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Stovebolt Sagas

Oral history of Stovebolt Quests, Journeys, Treasures and Dragons

Two Girls
a Dad
and a '59
on Cross Country Adventure

By Kimberly McDowall

June 1, 2005

Greetings Stovebolters,

       I thought I'd share the story of my Dad's 1959 Skyliner. In the late 1960's, he enlisted in the Army to serve in Vietnam. Before he left in February 1968, he sold his dream car -- a 1959 Ford Skyliner -- for $100. In those days, our military personnel weren’t paid very well and he knew he couldn’t afford to store the car. So all things considered, $100 seemed like a lot of money.

       When my Dad came home on leave in June 1968, he and my Mom got married. By 1971, Dad was out of the Army and working to support his wife and the first of five kids. The fourth child, Amy, was born with several serious congenital birth defects, including a bilateral cleft lip, bilateral cleft palate, polydactyly on three of her four limbs, mental retardation, and agenesis of the corpus callosum (part of the brain). My parents worked very hard to provide for all of us, which was particularly hard given Amy’s many medical bills.

       Time went by, but Dad never forgot about his dream car. As the kids left home and Amy’s medical costs were paid off, Dad started talking about finding another ’59 Skyliner to rebuild as his retirement project.

       Over the years, Dad has rebuilt a few old trucks: a 1946 Ford, a 1963 Chevy pickup, and my 1954 Chevy pickup that he rebuilt for my husband and me as a college graduation gift. He only kept one for himself -- the ’46 Ford (I have both of the 'Bolts). All of the projects have been hobbies and have resulted in fun, drivable vehicles.

       Last year, my Mother was contacted at work by the elderly mother of the man to whom Dad sold his dream car in 1968. As they talked, Mom brought up the ’59. The woman was quite certain that the car was sitting forgotten on the old family homestead. Thus began our family’s clandestine search for “the car.” My Mom, my business partner (and both of her parents), and I all tracked down the man who bought the car, all without telling my Dad about our search. To our disappointment, we learned that he did not have the car. Instead, it had been sold due to a divorce and nobody knew what happened to it.

       Then, in February 2005, I spied a ’59 Skyliner on eBay. After consulting with my folks, I bid on the car and won! From the pictures, we knew it was in bad shape, but it was a starting point. My Dad, my youngest sister, Melissa, and I arranged for a trailer rental and planned the long trip from home (North Dakota) to Ohio, where the car was.

And the trip begins ...

       Right off the bat, the trip was eventful. Our Chevy Silverado began losing oil – going through a quart each tank of gas. Dad was so concerned, we missed our turn in downtown Minneapolis. Fortunately, some BarsLeak solved the problem by the time we were just outside of Minneapolis. We drove all day, all night and another half-day, until we reached Dayton.

       When we arrived, my heart sunk. The car looked bad. Really bad. Standing in the cold rain, I really thought I’d made a mistake. My enthusiasm to get Dad a Skyliner (that was affordable) to replace the one he gave up might have just cost us a lot of time and money, with little prospect of ever becoming the fun driver we hoped Dad would have.

       Even worse, it was sitting on one of those "big city" streets with only one 9-foot wide lane. The owner of the car said we would have to back the truck and trailer half a block up the street, and then back it into her driveway that was no wider than the width of our truck. To top it all off, her driveway sloped uphill from the street and the car was at least 60 feet back on this narrow driveway from the street. Somehow, Dad got the truck backed in (even he said he couldn't do it).

       Then, the situation got worse.

       The woman who owned the car said, “You know that car won’t roll, right?”

       I went cold. We’ve fooled around with a lot of old vehicles, and no matter how bad they were, they would at least roll!

       “It won’t ROLL?” I heard my Dad ask, like maybe she had misspoken.

       “No,” she said. “It doesn’t roll. My husband thought the emergency brake might be stuck.”

      To make a long story a little shorter, suffice to say that we confirmed that the car indeed, would not roll. As an added bonus, all four tires were flat. Standing there shivering in the cold, in a strange city, in a strange state, having gone from elation at finding the car, to desperation, we decided to attempt to hand-crank the car onto our trailer. No luck.

     After a good deal of experimentation, lots of silent cussing, and buckets of cold sweat, we placed a rolling two-ton floor jack under the rear axle, and inch by painful inch, cranked the car onto the trailer. We’d get the jack in place. Dad would strain for all he was worth on the crank. The car would creep forward 4 or 5 inches. Then it would fall off the jack. We’d jack the car up again, and start all over.

       We attracted an audience of neighbor children who evidently never had seen a minister quivering with exhaustion and rage straining to be on his best behavior. Or (it seemed) two grown daughters, feeling guilty about buying a hunk of junk, sight-unseen that they thought would be the answer to a lifelong dream for their Dad, grimly determined to make it work. After three hours, one old man and two girls managed to manhandle the car up and onto the trailer.

       Wet, cold, and shivering, we clambered into the cab of our pickup and began the long drive home. Unfortunately, a storm moved into the region and most of our drive through Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin was in wind, snow and icy roads. Somewhere in Wisconsin we got into a traffic jam, created by crashes along the icy highway, that was miles long. The trailer hauling our ’59 was rear-ended twice; fortunately, no damage was done.

        Once we got a few miles under our wheels and a few hours closer to home, we began to see the car as less of a wreck and more of an opportunity. The sheet metal is intact and the car is “all there.” Dad said he’d looked at another ’59 several years ago that was in worse condition, and that owner was asking $5,000 more than we spent on our eBay purchase.

       In fact, it looks like somebody put a lot of time working on the car before either giving up or getting tired of all the work. The glass is all good and the body is in relatively good shape, although the front top quarter fenders need some special attention due to rust. We’ve already located a source for all the necessary replacement parts to operate the retractable hard top. The interior is in very good shape, as the car had been stored in a barn. The very first day we brought it home, we had four or five folks who were just driving by stop and ask if it was for sale.

        A local Skyliner enthusiast even drove his show car over one day, as he had heard from other "car guys" that a new Skyliner was in town, sitting in our horse pasture beside a busy highway (waiting its turn in the garage). He just wanted to see the '59 and visit with Dad about the car. That was a great treat.

        Now that my '54 Stovebolt project is winding down, we're all looking forward to helping Dad get his '59 on the road!

Kimberly -

Kimberly McDowall
Bismarck, ND

        Kimberly related this story in the Greasy Spoon on May 27. Some of my favorite reactions were:

        Hence, we got the pictures and figured now this is a SAGA! ~~ Editor

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