In the community

Vintage cars shine in spotlight at annual Four Rivers showcase

Michael Johnson adjusts a wire on the battery for his 1969 Chevy pickup at a car show at Four Rivers Cultural Center Saturday. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell)

ONTARIO – Listen to Don Wilson and you hear a passion for cars. 

He talks of hot rods with engines donned in chrome. Memories of thunder runs on hard asphalt echo in his words. 

Saturday at the Four Rivers Cultural Center Car Show, Wilson, who organized the event, nodded toward the 33 restored classic cars and smiled.

“This keeps me young,” he said.

His own pride, a white 1936 Chevrolet coupe, stood near the big picture window inside the center.

“I got it on the road in 2000,” said Wilson.

Wilson said he put a new engine in the car – a 350 Chevrolet – and a “Nova, 10-bolt rear end.”

Wilson said he’s put a lot of money – about $30,000 – into his car.

“I worked on it to where I could drive it. But they are never done,” he said.

The vehicles – pickups and cars, Mustangs, Dodge Demons, Chevrolets – were an expanse of multi-colored labors of love. They shine with polished grandeur and for some not only represent pride but a special kind of therapy.

Ontario resident Michael Johnson bought his 1969 light blue Chevy C-10 half ton step-side in 1997. Back then it was an old farm truck, battered and bent. Johnson, though, said he saw potential.

“Its my pride and joy,” said Johnson.

Johnson, a Gulf War veteran, said he spent about $59,000 on his restoration efforts. 

Johnson said his renovation work on the truck was piece by piece and weekend by weekend. When he collected extra money – such as a tax refund – he poured cash into the truck.

To garner ideas for his restoration, he checked out hot rod magazines or traveled to car shows. 

“When I bought it, it had a straight six, four speed in it,” he said.

Johnson eventually gathered enough money to replace the engine and then kept adding new parts and features.

The work, he said, was important for his mental health.

“It is kind of like therapy. You get out there in the garage and it’s just you and the truck. You make it work, you massage it, you clean it and then you get to drive it,” said Johnson.

Johnson said one of the best parts is to show off the truck.

“People love this truck. So, I did this for me and it’s nice to take this truck out and let people see it,” he said.

He said the car shows and the never-ending touch-up work on the truck helps him “get to the next weekend.”

Matt Stringer, executive director of Four Rivers Cultural Center, said the car show has been on the late-winter schedule for nine years. 

Out on the foyer of the cultural center Wilson watched as people milled around the vintage trucks and cars and motorcycles. He talked about his own vehicle and the allure of classic cars.

Memories intrude on the Army veteran. He remembers, he said, when he was a teenager “everybody had a street rod.”

“I have a lot of people help me. But you know what? I enjoy this,” he said.

Then he looked out across the expanse of cars.

“This keeps me active,” he said.

There were plenty of classic cars at the show. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell)

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected] or 541-473-3377. 

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