advice: “Don’t ever buy a car in the dark.” Then I think of two of his other pieces of advice: “If you start a job, finish it,” and “You can do anything if you set your mind to it.” As you all know, dads have this uncanny way of being right!