All of us at one time or another have heard a story about a street rod or two being stolen. Maybe it belonged to a friend, maybe we have no idea of the owner, but to all of us—it hurts. Well, here's a story that has a happy ending (for one rodder but not for another), albeit nearly 14 years later.
For starters, it should come as no surprise that hot rods are stolen at one time or another from nearly every major event in the country. If you don't think cars are stolen from the parking lots of indoor car shows or from the hotel parking lots at national or even local events you are in denial. And this happens all the time, not just once every five years or so! We've even run ink from time to time on cars that have been stolen because they were famous cars or from a famous builder or car owner. It happens and that's just a fact of life.
I was checking my mail, no not email, but mail actually delivered by a postman that comes through the USPS. Nowadays that's indeed a rare occurrence. I bet I receive maybe a dozen pieces of mail a week—yes, a week! And that's a good week. On the other hand, emails are the "straw" that oftentimes comes close to breaking the "camel's back". On average I receive 154 emails a day. Many are from readers like you and many are from work-related projects. (Although as general practice I ignore Tech Editor Ceridono's emails. He gives me headaches.) It makes for a full day of reading and responding, but it continually gives me perspective.
So, when I do receive a postal letter complete with stamp I now look at it as a treat. Such was the case on this morning. I picked up the single piece of mail from the mail room and noted it came from a rodder in the Tacoma area—at least as denoted by its postmark. Turns out fellow hot rodder named Mac who resides in Washington was reading the newspaper the other day and found a story that he thought I would find interesting; he was right. It was a very interesting article about another hot rodder. (Printed in the Daily Herald and written by Rikki King.)
Seems Wayne Caldwell of Sequim, Washington, had his 1933 Ford coupe stolen back in 1999, nearly 14 years ago. Caldwell used to drive and drag race his coupe like so many of us have over the years. He used to race it at the old Arlington dragstrip, which is just off Interstate 5 in the town of Arlington. The strip is still in play and hosts a reunion every year.
Caldwell tried in vain to find the coupe, but to no avail. According to the newspaper article, a hot rod magazine (Northwest Rods, no longer in publication) from back in the day (1957) ran an article on the car. Over time Caldwell and the car went their separate ways. But he did do one thing that would prove to be his saving grace some decades later—he kept photos and other paperwork. Now, if there's one thing every hot rodder does it's keep old registration slips, titles, receipts, and, most important of all, photos. Caldwell had them all.
Jump ahead 14 years when another rodder realized that the car that just sold for $7,500 was Caldwell's old coupe from back in the day. A law enforcement task force trusted with tracking down stolen cars meets with Caldwell (and his documentation) in Everett, Washington. Armed with loads of photos and other paperwork Caldwell was able to prove to the police that this was indeed his car that had been stolen years before. According to the newspaper article one of the pieces of evidence that swayed the police were the Valvoline and Hilborn decals that were on the firewall. Photos taken back in 1957 and in 2013 clearly showed the decals were identical and the location was spot-on.
While the police were able to trace back the car as it sold over the years the car's paperwork was tinkered with and the VIN numbers no longer matched original police paperwork. The current owner, soon to be former owner, had no way of knowing the car was stolen and he purchased it in good faith. Come the end of the day Caldwell was given the car by the police and the new now former owner was out $7,500. I guess one man's good day is another's bad day.
I suppose the moral to this story is one or more of several. One, don't steal cars; two, don't purchase a car unless you have iron-clad proof (and maybe that won't be enough); three, stay involved in the hobby, as it seems all of us have friends who remember something from decades past and that information will come in handy someday; and last but surely not least, keep photos, receipts, any paperwork on all of your hot rod projects. You never know when it will come in handy.