Fifty years ago the Kelley Hotel in the 200 block of South Washington was a popular stop for coffee drinkers each morning.
One day Bob Walden and his father-in-law, Willard Horde, finished sipping and drove down a nearby alley.
“What do you think?” Horde asked of Walden, who had his heart set on finding an old Studebaker coupe to rebuild.
Walden didn’t think much of a 1952 Studebaker pickup truck that had seen better days.
“I bought it for you,” Hoard beamed.
Walden accepted the gift — and then stored it in a garage for the next 37 years.
Finally, Walden decided to do something with the truck and enlisted former Iola High classmate Jim West to turn the sow’s ear into a silk purse.
Saturday morning, for the third or fourth time since its overhaul to better than new condition, the Studebaker pickup truck was a crowd-pleasing, gleaming entry in Iola Rotary Club’s Neil Westervelt Memorial Car Show in Riverside Park.
The car show and barbecue cook-off were major attractions to kick off the annual Allen County Fair.
“My grandson, Drew (Walden), wanted a project,” which was the genesis of the pickup’s renovation, Walden said. “But, if you want to know about it, talk to Jim (West). He did all the work — painted it and put in the engine.”
West said the “project” was four or five years in completing, with his work interrupted by heart surgery. He finished last year.
The truck, which spent most of it work life on a farm, often had been used to tote bales of hay, a chore accentuated by dents in the cab’s roof where farmhands sat as the truck crept from one bale to another in meadows.
The power train is much improved over the original, with a 350-cubic-inch Chevrolet engine and transmission. West added tilt steering wheel, power steering and installed an oak bed behind the cab. The front end came from a Ford Mustang.
However, the body is original.
“It had some rust, but not too much,” West said, “and the steel body was substantial enough — much more than today — so I could do something with it.
“It’s a solid old truck,” he concluded.
And one that doesn’t spend its time sequestered in a dark garage between car shows.
“I wanted to drive it around town, and I do,” Walden said.
A companion vehicle Walden has from the 1950s is a 1953 Studebaker coupe — he eventually got his wish in it being a replica of a car he had during his high school days.
“I had it redone about 10 years ago,” Walden said of the dark-colored beauty, “and it’s time to have it redone,” as he pointed to a couple of small but not too noticeable blemishes.
THIS YEAR’S CAR show drew nearly 50 entries, down a little from last year’s 83.
Other shows and activities, as well as a weather forecast of an afternoon high of about 100 degrees, likely had roles in keeping numbers down a bit.
Even so, Rotarians were pleased with the quality of cars, trucks and other vehicles that filled most of the grass area in the south part of Riverside Park’s main picnic ground.
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