Son Willie and I made our annual quasi-vacation “gearhead pilgrimage” to the automotive holy land of the 55th annual Portland Swap Meet last weekend in an attempt to convert this man’s personal excess inventory of junk into someone else’s newest treasure. Perhaps more importantly we got our daily constitutional in by walking several miles scouring other folks’ collections in search of our own new “treasures.”

Upon returning home, I was happy to report to the Boss (my wife) that we had quite uncharacteristically sold far more items than we had purchased. Indeed, there is a first time for everything. When factoring in travel expense, parking, lodging and meals we still likely were only at a break-even level — thereby upholding my tradition of maintaining my status as a nonprofit entity.

Like so many of life’s endeavors, the best part of our car hobby is the far too-many-to-count number of friends we have made and the stories we have shared.

A recent visit with one of my favorite nonagenarians revealed that his first car was a 1928 Chevrolet two-door purchased in the early ’40s for $25. My friend Bob enlisted the help of one of his friends to negotiate the purchase price somewhat clandestinely due to the fact that Bob’s father was engaged in a business endeavor that lead to the perception, be it real or imagined, that the family possessed cash reserves. This sentiment, by the way, permeates my thought process in negotiating vehicle or farm-equipment purchases and the perceived impression we make on prospective sellers.

When going to inspect a potential purchase, it is imperative to represent oneself accurately. If you show up driving a new vehicle or dressed in fancy duds, it might appear as though you are able to pay full retail price; conversely, if you pull in the driveway in a wheezing, rusted hulk it may appear as though you have no money and are not worthy of the seller’s serious attention. Also, in the unlikely event that your clunker breaks down in the seller’s driveway or lot, you may be forced to buy (at their preferred price) whatever rig they are selling just to have a means by which you can drive home.

Anyway, back to the ’28 Chevy. After procuring his new car, Bob decided it needed a paint job and he deemed that he had the requisite skills and equipment to perform the task. He borrowed his mother’s vacuum cleaner and cleverly reversed its airflow to make a paint sprayer. All was well until the paint became too heated and began to dry before it was smoothly applied to the body panels, resulting in an uneven finish that Johnny Bench would not endorse (remember “no runs, no drips, no errors?”) Bob resorted to spraying for a few minutes and then waiting for a time to allow the paint to cool down. I forgot to ask who cleaned the vacuum when the project was completed.

Bob’s Chevy provided transportation for he and many of his high school friends as the rear seat and trunk were almost sufficiently spacious enough to be let out as a small apartment space.

The principal shortcoming of Bob’s buggy was its then-standard lack of any anti-theft devices. The ignition was controlled by a simple toggle switch on the dash and the stomp-to-start button was in plain view on the floor (My Farmall M is the same to this day). Bob said he had to frequently run from class upon dismissal to be sure none of his friends beat him to the school parking lot.

Unfortunately, in the waning years of the Great Depression, Bob couldn’t afford Prestone antifreeze and had to mix alcohol in the radiator as a substitute. When the car ran a little hot, it boiled out the alcohol — leaving only water in the cooling system. During a particularly cold spell, the water froze and cracked the block. The Chevy was sold to a wrecking yard for $5.

Bob went on to (literally) pilot other means of conveyance — namely B-25 bombers in World War II, flying 70 missions in Europe. But that’s another story.


Matt Wood is his son’s hired man and his daughter’s biggest fan. He lives on a farm near Helix, where he collects antiques and friends.

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