By JEFF PICKELL
It’s busted up, rusted up and broken down. It’s a crusty, oily, flaky mess that even the rats and goats have had enough of. Heck, you can’t even get within 10 feet of it without catching the rank musty scent of the barn attic it’s spent the last 40 years in.
And yet, more than a few collectors would kill for it.
It’s a 1930 Model A Ford—Fayette resident Hal Stambaugh’s newest acquisition, and it was no easy job getting it from that barn in Michigan down to his shop on Main Street.
Hal first learned of the car eight years ago, when he and a friend went up to tow a different car from the barn it was stored in. He expressed his interest in buying it, but until about a year ago, the owner was reluctant to sell.
When the owner finally decided to let it go, it took almost a year for Hal and him to agree on a price.
“I think the reason why he didn’t want to sell was it was his first car, and he had a special place for it,” said Hal.
The man purchased the Model A from his high school teacher in 1935 and drove it consistently for the next 26 years.
Hal’s initial intentions were to scrap everything but the body and turn it into a sleek and shiny hot rod, but he changed his mind when he learned that the man he bought it from had fallen ill. Now he wants to get the Model A running within the next few weeks and take the previous owner, and the Amish family whose barn housed the car, for a ride in it.
After he accomplishes that, though, he’s going to get to work fixing up the rest of the car, right? Turn it into a true hot rod?
Wrong. It may have once been the goal of all classic car junkies to have the sleekest, loudest vintage ride on the block, but in recent years, a new breed of collector has cruised into town—the rat rodder.
What’s a rat rod? It’s a hot rod without all the work.
Hot rods, in the true sense of the term, are classic cars that are bought in poor condition and restored back to shipshape by hobbyists and professionals. Rat rods are classic cars that are bought in poor condition and, well, that’s it.
In fact, a lot of rat rods are bought in poor condition and made poorer. It’s not uncommon to see a rat rod stripped of its front fenders or boasting a new gray primer paint job.
But then again, “poor condition” is a relative term in this instance, since rat rodders go out of their way to make rattles and clanks louder, wear their rust and patina like badges of honor.
“A lot of guys would want to get their hands on this,” says Hal of his Model A, “Its old dents and rust are all original.”
It’s not insane to wonder how a hobby that was once so intensely focused on absolute perfection in automobiles has devolved to a state where the original dent is king. Hal says it’s simply a matter of fun.
“Everybody likes the old style. They’re fun to drive. You don’t have to worry about dents and scratches. It’s mostly young guys driving the wheels off them,” Hal said.
What about safety though? Isn’t it dangerous to be driving these rickety jalopies around? What about the safety of other drivers?
True, you’re not going to find airbags, safety glass windows and precision crunch engineering on most rat rods, but at the same time, it takes a special knowledge to keep the older style cars running. Most have been tinkered with by seasoned mechanics.
Hal has been fixing up cars all his life. He started rebuilding engines with his father when he was in his early teens and learned the basics from him and other mechanics around the area.
For a while, Hal kept a semi-serious car restoring business in his garage, but as it became harder to keep up with technology, and collecting bills from customers turned into a bit of a burden, he decided to scale his operation down to something a little more casual and fun.
“I started working on old cars as kind of a hobby job. I make my schedule six months ahead of time so it doesn’t get to be a regular job,” said Hal.
It’s a good system, he says, because now he can find time to pursue some other projects, like fixing up a rusty Model A for an someone who loves it, as stinky and goat-chewed as it is.