Over the past several months you have already noticed that this year's Road Tour car, our beloved Kobalt Tools/STREET RODDER '36 Chevy, is more a "build what you have" approach rather than from the ground up. We figured it was about time to build a ride in the same manner that most rodders do. We found an old car and by adding and modifying we came up with a great-looking, reliable, and fun-to-drive street rod!
With help from Brent VanDervort of Fatman Fabrications in Charlotte, North Carolina; Jim Swan's CarFab in Concord, North Carolina; Leon Brown's Custom Auto Upholstery, also of Concord; and Wade Hughes' Hot Rod Flames shop in Cincinnati, Ohio, a winter's worth of work resulted in a '36 Chevy two-door sedan that will be the perfect summer "office" for the Road Tour 2001.
Initially, "Back to the Basics" was referring to the street rod itself. After our long 5,700 mile initial trip out to Bakersfield and back, I now realize that "Back to the Basics" refers also to the entire philosophy of street rodding. We rediscovered the basics of youthful enthusiasm, breakdowns, and rodders helping fellow rodders as well as the thrill of seeing our great nation from behind the wheel of a street rod. Get comfortable and read along--this first trip was a long one!
My journey started with a trip to Cincinnati, Ohio. Actually I was "pony expressed" to Cincinnati. Mary Ann took me to Columbus where friend and fellow rodder Bob Oney picked me up for the rest of the drive to Wade Hughes' Hot Rod Flames shop in Cincinnati. Wade and his crew had been working very long hours for the three weeks to get our Road Tour '36 ready for our trip.
The staff at Fatman Fabrications built the suspension and chassis, while Jim of CarFab installed the P.A.W. 350 Chevy engine and the Jet Performance 700-R4 as well as the wiring, and Leon and his staff stitched the interior. Wade's initial job was to paint the sedan and heat it up with some signature "Ohio flames." As is the case with any street rod project, there were a number of loose ends to tie up at the end and Wade and his crew rose to the occasion to meet our deadline. It was a study in teamwork as everyone pulled together to get the job done!
A few weeks prior to our maiden voyage, Wade had called and asked if anyone was traveling with me out west. While Mary Ann does take a few trips each year, and occasionally someone rides along, I had no one who was traveling on board for this particular trip. Wade stated that a young fellow who worked at his shop had said that he would like to ride along. My immediate reaction was apprehension. I really was not sure if I wanted to make a two-week run to the coast and back with a young kid who I had never met before. This was not Boys' Town and we were not going to Disneyland! This was the Road Tour! I could not have been more wrong.
I then met 25-year-old Joshua Shaw. Joshua combines youthful enthusiasm with the skills, talents, and experience of a 50-year-old veteran rodder. He is an incredible designer, artist, mechanic, and fabricator. For the last two seasons he was also the series champ at the local dirt track. I had a co-pilot! I learned very quickly that I had not made a mistake in letting Joshua ride along.
The Cincy Street Rods Club and Wade Hughes had organized an NSRA Appreciation Day at Wade's shop and it coincided perfectly with the send-off of our maiden voyage. It also gave us an opportunity to have the sedan safety inspected by an NSRA Safety Team. We passed all 23 requirements and received a 23-point pin and our completed safety inspection sheet. This is a very worthwhile program that is promoted by the NSRA at all of their events and at many Appreciation Days around the country and is provided free of charge to all NSRA members.
At 10 a.m. on Sunday the 22nd of April, Joshua Shaw and I waved to the crowd, got in the sedan, and headed West. The 2001 Kobalt/STREET RODDER Road Tour 2001 was officially under way. Our sights were set on Little Rock, Arkansas, for the first night's stay. Since we did not leave Cincinnati until mid-morning, I felt that 650 miles was enough for our first day out. I had also decided that we would take the southern route to Los Angeles. This would take us through Dallas, where we would pick up Rt. 20 to El Paso and then I-10 to Los Angeles. It would be a little further but the smooth roads would be worth it. We would save the bumps and traffic of I-40 for the trip back to Knoxville.
Our first 500 miles went very smoothly. The sedan handled great with the Mustang II front suspension and Chassis Engineering parallel leafs in the rear. From Cincinnati we traveled past Louisville, south to Nashville, and then on toward Memphis. At 5 p.m. in the afternoon, about four miles before the bridge over the Mississippi River, our good luck changed. When you hear noises and feel vibrations your first reaction is to blame the road surface. That usually works for a few minutes and then you realize that you've got problems. We had problems.
The rear axle bearing on the passenger side was shot and the seal was leaking fluid. We had used an 8-inch Ford rearend from a salvage yard and had made the mistake of not replacing the old bearings. Hindsight is a wonderful thing! The reality was that we were broken in Memphis and it was a Sunday afternoon.
It was time for a "Back to the Basics" lesson. If you need help with your street rod, call another street rodder. In this particular case I did not even need to refer to my NSRA "Fellow Pages." I knew that we were about 10 minutes from a street rodder who had just what we needed, a service station in his backyard! Head of the National Street Rod Association and Walker Radiator, Vernon Walker and I had become friends over the past 10 years. We shared a love of gas station memorabilia and a few years ago he constructed a genuine 1961 Texaco gas station on his property! It is fully functional with lifts and tools and I had visited it on a number of previous trips. I made a quick call and, as my luck goes, Vernon was back in the station working on his own Chevy sedan! He said to "limp it in" and we would see what needed to be done.
Joshua and I stopped at an auto parts store and got the bearing and seal just 15 minutes before they closed for the day. When we arrived Vernon was ready for us. We got the rearend off the ground and Joshua removed the axle. The only thing we needed was a bearing press. No problem. Vernon made a call to fellow street rodder and NSRA Field Director Jake Moran. Jake said that Memphis Street Rod Club member Tommy Boran had a bearing press. Another call and Joshua, Vernon, and I were on our way to get the bearing pressed. By 10 p.m. that evening the rearend was put back together and we were on our way! It was a great example of street rodders helping fellow street rodders.
We did not quite make our destination of Little Rock that night but considering what we had been through we were really not too far behind schedule. The next day we drove through very heavy rain the entire morning. By the time the Dallas skyline came into view, the skies were blue and the sun was shining. We almost made El Paso, but after 950 miles we stayed in Van Horn, Texas, only about 100 miles short of our original goal.
We were up before dawn the next day and ready for our assault on Los Angeles via Interstate 10. I really believe that I-10 is the greatest stretch of Interstate highway in the United States. Due to excellent weather conditions year round, the road surface does not suffer from the expansion and contraction of other areas. It was a great day in the southwest. Temperatures reached about 85 degrees as we passed through Tucson, Phoenix, Palm Springs, and then on to Los Angeles, all the while the Southern Air unit kept us cool. By 8:30 p.m. we pulled into our hotel in Placentia, California, next to the STREET RODDER editorial offices. Joshua and I and the '36 had made it!
The next morning Joshua cleaned up the Chevy and I had a meeting with Editorial Director Brian Brennan and some of the advertising department. By 2 p.m. we were on our way to Chatsworth, California, to the home of California Car Cover Company (CCCC). Our friends at CCCC had invited us to again stop by on our way to Bakersfield and the West Coast Nationals. As usual, they put out a huge spread of food and beverages, which were appreciated by all the street rodders who met us there. I always enjoy seeing the new items that Jim DeFrank and staff have added to their selection of goodies. At 6:30 p.m. we jumped into the '36 and headed north across the mountains to Bakersfield. The ride up and down the Grapevine is always a thrill and at 8:30 p.m. we arrived at the host hotel for the NSRA West Coast Nationals.
On Thursday we had a Road Show open house at Goldeez Hot Rod Products on Easton Drive in Bakersfield. Bruce Goldsmith and staff greeted us and the many other rodders who were in town for the rod run. STREET RODDER Photo Editor Eric Geisert arrived around 4:30 p.m. and we went to a small airport outside of town where he spent about two hours doing the photo shots for the feature coverage of this year's Road Tour '36 Chevy.
It was a great weekend in Bakersfield at the West Coast Nationals. Everyone was enthused about our new "Back to the Basics" Road Tour 2001 sedan. The weather was very comfortable and dry. On Sunday afternoon Joshua and I left Bakersfield and headed east across the Mojave Desert. We had three days to get to Knoxville, Tennessee, the site of the NSRA Street Rod Nationals South.
We stayed in Laughlin, Nevada, on Sunday evening. The annual River Run Motorcycle Rally had just ended and 65,000 motorcycles had just left town. By all accounts it had been a wild weekend. We got up the next morning and continued our trek east on I-40. We decided that we could take a slight detour and do a little sightseeing. It does not get any grander than the Grand Canyon. I had stopped there a few years ago in the Tour Tub, but Joshua had not been there since he was five years old! It is awe-inspiring every time you see it.
We spent Monday evening in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, and the next morning (just west of Amarillo, Texas) we made another tourist stop. While not as famous as the Grand Canyon, the Cadillac Ranch is a must-see for anyone involved in car culture. Do not try to explain it--just stop and check it out. Tuesday evening was spent just west of Memphis.
Up and rolling on Wednesday morning we began to see street rods making their way across Tennessee toward Knoxville. The NSRA Nats South is a huge event that attracts rodders from all across the country. On Wednesday afternoon we pulled into Chilhowee Park in Knoxville. We had made the 2,400-mile trip from Bakersfield in three days. The sedan performed flawlessly!
On Thursday afternoon we drove to Lokar for their annual open house. There were more than 600 street rods in attendance, and Debbie and Skip Walls again put on a great afternoon filled with food, fun, and door prizes. The gates at the Nats South opened on Friday morning and 3,648 street rods covered the grounds.
The weather was picture-perfect and, as usual, the Knoxville event was fantastic. By Sunday afternoon the rods began their trip home. Carol and Wade Hughes had driven down from Cincinnati in their '34 Chevy sedan. Wade wanted to do a little touch-up on the '36 so he handed me the keys to his rod and he took the '36 back to Cincinnati. I will get it on my way to Springfield, Missouri, and the Mid-America Street Rod Nationals.
It was a thrilling two weeks. Joshua and I covered 5,700 miles in that time and attended two shows. We had a minor problem in the beginning, but with the help of other street rodders, we made it through okay. Joshua turned out to be a great traveling companion. (Never judge someone by his or her age!) There are a lot of great young rodders out there. While you may not prefer the style of rod that they do, that's what makes our hobby so unique. We have a common bond of street rodding.
With two events in the books we have nine more in front of us. If you get a chance to stop by our Road Shows or tour stops, please come up and say "hi." And be sure to follow along each month in SRM as I "see the USA in my Road Tour Chevrolet."
The first leg of our long...
The first leg of our long 2001 Road Tour began at Wade Hughes' Hot Rod Flames shop in Cincinnati, OH. My traveling companion for this long run to the west coast and back was artist and fabricator Joshua Shaw, also from Cincinnati.
Wade Hughes (kneeling at the...
Wade Hughes (kneeling at the front of the car), with a lot of help from these other fellows, did an amazing job of finishing and painting our '36 Chevy sedan. Wade's specialty is the hot Ohio-style flames. They look great on our Road Tour ride!
Cincy Street Rods and Wade...
Cincy Street Rods and Wade had organized an NSRA Appreciation Day to coincide with our send-off. Our sedan passed the 23-point inspection with no problems.
Our first night on the road...
Our first night on the road we experienced a problem: the passenger-side rear axle bearing went out. Road Tour luck would have it that we were only about 10 miles from Vernon Walker's home. We used his restored '60s Texaco station to make the repairs.
Sunrise was a beautiful sight...
Sunrise was a beautiful sight outside of Van Horn, TX. We had traveled 950 miles the previous day and had come up just a little short of our goal of El Paso.
We made our first Road Show...
We made our first Road Show stop of the 2001 season at our friends shop in Chatsworth, CA: California Car Cover Company. Jim DeFrank and his staff always roll out the red carpet when we stop. The food was excellent!
The folks at California Car...
The folks at California Car Cover Company (CCCC) have built a beautiful showroom to display their wide range of products. Besides their famous car covers, dusters, and water blades, CCCC carries a line of truck and SUV accessories and very cool automotive collectibles.
It was a quick trip over the...
It was a quick trip over the mountains north of Los Angeles to our destination of Bakersfield, CA. Our Road Show stop in Bakersfield was at Goldeez Hot Rod Products: "America's One-Stop Hot Rod Shop."
At the counter at Goldeez...
At the counter at Goldeez is owner Bruce Goldsmith, Dusty Colvard on the left, and Andrew Tabangcora on the right. Goldeez offers just about anything you could need to build and service your street rod right!
We made it! The 2,400-mile...
We made it! The 2,400-mile trip from Cincinnati to the West Coast Nationals had its share of adventure but with some help we arrived safe and sound. We were busy all weekend long as everyone was anxious to sign up to win our '36 Chevy sedan at the end of the season.
As soon as the awards ceremonies...
As soon as the awards ceremonies came to a close on Sunday in Bakersfield, Joshua and I headed back east. Near Edwards Air Force Base on Rt. 58 between Bakersfield and Barstow, the Amargo Cruisers Car Club had set up a refreshment stop at a rest area for folks traveling from the West Coast Nationals. Great idea!
Things were going well and...
Things were going well and the '36 was running smoothly. We decided to take some time out for sightseeing. About 70 miles north of I-40 is the big ditch known as the Grand Canyon. No matter how many times you see it, it always takes your breath away!
With a NASCAR race in California...
With a NASCAR race in California the previous weekend and the next race in Richmond, VA, the following weekend, our travelling companions across the country were the big rigs of the NASCAR Series. These truck drivers have a Road Tour of their own each season.
You have probably heard the...
You have probably heard the song or the stories, but if you get a chance stop and see the Cadillac Ranch (just west of Amarillo, TX). There are no hours, no admission, and graffiti is encouraged. Don't ask why because I don't think there is an explanation. It is just 10 Cadillacs buried in the ground.
I have stopped here before...
I have stopped here before and this is one of the greatest old gas stations I have ever seen. Located just off I-40 in Shamrock, TX, just west of the Oklahoma State line, this old Conoco gas station is soon to be restored with a grant from the State of Texas.
Always a huge gathering, the...
Always a huge gathering, the Open House at Lokar before the Nationals South has become a Knoxville tradition. More than 600 street rods were in attendance for this year's festivities.
Mission accomplished! When...
Mission accomplished! When we drove on to the grounds at the Nats South in Knoxville, we had traveled 5,700 miles in 11 days with the three-day West Coast Nationals in the middle. The '36 Chevy sedan is running fine. It's going to be a great Road Tour summer!