The surprise that shouldn’t have been a surprise…

Ron Stauffer and daughter Gina, Fall 1962
Ron Stauffer and daughter Gina, Fall 1962

Happy Father’s Day to my Dad!
Back in May, I featured a Mother’s Day tribute to Mom here, so it’s only fitting that this month should bring the same for Dad. Dad was always fixing stuff. When I was little, it was out of necessity as you didn’t just trot out and buy new at Wal-Mart whenever an item broke. Heck, he’d get other folks’ old, broken stuff, fix it up like new, and that’s what we’d use. The world would do well to do a little more fixing these days, too.

Anyway, shown above is me and my dad – many more years ago than I care to think about. Behind us is a spiffy red 1935 Chevrolet pickup, which at that time was approaching 30 years old. Back then, old stuff wasn’t cool like it is now. It was just old stuff that you used until you had the means to get NEW stuff. This was Dad’s daily driver. He drove it when he went on repair service calls for the farm implement dealer that employed him at the time. He repaired the truck, too. When the motor went bad, he replaced it with something with “a little more power”. He often took his hemi-powered pickup to the Saturday night drag races.

Eventually, Dad left the farm equipment company to start his own business. He and Mom operated a New Holland dealership for years south of Portland, Indiana. The old Chevy was parked in the barn – having been replaced by more modern service trucks. Dad continued to fix things – servicing the farm equipment that he sold, later restoring old tractors, then old cars. He has a real knack for making tired old vehicles young and new again, and he amassed quite a collection. In all the years, and all the projects I’ve seen him complete – I don’t remember EVER seeing him rushed, or upset or stressed about them. What an inspiration. The amount of work done was monumental as most of these cars and trucks had to be completely disassembled, etc. One project car he bought was literally apart – with all the pieces (that they could find) in crates and boxes. It was a rare 1946 Ford convertible, and worth the effort as it was a show-winning beauty when complete. And he and mom don’t just park these and admire them – they DRIVE them to the events they participate in – some as far as the West Coast.

across the statesedited©
Needles, California – June 10, 2007 Left to right: Ralph Bischoff, Irv Ziegler, Lynn Ewing & Andy Ewing w/51 Ford Convertible, Junk Yard Jim & brother-in-law Bob w/49 Ford 4-door, Bill Tindall w/46 Ford Convertible, Jordan Keesling & Ron Stauffer w/46 Ford Convertible

When my son Jordan was about 11, he and Dad started restoration on a 1952 Ford pickup that was to be Jordan’s own. (Mom’s theory was that a newly licensed teenager would be a more careful driver in a vehicle that had had so much time and work spent on it.) Weekend after weekend, Dad took this capricious youngster on a journey of patience, perseverance and learning – away from the TV and the video games. The completed truck has gone on to win multiple prestigious Dearborn Awards, but more valuable than that is all the lessons Jordan learned along the way. Thanks Dad!

Stuck in 1960 - Portland, Indiana
Stuck in 1960 – Portland, Indiana

Christmas, birthdays and Father’s Days are always tough times to adequately express appropriate love and appreciation to a man who already has everything. So my husband Rob came up with

THE most creative surprise in the history of surprises for people who already have everything:

He took Dad’s old red Chevy pickup, that was now parked in our barn – and restored it back to EXACTLY how it was when he drove it in his late teens and early 20’s. How many of us get to sit in THE ACTUAL CAR (or truck) that we drove during that wonderful youthful time of our lives? (Except the part where you get stuck in the snow and the front end is hanging off some concrete abutment)

Dad and Gina in 35 Chevy
Dad and I sitting in the old Chevy truck one last time before it went on the auction block in 2010. Why did he sell it? Because it was a combination of two model year’s components, it wouldn’t have been competitive in point judging, and of course there was that problem with the Chrysler Firepower not being correct for a Chevy… Another clue is visible in this picture. See the side of the door? These truck cabs were built around WOODEN frames. The steel was actually formed around the frame and welded in place. To restore one of these back to original condition is extremely complicated and expensive. We didn’t really consider any of that – we just pined for the family history – on auction day one of our hands went up… and the rest became history.

Over the course of three years, Rob (with help of son Jordan on weekends) secretly rounded up all the correct and appropriate parts to replace what had been damaged or lost in the 30-some years that the truck had sat in storage in the barn. And it wasn’t as simple as just finding a place that sold replacement parts for a 1935 Chevy pickup. In reality, this truck is a hybrid of both 1935 and 1936 components, as dad loaned it to a friend before I was born – and apparently it was badly wrecked. So Dad put it back together with parts that were available back then. Along with a weird smattering of components that would prove to be a goose chase of epic proportions for Rob and Jordan as they did the restoration. The rear hub caps? From a 1950’s Kaiser. Broken bullet tail lights? Used to be marker lights on a semi or wrecker. Turn signal switch? Rob found one on ebay that matched, we never did know what that came off of – until he noticed one just like it on a machine he’d been hired to move; a vintage Galion ROAD GRADER.

hemi1 photoedited
Even though both the hoist and the straps they used were allegedly strong enough to support this hulk of a hemi, I was a nervous wreck the whole time it hung like this – envisioning the terrible scenario of it crashing to the concrete… Probably wouldn’t have hurt it much, but the proper oil pan is NOT readily available – they searched for months to find a used one in not-so-great shape that still cost a pretty penny. The original pan had rusted through in multiple places – described as “swiss cheese”. Even with all that damage, it’s currently at the machine shop being repaired. Yes, they are that rare.

And then there’s the engine. These trucks came stock with a sensible 6 cylinder 216 Stovebolt, but Dad instead wedged a 331 hemi from a 1952 Chrysler New Yorker into the tiny engine compartment. That was an impressive feat that we failed to fully appreciate until the time came to put the rebuilt hemi BACK into that spot. Rob and Jordan got a lot of practice at that; as the maiden test run revealed what would prove to be a nearly intractable problem of a mystery “chirp”. Those who know about engines know there are some sounds that are not to be ignored, and anything that indicates a lack of lubrication somewhere definitely warrants serious attention. The hemi is well-traveled, even out of the truck, as it went back to the engine shop to be gone over a second time. Once the chirp was finally subdued (and believe me, there were a lot of steps that happened and re-happened to that end) Jordan cut a celebratory decal of Jiminy Cricket and placed him ceremoniously on the air breather as a reminder of the fun times (not really) that they’d had solving that issue.

Father/Son teamwork at it's best. Rob and Jordan work to locate the source of the infernal mystery
Father/Son teamwork at it’s best. Rob and Jordan work to locate the source of the infernal mystery “chirp”.

Keeping the project a secret all that time was a challenge in itself. Family gatherings always include talk of everyone’s current projects and repair dilemmas, so we all had to make a conscious effort not to slip and talk about the Chevy restoration. It was doubly frustrating in that the one person who could have told us about the hub caps and the tail lights, and probably the source of the mystery chirp – was the one who couldn’t be asked! And more than once at home, we were sent scrambling with tarps – to cover and hide the truck and it’s parts after receiving a call that mom and dad would be stopping by…

 A young Jordan Keesling checking out his grandpa's old Chevy truck that's been parked in the barn for years. Why is there a piece of CHAIN welded to the gearshift? Apparently that's what Dad padlocked his toolbox to - so it wouldn't be stolen. Rob Keesling restored this truck with help from Jordan - and left the chain in place as a memento of security systems from days gone by.
A young Jordan Keesling checking out his grandpa’s old Chevy truck that’s been parked in the barn for years. Why is there a piece of CHAIN welded to the gearshift? Apparently that’s what Dad padlocked his toolbox to – so it wouldn’t be stolen. Rob Keesling restored this truck with help from Jordan – and left the chain in place as a memento of security systems from days gone by.

They left the aging red paint in all it’s glorious multi-layered flakiness, inside and out. The broken windows were replaced with new safety glass. The interior was left exactly as dad had fashioned it, with the exception of replacing the seat, which had some scary springs poking through in all the wrong places. Buckets from a 1969 Mustang fit perfectly and gave the option to store items behind the seat as needed.

As the truck neared completion that fall, we set about making plans for the unveiling of the great surprise. That was also a challenge, with Jordan at college and Mom and Dad traveling nearly every week. In preparation, Rob and a friend took the truck on it’s maiden voyage to Gas City’s Ducktail Run. Things were going grandly – the truck ran well, spectators enjoyed seeing a grungy “barn find” body with a shiny fresh hemi under the hood. Until… they were packing up, getting ready to leave, and Rob overheard a man say to someone who was with him; “That looks like Stauf’s old truck!”

Crap.

We’d kept this project a secret for three long years, and now someone recognizes the truck and the cat may get out of the bag before we are ready. The man turned out to be a close friend of my brother’s, who’d driven some distance from Ohio to attend the Ducktail Run with his dad. Even though Rob swore them to secrecy – we knew it was just a matter of time before someone slipped. So, in a state of accelerated, emergency surprise-planning, I called and invited us all to my folk’s house the very next day. Jordan drove ahead so he could be there to make sure they were both outside and could see us coming up the drive.

Mom and Dad go for a spin - in the truck they had when they were first married in 1960.
Mom and Dad go for a spin – in the truck they had when they were first married in 1960.

And what a surprise it was!

But why should it have been? Dad had laid the foundation throughout the years for such an event.  The best surprises are when we realize they have actually come from ourselves, who we are.

Dad and Mom both instilled in all of us the importance of the stewardship of mementos from days gone by. And not just for our family’s enjoyment. They set an example of preserving historic Ford artifacts for generations to come by helping to orchestrate the creation of the Early Ford V8 Foundation Museum in Auburn, Indiana. This was a grass-roots effort by a group of Ford lovers from all walks of life – a paying it forward of sorts – to ensure that kids of Jordan’s generation (and beyond) can have an intimate look at the vehicles and automobilia of their grand- and great-grandparents’ era.

These days, the Chevy stays tucked away safely in our climate controlled garage. On this evening, we'd taken it out for a jaunt to the grocery store, and I snapped this picture of it next to a neighboring barn on the way home.
These days, the Chevy stays tucked away safely in our climate controlled garage. On this evening, we’d taken it out for a jaunt to the grocery store, and I snapped this picture of it next to a neighboring barn on the way home.

Want to see what happens next?

Fun on the Farm Part 1 is here

The Epic Mess of Fixing the Fireplace is here

Tearing Down an Old Barn to Repurpose the Timbers in the house is here

The adventure of utilizing the first few timbers as a Fireplace Mantle is here

Utilizing more timbers in a big room upstairs – Of Trials and Strong Backs is here

No One Will Ever See It – an Adventure In Remodeling is here

We are still not finished, but you can see “The Aftermath” of one barn beam project here

Sometimes you have to look back… at scary pictures here

More looking back… Scary pictures, recycling and repurposing here

9 thoughts on “The surprise that shouldn’t have been a surprise…”

  1. What a gem of a story! I’m laughing and crying at the same time. I’ve been a gear head my whole life. Daughter of one deeply missed on this day. Sister and Aunt of two more. Proud mom of yet another who is “in the trade” of restoration, fabrication, and showing. Thanks for sharing this sweet reflection.

    Liked by 1 person

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