Dad’s Memory Lives In This 1938 Chevrolet Master

Last summer, Mr. Beamer emailed me the following tale. By the second line, I was hooked by his direct but plain language that so eloquently communicated not just the who, what, and where but also the emotions behind the facts—rare, even among professional writers. We endeavor to present Member Stories as they were sent to us, editing only for clarity, length, and style, but we loved Beamer’s original prose so much that we’re presenting it in its entirety. Let me know what you think. — Larry

My father bought this ’38 Chevy when I was one year old. I would call it mine but in my mind it will always be his.

Dad's Memory Lives In This 1938 Chevrolet Master

He left the Virginia farm at 17, in 1956, for the Army. When he was discharged in 1959, he had saved enough money to marry my Momma and buy a new Impala. 348 with three deuces, three-speed, and Posi-Traction.

He told me he knew so little about cars, the first time he tried to change the oil, he screwed out the drain plug in the transmission. Pisser. Over the next few years, he sure educated himself. Soon the Impala had a 409 with two fours, a four-speed, and 4.56 gears. Drag racing was his thing. He had a ’59 El Camino he used to tow Impala to the track. Transmission came out of the El Camino one night coming up Fancy Gap Mountain, so he fired the Impala up and with the help of Roby Felts steering pushed it home.

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He used to ride around on weekends looking for parts he could use or make a dollar on. Junkyards and garages. One weekend, he saw this ’38 Chevy sitting at Lucky Carson’s garage with no motor. He knew the car from drag strips, probably Farmington or East Bend. Lucky priced it to Daddy for $225. Sounds cheap today, but the man only made a dollar an hour at a local knitting plant that closed about 40 years ago. The car still had its original paint.

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He and Momma went back the next week with his money, and some he had borrowed from friends. Lucky said he’d changed his mind and wasn’t interested in selling the car. Daddy said he was there for the car and Lucky was a man of his word so he started writing a receipt. Daddy said he had $200 in what we used to call a trucker’s wallet, which was attached to him with a chain, and the other $25 in a money clip. He gave Lucky the $200 and was reaching for the $25 when he saw Lucky write the price of $200 on the ticket, so he kept the other $25 in his pocket. Money has always been hard to come by. My dad was an honest man, but that’s how he bought the car. He and Lucky were friends and I know had a few laughs about it later.

They towed the coupe home and soon it was hitting the tracks with a 409 and two fours. It evolved to have a 375-hp 396. I was riding shotgun on a warm-up pass when the big block dropped a valve.

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That ended its racing career. Daddy had plans and bought a mid-’60s Vette to build a better dragster. The coupe was not ignored. He thought it too nice of a car to ruin on a drag strip, so he went to work making it what I guess we now call a street rod. New 370-hp 350 LT-1 with angle-plug heads, Crane roller valvetrain, and tunnel ram. Interior benefited from the remains of a ’67 SS Chevelle. In its day, for our part of the world, it was showworthy. Then it mostly sat.

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I always claimed it as my car. During and after high school, I had some pretty good hot rods, but in the mid-’80s I was lured away by the speed of motorcycles and stayed there for about 20 years. Fast forward and commitments keep me from killing myself having fun, and Daddy thinks what I really have always thought about as my car needs to move. I told him knowing what it might be worth I couldn’t afford to buy it.

One day in the mid-2000s, I was working on the farm and I saw his rollback coming down the road with the coupe riding along. It needed some work and it took a while, but I got it up to spec. He was proud of it. When I had it about right, a few years ago, we went riding around on Father’s Day.

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I don’t have my father anymore but I sure understand how he felt as a younger man, and his need for speed.

I need to wipe away a few tears now. I’d been thinking about sending you this but didn’t know how to send you the pictures I wanted you to have. I had an accident and have been broke down for a couple of months.

I’m rolling the dice and hitting send before I sober up.

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