Don’t look for any whining from this newspaper guy involving the Coronavirus. We’ve taken it in the shorts as a business, but we’re still open and running. The counties my newspapers serve have one COVID-19 positive test between them. I have been able to be with my kids and grandkids throughout the six weeks of living hell.
I’ve been able to continue to participate in a men’s Bible study early Friday mornings (10 or less, socially distanced) and I’ve found ways to keep up my exercise regimen. I’ve finished two Baldocci novels and am two-thirds of the way through Brett Baier’s really fine history of Franklin Roosevelt’s meeting with Stalin and Churchill that ultimately led to Allied victory in WWII.
But the gift that has kept me most sane is finishing the restoration of my 1951 Chevy pick-up in a friend’s garage. It has filled the time that I would typically be at local sporting events.
This is the third restoration of the pick-up since buying it for $600 in Ottumwa 30 years ago and driving it home without brakes and tail lights. This is as close to a ground-up restoration I’ve ever done, although it’s nothing like you’d see guys doing on Motor Trend TV. I’ve had to replace the alternator (which replaced the generator when we converted the truck from six volts to 12 volts), but have done virtually nothing else to the engine.
For the past three years, the pick-up had been in my garage as I sporatically did body work on it. Last Christmas I finally punted, took it to a professional painter, who told me to get replacement rear fenders and tailgate (after spending 30 or so hours trying to get the fenders straight).
I took pretty much everything off except the cab and front fenders, sending the pick-up to the paint shop in about eight pieces, leaving behind the front bumper, radiator cowling and front chrome piece. It came back in late February, a buddy let me put it in his really weather tight garage and I started doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that, until the Coronavirus pandemic hit.
It’s amazing what you see that needs corrected on an old vehicle given the time to observe it correctly. I tore apart what some would call the dashboard, although in 1951 a dash was a flat piece of metal with gauges in front of the steering wheel, covering a mass of wiring. The fan motor hasn’t worked in years and I pulled the cover off it and discovered monster mouse damage to 70-year-old wiring.
I had a high school kid help me install a modernized radio (AM-FM cassette) 15 years ago and it has become uninstalled over the years. The worst problem came in terms of reattaching the turning signals (not original to the truck) and after three attempts, my buddy and I have the lights working, albeit the left turn signals working when you put the lever to the right.
Another project that my wife barely raised an eyebrow over was reupholstering the pick-up’s original seat, that had been ravaged by large rear-ends and mice over the course of 69 years. I ordered the pre-sewn upholstery, then spent a week of evenings putting on new foam and ring shanking the material to the frame and springs. She admitted she would now ride with me (as long as I get the doors to shut properly, a project yet to be completed).
I actually started the reassembly with putting the rear fenders and running boards on and if you’re around me at all over the next six months you’ll not hear a curse word uttered from my mouth, because I used them all up, specifically on the left rear fender and passenger side running board. What comes off easy, in no way suggests it will go back on easy.
I decided to have the windshield glass and rear cab glass installed professionally, since the last time it was done, I did it, and it leaked. That happened Monday.
As the state begins to reopen and my business (hopefully) returns to something that looks like normal, the race is on to finish rewiring the blower fan and radio, reattach the windshield wipers (a wonderful vacuum system), finish reattaching the chrome around the headlights, putting the mirrors back on, finding the right knob for the gear shift and reattaching a really cool chrome Model A horn given to me by an old friend. Long ago I burned up the original horn.
A week, two weeks, maybe three and it might be almost done. The blessing of having waited three years for the time to do this project is that it gave me something to take my mind off COVID-19. Working on an old car, with your son or another gear head buddy, mostly in silence, gives you time to let your head rest and your soul to recover.
My nearly eight-year-old grandson has spent a large portion of his time in isolation atop his year-old single speed bike that has a traditional pedal braking system. He called me in a panic last Tuesday. “Papa, my bike exploded!” he said.
As it turns out his rear tire had a blow out, I told him I’d take it to ConnecticutYankee Peddlar the next day and when I picked it up I looked over the tires. The front tire appears almost new. The back tire was essentially bald from his braking to create an Evil Knievel type skid. His mother was not happy. I told her it is what boys do with bikes. After Josh at CYP put the new knobby tire on I thanked him and told him I’d be back in a couple of months.