Not too long ago, Freiburger wrote a blog about Old Man stuff, and then Brian wrote about Men of Action. My grandpa fits the bill for both. His name is Earl, and in 1955 he drove a truck for a living. That’s when an interesting opportunity came his way, in the form of a truck full of blueberry pies—frozen blueberry pies that needed to get from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Santa Clara, California. And so the trip began, a trip that would include loading his 8-year-old daughter Carolyn, 5-year-old daughter Judy, and pregnant wife Marion in the cab of said truck in order to move them to California. In 1955, trucks didn’t have sleeper cabs. They were tough, and determined. That trip to California is full of stories, but it’s just one example of a time in life when my grandpa took a chance. There are literally thousands more. Maybe that’s where I get it.
In 2003, he came home to Dallas, where he now lives, telling me a story about a 1950 Studebaker pickup sitting in a field somewhere. He’d never built a hot rod, and for years had griped about Dad and I spending money on cars that sat in the garage, but this was “the one” and he couldn’t let it go. At 80 years old, he started the Studebaker pickup build, doing 95 percent of the work on his own while learning how to do body work and paint for the first time. After decades making his living as a farmer, then truck driver, and finally mechanic, he actually had something to work on for fun. The Stude is Packard Yellow because he always loved that color on one he got for grandma in the late ‘50s. It’s got Air Ride on it because he thought it was cool on Rusty (my ’56 wagon), and includes a triangulated four-link on a Caddy 10-bolt with discs out back and a front stub grafted from an ‘80 Chevy pickup. This should be enough technology for any 80-year-old, but no, it’s got a TBI 350 and 700r4, shaved door handles, power everything, one-piece glass, Caddy tail lights, a roll-pan, 17-inch wheels, and a stereo. Now 85 years old, he’s still playing with his first hot rod. My grandpa rules.
Grandpa is cool, but not just because of his truck. He’s taught me a lot of things in my life, besides the fact that it’s okay to take a chance. I spent my earliest childhood summers riding a floor jack around his shop, fixing cars, and watching him fix my bike even though I wasn’t a “paying” customer. He taught me how to weld, wrench, fabricate, pitch pennies, and give grandma shit. He taught me how to be a man, stand up for my beliefs, take risks and argue. He taught me to answer, and never be afraid to speak up. He even taught me how to drive. I’m talking Mack trucks, giant lawn-mowing tractors, steamrollers, and front-end loaders, all before I was 10. He taught me how to fix stuff on the side of the road. He taught me not to worry. Nothing phased him, even during the summer where all I wanted to do was climb in and out of the car like the Duke boys.
He’s tells great stories, some about me, but most about his adventures and experiences growing up and going to war. Most of the time, they make you wish you could have been there with him. He’s got great sayings too. For instance, when the new part you’ve just installed, still doesn’t work, he’ll say “Well I’ll be God damned”. Or, while teaching me to weld, “That’s what a grinder is for.” His most used, when frustrated with Grandma, is “Marion Alice!” It’s amazing how you never outgrow getting called by your first and middle name when in trouble. But, out of the dozens of sayings he’s got, my favorite is “A crossed thread is better than a lock washer.” Freiburger loves that one too.
I’ve always appreciated all that my grandpa has taught me and given me over the years, and now it always gets my attention when I see an older couple in the grocery store, or at the gas station, because those occasions seem to get fewer and farther between. Now that I am here in California, and he and grandma are still in Texas, I find myself going out of my way to be nice and helpful to these couples, hoping that someone is doing the same thing for my grandpa and grandma. During the Studebaker build, I helped grandpa whenever he needed it, and got the chance to teach him a few things about Air Ride, shaved handles, and fuel cells. I gave him my opinion whenever he wanted it, and tried to make sure his choices were going to result in the truck of his dreams. Those are memories I will never forget, and I hope he had half as much fun as I did. I’ll never forget the first car show he brought his truck to, and the look on everyone’s face when the old man pulled up, parked and then laid the truck out hard. He was so proud. I was so proud. I’m lucky to have a grandpa that will still go to car shows with me. Take your grandpa to a car show and ask him to tell you a story. You just might learn something too.