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South Williamsport, PA
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Cars, Patriots and Freedom

From the time I was a teenager, my Aunt Wilma and Uncle Mitch co-founded and operated the spring/fall Turlock Swap Meet in — wait for it, Turlock, CA. Around 2008, I flew to their home in Idaho to attend the swap meet for the very first time. I drove about eight hours with them to

From the time I was a teenager, my Aunt Wilma and Uncle Mitch co-founded and operated the spring/fall Turlock Swap Meet in — wait for it, Turlock, CA. Around 2008, I flew to their home in Idaho to attend the swap meet for the very first time. I drove about eight hours with them to Galt, CA; this was the first time I met Ed and Cindy. ‘Big Ed from Merced’ as he was called, lived up to that nickname in many ways. He is 6′ 8” and larger than life. Over the next ten years, I made numerous trips, spring & fall to stay with them and to attend the Swap meet, helping Mitch and Wilma in numerous tasks from lining out the swap meet spaces, collecting money and tickets to guarding the cash. I looked forward every six months not only to taking a week’s vacation but to seeing the regular attendees and of course spend time with ‘Big Ed’ and his wife. Ed and Cindy live about an hour north of Turlock, so this was always the first stop on the trip.

Ed is a retired Air Force Lt. Colonel who flew over 100 Combat missions in Vietnam. Originally from Oregon, he spent some time traveling the western United States before settling in California during his last duty assignment. I always enjoyed staying at his house and listening to anything he would talk about. Their home is part car museum, part military history memorial. Ed’s father was also a pilot, and flew combat missions in WWII. Everything from pictures and paintings of WW II era to Vietnam era warplanes fills the halls and walls. In addition, there are flight helmets, medals, photos, and awards. It was during these visits and side trips to see his friends I started to realize there was a correlation between veterans and car collectors — especially pilots. Most pilots spend a considerable amount of time going very fast in the air and want to continue that feeling on land. There is also a large amount of patriotism among car buffs. Many car shows still display the flag, play the anthem at events, and also honor veterans. To say Ed is a patriot is an understatement. In fact, he has been known to drive one of his red Chevy convertibles in Veterans Day parades wearing his original flight suit with helmet and facemask.

During my almost six years of attending the Turlock Swap meet, I also met two other veterans that both setup swap meet spaces at all the events. Mr. Bacon was a small gentleman that was in his late 80s, but still sharp as a tack. He sold reproduction Mustang parts for mid-60s to early 70s Mustangs. Mr. Bacon was a Pearl Harbor survivor, and after speaking with him several times, he would only say that no one — let alone a 19-year-old — should ever see the horrors he experienced. What I learned and took away from Mr. Bacon was that no matter what you have been through, there is always a way to move forward and enjoy life and that is just what he did. Everyone at the swap meet knew him, and he was a friend to all. The second veteran I remember from Turlock was Mr. Mack, an African American who was in his mid-90s. Age didn’t stop Mr. Mack, and I would always try to find him and help him unload his truck in order to make his day easier — even though he could have done it himself. It was during a visit with Mr. Mack that I thought I would buy something from him in order for me to remember him. It was at this time I started my Chevrolet dealer plate collection with my purchase from him. He also never spoke much about his time in WWII other than that he went there to fight so his family didn’t have to fight them here; I have heard that same statement from several veterans.

My visits to Ed and Cindy’s are always a chance to talk cars, look at cars, and of course, see other car collections of their friends. Ed’s primary focus was always Tri-Five (‘55-’57) Chevys, and he has some beauties! Convertibles, two-door hardtops, Bel Airs and one in my favorite color combination — India Ivory/Tropical Turquoise. Like many car collectors, their collection stems from the cars they loved as a kid but could never afford. Ed’s next love, by my estimation, has to be ’63-67 Corvettes, followed closely by the ‘bubble top,’ 1962 Chevy Bel Air. In 2015, when I was ready to purchase my first Corvette, I bought a ’73 Coupe from Ed — he not only gave me the “family discount,” but had the car went over and everything fixed in order to ensure I got a good one. It was not only a great joy to buy my first Corvette, but to own one of his made it even more memorable.

Each year, Ed and I would climb into his Suburban and travel the back country roads to see his friends. Joe lived close by and owned a ‘49 Lincoln he built and customized himself as a tribute to his daughter that was killed in a traffic accident. The mural on the rear deck lid is the best I have ever laid eyes on; it is a picture of his daughter at around six years old and 16. ‘Burnout Bill’, as his friends call him, is also a Vietnam veteran who got the nickname from the tire burnout picnics he holds each year, the only requirement is you do a burnout coming in and leaving his long driveway. ‘Hemi’ is one of the most colorful characters of the entire bunch. You could estimate he got his nickname from several things — the fact he looks like Hemingway or his love for Hemi powered Dodge vehicles, but it is actually just a short form of his last name. Hemi has so many cars and storage units that he has actually lost cars for several years. A recent visit to Greg’s proved to be one I will not forget, not only does Greg have several old cars but in his garage, he has a walk-in gun vault. Now this may not be too unusual but keep in mind, it’s in CA, so when Greg asked if I wanted to shoot anything, I figured I better not pass up this rare chance, so I shot his Ruger Super Redhawk pistol.

Nights are always spent at Uncle Ed’s playing his vintage jukebox, singing along to 50’s and 60’s rock and roll and country classics with an occasional guitar solo by Ed. It is very true that car collectors always buy what they wanted when they were ‘kids’ and in some cases, these ‘kids’ never really grew up. They may have fought in wars, performed acts of heroism as teenagers or young adults but when they got back, they just wanted to be normal. They wanted to get back to enjoying their freedom and that included buying, collecting and restoring cars and selling, searching for and trading parts. But most of all, no matter where or when, these men always honor the fallen, and support the veterans. That, combined with their personal service and sacrifice, makes them true patriots in my eyes!

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  • Hemi
    March 2, 2019, 8:50 pm