If you work on cars, then you’re probably fully aware of the axiom that you spend half your time looking for the parts or tools that you know you have. You know because you put them in place where you know you’d remember where they are. Except that now you can’t remember the location of that special place. You’ll find them – eventually. But if you need them quickly, you also know that you might have to go buy that part or tool again and as soon as you lay your money down the original tool will arise out of that bin of lost parts. It’s inevitable.
I’ve learned that in order to find some things, I have to stop looking for them. They will show up eventually. So the other day, my wife wanted me to sort through a large collection of old t-shirts and put them into three piles – ones that I will wear in public, ones that I wear in the shop that are already oil-stained, and the third which are now destined to be used as rags on their way to the trash bin.
It seems I own very few shirts that don’t have a company logo on them. It’s an essential component of the automotive aftermarket that one of the first things any company does is to create a t-shirt or hat to advertise its product. Think of it as social media before the age of cell phones. Somehow I have accumulated a ton of these shirts – more than I can ever wear and a few I have literally worn out. But in the archeological dig into the t-shirt shelf, I uncovered far more. Buried under all these cotton blends, I discovered a pile of gold I’d forgotten I had owned. It was a collection of belt buckles from between 30-40 years ago.
No, I did not win any of these in a rodeo. A couple push all the way back to my one summer working on the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad when I was a track laborer pulling spikes all day on a work gang. Our task was to replace old railroad ties in the eastbound side of the main line that ran next to Highway 30, the original transcontinental highway, in its span across Iowa. While it sounds like this might be a scene out of the movie Cool Hand Luke, it was a great summer job story that I’ll save for some other time.
The pewter buckles that really got my attention however were three Car Craft Street Machine Nationals belt buckles from 1979, 1980, and 1982. The show in Indianapolis at the Indiana State fairgrounds in 1979 was my first Nationals, my first road trip for the magazine, and my first introduction to several people who later were to become my friends. I actually dug up four 1979 belt buckles – two of which were still in their original cardboard containers – uncirculated and still relatively shiny. I immediately thought of friends who I knew were there in 1979.
I don’t remember meeting Scott Sullivan or Matt and Debbie Hay until much later but I know that both of them were there to take part in the craziness. Scott drove his ’67 Chevy II into the fairgrounds that year and all three of the big magazines shot his car for features. Many people have acknowledged that car as the true beginnings of Pro Street as it packaged all of the requisite features of the prototype Pro Streeter. It had huge rear tires stuffed inside giant wheel tubs, an excellent stance, a 6-71 GMC blower, and a pair of Holley carburetors sticking through the hood. It also sported what would become a readily-identifiable Scott Sullivan paint jobs with supporting graphics. The Chevy II still exists in its original condition after Scott sold it to his buddy “Rhode Island Ronnie” Iannotti.
Matt and Debbie Hay were also there driving a small-block Chevy-powered Mustang of all things. I’ve talked to Matt about this and he and Debbie were only dating at the time, but she borrowed money to help him finish the car. Of course, since then, they’ve built a number of iconic Pro Street cars and in 2013 resurrected their pink Pro Street supercharged T-bird and brought it to the Street Machine Nationals reunion in Du Quoin. My favorite photo from that buildup was a shot Matt said his daughter took of this trail of pink paint dust extending out from the closed garage door after a full day of sanding. To me, that really said it all. Matt and Debbie are still very much together and still among the most gracious and wonderful car people that I call friends.
So I just package up these two belt buckles and sent them off to Scott and Matt and Debbie. Maybe it will trigger a few fun memories. I know it did for me.