Workhorse Woodies

These days Woodies are collector cars restored to pristine condition. This wasn’t always the case. There was a time when Woodies were filled with ladders, lumber, bags of cement and buckets of paint. This is a tale of those strange old days.

I’ve owned four Woodies. All Fords. A ’49, two ’50s, and a ’51. All earned their keep.

In college I bought a ’40 Ford sedan, and had my 1st experience with a used car salesmen. I called a car lot about a $300, ’40 Ford, advertised. “Yes, they still had it.”

When I got there “It had been sold, this morning”. I walked around the corner to a phone, and called again.

“Yes, we still have it.”

“Who is this?”

“This is Cliff.”

I returned and asked for Cliff. Surprised, but not the least bit embarrassed, he said  their secretary bought it. But they KNEW that she would sell it for $400. They even had the paperwork ready. That’s how I bought my first $300 car for $400. Bait and switch.

Now it’s worth $45,000.

After returning from the Korean ‘Police Action,’ priorities changed and I became an avid do-it-yourselfer and needed to haul materials. A wagon was the right thing. They were better than a pickup and perfect for vacations and camping. I found a ’49 Ford for $300. The wood had been painted grey to hide the bad spots. I filled them with Durham’s Rock Hard Water Putty.

Those Ford wagons had the most amazing design flaw imaginable. There was only 47 1/2” between the wheel wells. A sheet of plywood or wallboard is 48”. I had to cut the rubber cover off the wheel wells, and hammer the sides out to get 48 1/2” clear. Now plywood and wallboard would lay flat. I also made the back of the front passenger seat removable. Now I could slide a 16’ board all the way to the firewall. I lined the tail light housings with aluminum foil to increase brightness. I ran the wheels off it and then junked it for $50.

The next was a ’50, for $250. A year later, I found $100 dollars under the rear floor mat. A real bargain. I ran it till the rings were so bad, that I used 60-wt. oil. Then a mix of 60-wt. and STP. There were no smog laws and smokers were common sight. It went to the junkyard. The next was a’49, with wood so good I took it off and stored it. I drove a ‘Wood-less” for years. I found some thin aluminum litho sheets to replace the wood. It looked like the Graf Zeppelin.

The last was a ’51 on the back of a used car lot for $200. When the salesman started it up it ran so rough he apologized. I looked under the hood and thought; “I bet the spark plug wires are crossed.” I coughed my way home and switched two plug wires. It purred like a kitten. I sold it years later for the same $200.

No one cared about old woodies. You threw them away and got another one. Who would believe that they would go for $90,000 in years to come? Not I, that’s for sure.

(originally written July 17, 1998)

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