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1955 Chevrolet Bel-Air
When General Motors designed the "Chevrolet Bel-Air" they hit the nail on the head. There had never been a car produced that would capture the buyers of all ages like the Bel-Air. It was a major departure from the body styles that would be the 49s through the early 54s. Looking back it was a very practical well built car with lots of leg room and would seat six adults. As the years would roll by the new term "aerodynamics" would start to rule the automotive design of all cars. It would be in the 60s that the personality would start to fade. Those of us who grew up in that area considered it the start of Classic Cars.
Just in case you haven’t noticed, we live in a very dry climate. Even our skin and hair are dry and this time of the year, the humidifier runs constantly. Well, this dryness takes its toll on our cars too. If you notice those little cracks along the sidewalls of your tires that run into the tread, it means just one thing… dry rot. And dry rot doesn’t just happen to your tires, anything rubber or vinyl is a prime target. These materials naturally degrade over a period of years depending on climate, temperature and humidity. How you store your vehicle can either help or delay this process. With tires, the air pressure inside your tires is also a determining factor. The common denominator in all these products is oil. As the oils in the rubber and vinyl begin to evaporate, the dry rot process begins.
So what can you do to prevent this happening to your classic car? First, drive that car often, especially during the winter storage period. Drive it at least once per month and more often if you can. Pick a nice day when there is little or no moisture on the pavement and put as many miles on the car as you can. Get the tires up to highway speed and let the rubber compounds heat up. This helps prevent dry rot and gets the oil compounds circulating in the tires. Also, keep those tires up to rated pressure. Under-inflated tires seem to crack and decompose more quickly.
Where you store your car makes a difference. Storing a car near excessive heat or in direct sunlight will speed up the deterioration process. Also, try getting your tires off the cement. Just driving onto boards can make a difference, but be sure not to use treated lumber. The chemicals in treated lumber could possibly react with the chemicals in your tires over a long period of time.
For the inside vinyl, regularly using a good vinyl or leather cleaner and sealer will help keep the moisture in place. Door panels, dash boards, seats and consoles all need to be cleaned and treated on a regular basis. Rubber seals and trim should also be treated to keep them soft and pliable.
Years ago, a doctor friend was discussing the aging process. When someone asked how he was doing…he jokingly said…he was in a constant state of deterioration. Well, that is true of both people and cars. How well and how often we do maintenance on ourselves and our vehicles can determine how long we and the vehicle last. Another one of the doctor’s favorite saying was…”I would rather wear out than rust out.” If exercise is great for the body then the same holds true for cars too. So the best prescription for a long life for us and for our cars may be a good dose of preventative maintenance and regular exercise.
Top 25 Cars
Modern classics, built in the 1980s and later are the classic car market’s strongest segment according to this month’s Hagerty Vehicle Rating. Click here to see the latest list. Courtesy Hagerty.com
Bottom 25 Cars
The collector car market has been superheated over the last 24 months, but certain classics seem to have cooled considerably. In fact, the bottom 25 cars in this month’s Hagerty Vehicle Rating include plenty of familiar faces. Click here to see the list Courtesy Hagerty.com
Built Ford Tough: A Flathead V-8 Rebuild Time-lapse Video
Now in my 80,s It seems like just yesterday that I was young, only 22, married and on our family farm with my new bride. Yet in a way, it seems like eons ago, and I wonder where all the years have gone. I know that I lived them well. I have glimpses of how it was back then and with all my hopes and dreams. But, here it is ... the Autumn of my life and it catches me by surprise .. How did I get here so fast ?
Where did the years go and where did my youth go ?
I remember well seeing older people through the years and thinking that those older people were light years away from me and that autumn was so far off that I could not fathom it or imagine fully what it would be like. But, here it is ... my friends are retiring and most of them are now gray or even bald, they seem to move slower as I see an older person within me. Some are in better health and some are worse shape than me... but, I do see the great change. Not like the ones that I remember who were young and vibrant, but like me, their age is beginning to show and we are now those older folks that we used to see and never thought we'd be. A nap looks better all the time, if I sit down I find myself falling asleep so easy and remembering the long hours in the fields and the rewards of bringing in the harvest.
And so, now that I enter into this new season of my life unprepared for all the aches and pains and the loss of strength and the ability to go and do things that I wish I had done but never did.
But at least I know, that though my autumn has arrived, and I'm not sure how long this will last, this I know when its over on this earth, it's not really over. A new adventure will begin in Heaven.
Yes, I have regrets, there are things I wish I had done and many things that I hope to finish within this lifetime of mine.
Life goes by so fast , don't delay any longer, tell your wife you love her and do so with each of your children. I have never missed a day that I have not kissed my wife and told her that I love her as we are now going on 58 years and counting. Should the day ever come that I do not return home, I will have lived this life with my very best friend ... my wife.
Copyright cmyryd 2016
By Duane Demars
Growing Up With Cars Of The Past ...
Part one in a series...
Introduction of the automobile in the early days of our nation proved to show that we are a nation of pioneers. Driving in the cold, rain, snow and every type of adverse conditions with no heat and only curtains to protect your family we proved that we are a strong people. The first cars were purchased as toys for the rich, they were to segregate those both with and without money at a glance. Those who purchased cars in 1903 or 1904 did so at a time when just twenty-two Buicks were made. The ultra rich soon found out
just how difficult and scary it was to operate an ill smelling contraption that made clouds of smoke followed up with dust everywhere. To make all this easier the passengers wore goggles, dusters, driving gloves and many times a buffalo robe to cover their legs.
Henry Ford had a clear vision of what the future would hold for the American family and the type of cars that it would take to achieve this goal. He did just this with his vision "a car for the great multitude". By 1918 the "Model T" was produced with a price tag of only $850, by the time the production was smoothed out Henry Ford was able to drop the retail price to $250 by 1922. By this time more buyers in the middle class were driving cars. By 1920 the horse was taking a vacation as the motor car has taken the place of the horse and buggy nation wide. The cars were here however the roads were still gravel and very little pavement. By 1913 a new highway from coast to coast, it would be called the Lincoln Highway and would stretch for 3,300 miles although it would have dirt, gravel and a bit of pavement. Bridges were just one lane only. Gas stations started to spring across America with attendants to put gas in your car, check the air in your tires and wash your windows making you eel like a king & queen. By 1930 you could pull into a hamburger stand for lunch. The most famous highway was Route 66, a movie was made about it and many parts of it are still open. In 1934 our federal highway authorities would design a new highway system to move cars from coast to coast with out delay. Traffic would be slowed in 1942 when production would stop due to World War II, it would be 1947 by the time cars would start coming off the production line again. By 1947 cars had increased in value to about $1200.
SEMA Opposes New Regulation Prohibiting Conversion of Vehicles into Racecars
SEMA Opposes Regulation Prohibiting Conversion of Vehicles into Racecars. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is aiming to make it illegal for you to convert automobiles originally designed for on-road use into racecars, even though such conversions have been done for decades. Under the EPA’s proposed rule, it would also be illegal to sell any performance-related products for those cars. The EPA’s proposal would have a devastating impact on motorsports since many types of racing rely on production vehicles that have been modified for use strictly at the track.
Please sign the White House Petitionasking the EPA to withdraw its proposal. We need 100,000 signatures in 30 days, so don’t delay! Add your voice now and forward to your friends. Stop the EPA from making racecars illegal!
SEMA is working with all stakeholder groups to oppose the regulation through the administrative process and will seek congressional support and judicial intervention as necessary. Courtesy SEMA Action Network
New Law Enables Hobbyists to Purchase Turn-Key Replica Cars
Thanks to a new SAN-supported federal law, enthusiasts who want to own a replica car will soon have the option of purchasing a completed turn-key vehicle from the manufacturer. Hobbyists who want to install an engine in a kit car or build their own specialty constructed vehicle are still permitted to do so.
Thank you to all who participated in supporting this bill.
Details on the New Law
• Beginning in 2017, low volume manufacturers (up to 5,000 motor vehicles a year global production) will have the option of selling up to 325 completed replica vehicles in the U.S. each year.
• A replica is a vehicle that resembles the body of another motor vehicle produced at least 25 years ago (ex: ’32 Roadster, ’65 Cobra, etc.).
• Previously, companies were unable to sell turn-key cars since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) regulated these vehicles as if they were current model year vehicles, not vintage cars.
• The new law treats these replicas the same as kit cars, subject to certain equipment standards (lighting, tires, windshields, brake hoses, etc.), recalls and remedies but not vehicle standards (roof crush, side impact, etc.).
• Replica vehicles produced by the companies will have a current model year engine package certified by the EPA or California Air Resources Board and are exempt from emissions testing. (Enthusiasts building kits will still have the option of installing engines of their choice.)
• For information on how your home state regulates kit cars and replicas, please visit the SAN’s “Tag & Title Toolbox.”
• NHTSA and the EPA have one year to issue regulations to implement the new program. The SAN will work with these agencies to speed the process. Courtesy SEMA ACTION NETWORK
"Major" Daniel George Peckinpaw Miller
If you’ve been around Billings for any length of time, you’ve seen or heard Major Dan Miller. He’s a radio legend who’s career began on the old KOOK Radio station back in 1958. He’s one of the few radio broadcasters who started his career in our town and stayed for the duration. He never abandoned us for a bigger market and a bigger paycheck, and he’s been a morning institution for as long as I can remember.
But Dan has always worked hard to be the best. You probably remember him piloting the KOOK hot air balloon, doing remote broadcasts from nearly every business in town, and earning his “Major” in a one-of-a-kind rocket launch that had everyone in town talking. But Dan has made his mark outside our community too. In 1971, he received Billboard Magazine’s national “Radio Personality of the Year Award; and was inducted into the Montana Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame in 2004. Recently, the Greater Montana Foundation interviewed Dan as part of their Legacy Broadcaster Campaign, recognizing local Montana Broadcasters who have made a difference in their communities and state.
But there is no rest for a guy who just refuses to ride off in the sunset. You can watch Major Dan’s Great Gold on Community 7 Public Television each week and catch him every Saturday morning on MoJo 92.5 FM. Each Labor Day weekend, Dan MC’s the Burn the Point parade and calls out each classic car as it passes on the parade route.
Recently, Billings businessman Bill Simmons from MasterLUBE stores commissioned a video produced by Cinematographer David Scott Smith that salutes Dan’s great career and gives you an inside look into his man and his life. Click Here to watch. You won’t be disappointed.
Hagerty’s Swap to Street Challenge: 4 Gearheads. 100 Hours. 1 Epic Build
These are coffee table books to bring back memories of our past. Every car has a story to tell, that is what we have done. Books are top quality in every respect. We hope you will enjoy them. Click on the "Shop" link and use Pay Pal
You may also call Duane Demars 406-855-4422 to get a signed copy.
Rare Cadillac debuts at Burn the Point
Al Giddings is back, this time with an eye catching Cadillac at the 2015 Burn the Point Car Show. Story and video courtesy KTVQ.comClick here
Dream Cruise Reunion For a ’Vette and an Owner
By: Paul Stenquist
The Woodward Dream Cruise, an annual automotive festival in Metro Detroit that draws about a million spectators and tens of thousands of hot rods, muscle cars and classics, is a consistent source of feel-good stories. Perhaps the best from this year, the event’s 21st edition, was that of George Talley and his silver Corvette.
On the morning of the cruise, General Motors presented Talley with the keys to a 1979 Corvette – his own car, which had been stolen in 1981, recovered 33 years later and then refurbished this year.
Talley, 72, a former GM employee who has owned four Corvettes, said that he never expected to get the car back after thieves swiped it off the street decades ago. But in June 2014, authorities in Michigan noticed that two Corvettes were registered under the same vehicle identification number, one in Mississippi and one in Michigan. The Mississippi Corvette’s engine number revealed it to be Talley’s long-lost car. When told that the car had been found, Talley said, he thought it was a joke.
The story attracted press attention, and Talley was interviewed on a Detroit radio station. Mark Reuss, GM’s product development chief, heard the broadcast and offered to ship the car back to Detroit.
Reuss was true to his word, and the car was returned to Talley. But with a destroyed interior, bad brakes and serious corrosion throughout, it was not the car Talley remembered. Nevertheless, he drove it a bit before putting it in storage for the winter.
“This past spring I wrote a letter to Mark Reuss and asked him to help me restore it,” Talley said in a phone interview. “I’m retired; I wanted it to be safe and look good.”
GM again came to the rescue. The car was taken to the automaker’s Heritage Center in Sterling Heights, Mich., in June. There, the facilities manager, Greg Wallace, treated Talley’s Corvette to a makeover. GM management asked Wallace if he could have the car ready for the Dream Cruise on Aug. 15. It would prove to be a challenge, given the car’s condition.
“It appeared to have been underwater at some time,” Wallace said. “It had weird rust, including a rotted-out ashtray and cigarette lighter. The brake lines were badly corroded, as were the steel door bottoms. The interior was shredded and water-damaged.”
Wallace and his crew buckled down to the task. All of the brake components were replaced, as were the tires. A new interior was installed, and the engine was cleaned, painted and tuned. Autometrics of Centerline, Mich., painted the body and buffed it to a shine like it never had before.
Two months of 16-to-20-hour days had the car ready to be unveiled on Dream Cruise Saturday, and it spent much of the day in the Chevrolet exhibit, though Talley managed to put a few Woodward Avenue miles on it as well.
If you have a son or daughter to help you with this project you are among the luckiest parents in the world. This can be the greatest father, son or father, daughter time you will ever have plus they will respect what they helped build. The body will be the most challenging part of the whole restoration. Let’s talk glass for a moment. Cars produced between 1904 and 1919 did not have safety glass. In a collision, the shattered glass would cause serious facial cuts. The term “glass necklace” was common when an accident occurred. Older cars had problems with the plastic between the layers yellowing- there is not any solution available other than replacement. If you are doing the body yourself, don’t get discouraged. Remember, it’s just a piece of metal and you have control of it. I have spent days on just one fender, sat back and felt I had it as good as it was possible. Yes I was proud of myself only to have a good friend who is a body man rub his hand over it and tell me there is still a lot of work that has to be done. I just swallowed my pride and asked him to do his magic. Every new weld must be sanded taking special care to look for any weak spot that must be addressed. If at this point the body is ready for the next big step you will want to talk to the person who will be the one to shoot the base material. The primer you apply is the foundation for how your dream machine will look. Good primer and its application will not be cheap to apply and will also take many hours of sanding. Safety must come first, with the sanding dust being so fine you will have to wear a good face mask. Consult your
local automotive paint tech for the quality of mask that is best to use. Look at it this way, if you are building a new garage for your classic ,the foundation must be laid right. Certain paints require certain types of primer. If the paint you will use costs $2000 a gallon you for sure are not going to use a can of $15 primer. Body mud over time will crack- it may take five years. This tells us to keep it as thin as we can. Remember there are different qualities of mud also, use the best. Now that we have a good solid foundation and we think we are ready for paint, go over every inch again. If you were writing a book you would get several people to proof read it before you go to print. Your car body is the same thing. Now is the time to see if anything else needs attention. At last you are ready for the paint booth, or are you? Make sure you have consulted the highest
authority as you choose the color. I found out the hard way. Now I ask my wife what she thinks of the color I chose. I will give her the colors I like and then negotiate from there. It works every time and I end up with a happy camper and most of the time the color I wanted from the start. Now with the body and front clip painted we now can see light at the end of the tunnel. Now is a good time to check and see how the seats are coming along at the upholstery shop. Make sure you have plenty of help as you place the body back on the frame. The last thing you want to do is get a scratch or dent on the body now. The next step will be to add a self sticking noise control material every where you can. If you were to buy a new car you would expect it to be very quiet- your classic should not be any different. Noise insulation will cost you a few bucks. Remember, now is the only chance to protect against heat and noise at the same time. Some high quality materials are Hushmat, Dynamat and Second Skin. The cost may run as high as $300 yet may be the best investment you will make in the long run. Another step completed. Now, for the installation of the glass. You don’t want to skimp on the rubber seals. And you don’t want to use force with the glass as you will be kicking yourself all over the place if you crack it. The one thing that I hate most of all is having to wire the entire body. Some people try to save money and time by patching old wires and replacing only what they have to. This is a bad idea as many a car has gone up in flames do to old wires shorting out. Several companies produce color coded wire kits which make it a little easier to install. Take special care to make sure adequate ground wires are secure to the frame. Almost all the time electrical trouble can be traced to grounding. Only a small amount of wiring must wait till after the front clip has been bolted into place. Once the doors have been hung, deck lid bolted and secured and the hood installed you can sit back and enjoy what you have done up to now. You may want to have a well known upholstery shop install the head liner or the convertible top as they are hard to do. How long has it taken up till now? Two years and enough money to build your wife a new kitchen! Never fear, it is better invested than the stock market and you can keep it in your garage. Now you should be ready to install your gauges and all the dash parts. With the head liner in you can install the door panels, seats and finish off a consol if you have one. I hope you marked where the bolt holes are for your seats, it does make it easier. Remember back when you started and it looked like a disaster? Your wife said you were crazy. Congratulations, now you can point with pride and say “I did it” my way. By the way honey, do you want a ride!!
Restoration Part # 2 By Duane Demars
By Duane Demars Author & Photographer
There is a formula for the amount of money spent on restoring a classic car that is based on your age. Remember this is not set in stone as everyone is different. At the age 20= $10,000, age 30= $20,000, age 40=$30,000, age 50=$40,000 to $50,000, age 65= $60,000 and up, many going over the $100,000 plus.
The car body now poses a major undertaking. There are certain steps to take so you do not have to repeat yourself. Remove the interior, seats, door panels, carpet and don’t forget the head liner. Almost in every case the seats will need repair--you would too if you had been sat on for 50 years or so. After you remove the gauges you may want to have your old gauges refurbished to their original condition or you may want a custom made dash panel with digital gauges. I checked into rebuilding the speedometer on a ’50 Chevrolet and the cost was $850.00. Whichever way you go, now is the time to take measurements of your dash on what you can use. It takes a while to get these so you may want to order them at this time. The cost may give you the jitters at first. On second thought it may give you the shakes! Just when you think you have the body all stripped down there are all the window cranks that must be removed and made to work like new. One option would be to consider electric windows and door locks. If you go this route, get the remote entry. The cost will be minimal. Many times the striking plates for the doors may be worn and have to be replaced or rebuilt. The glove box by this time has probably seen its better day. Once the glove box is removed you can get at the wiper motors and the control arms. If you still have the old vacuum wipers, get rid of them. Many cars will have stainless trim around the windows and doors and, yes, this must also be removed. This next step will be to take number # 400 steel wool to all your stainless trim. It may seem like it takes forever but it will come out looking like new. Let’s take time to look around. What did we forget? Oh, yes, a sun visor may also be on your car and if you have one, it too, will have stainless trim that must be removed. Now that you have your items all placed in plastic bags the dome light, door handles, ash trays and all the instruments and knobs from the dash you may just be ready to place the body on a rotisserie. Remember only the body itself and not the front clip (hood, grill and fenders). You will have to do your math. The engine you plan to use may protrude into the firewall. In that case now is the time to address the problem. Being able to rotate the body lets you look for any rust that might be present. Patience and a lot of elbow grease will take up the next several weeks as you pursue perfection making the body better than when it was new. Many of the old bodies have wood in the door pillars and framework along with the roof braces. If this is your car you will have to replace it with hard wood for strength and to avoid future wood rot. Undercoating was not used very much in the early years, those who traveled on gravel and dirt roads would have it done to protect their cars from the elements. Outside of the rust pockets in the fenders, the floorboards had a tendency to rust through. Many of us can remember looking down at the ground in our first car or truck at the road as we
drove down the street or country road. The floor panels, if rusted through, can be replaced on many cars for an original look. Just cut them out and weld the new ones in. If you have to make them out of heavy tin, some body shops and machine shops can make ridges in them for strength. It seems that the trunks also have a tendency to rust as well. If the body is in real bad shape, sand blasting with a fine sand or salt will expose all your rust problems. Please don’t try to just cover the rust up with body mud, in a short time the problem will be back. Once your rusty parts are taken care of, use a phosphoric acid “rust killer” solution. While all this is going on start stockpiling parts that will be needed. Get all your chrome done and locate items that must be replaced. Your local junk yard will become your best friend. In many cases a “downer car” will be the greatest source for parts that you will ever find. Many places that would re-chrome items have shut down due to government environmental laws. In the past several months, Billings, Missoula and Denver have been shut down. The next best solution is a new process called “spray chrome. “ It is the coming thing. Body work and sanding will take several weeks if not months. Remember when most of these cars were new there were many flaws in the factory body work. Don’t forget the wheels if you are going to keep them. You will need to remove the tires and sand blast them before using primer and paint. A good friend of mine takes every piece of the entire car apart, sands it down to bare metal, adds primer and paint to every part before it is reassembled. It’s times like this that your photos come in very handy.
I will be back in about a week with number #3 of this series.
RESTORATION Part 1 By Duane Demars
By Duane Demars Author & Photographer
“The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” about restoring a car, pickp etc. Most car lovers at one point in time will take on the task of restoration. The question is do we really know what we are getting ourselves into. I must admit that I learned the hard way only to do it over and over again. Life will be easier restoring an American rather than a foreign car. I have done both and as for me I will stay with the cars made in the U.S.A. Let’s start here. You have the car, now how deep are your pockets.? This will be the deciding factor to your degree of restoration. If your plans are to hire a shop to do the work for you there are two very important points that are a must. Number one: Do your research to get the most reliable shop and Number two: Establish a completion date by imposing a penalty for every day the work has not been completed. There have been numerous cases where cars have been in shops for years waiting for completion,
you don’t want to be one of them. Shops from time to time will work on your car for one day and then let it set for a week or two before coming back to it. This way they can have several cars to restore at the same time. Remember time is always on your side. The average time involved will be two or three years for most of us when we do the work. Before you even turn a wrench make sure that you have a clear title. If by chance you need a title, contact the highway patrol in your state, they will help you to get a sheriff’s title. After filling it out the paper work, again call the sheriff or highway patrol. They will want to inspect the S/N before giving you a certificate for title. If it is over 25 years old you can get a vintage plate. Most of the time they will cost you about $10.00 to $ 25.00. Vintage plates never have to be renewed, the main restriction, it cannot be used as a daily driver. If you want to use an old plate from the 1930’s your state will most always allow for you to use it. The next step is “vintage insurance”. Several companies offer this coverage. The cost will average around $10.00 or $15.oo per thousand per year for full coverage. This will vary depending on your car and where you may live. Now that you have that taken care of the insurance, the real work begins.
Most may plan to do a complete restoration, frame off using a rotisserie for the body. The use of a steam cleaner to remove all the grime and decades of grease are a must. The long task of dismantling now starts, but make sure you label every part and know where it must go when the job starts to go back together. A good way to do this is to take lots of photo’s. Save every nut, bolt and washer you take off, place everything in plastic bags and label each of them. Do the same for large items like the suspension using boxes. Now that you have come this far lets take time to make a list what you will have to order from chrome, gages, brakes and suspension etc. One lady told me she got to know her UPS driver like a family member because he was at her house every few days delivering parts. Once the body has been removed you can start on the frame. We like the old cars and yet we want safety and the modern suspension for a good ride. There are two ways you can go. Rebuild what you have
with all new parts, you can add power steering and disk brakes for better stopping power. On some cars like a ’50 Chevy power steering cannot be added, the solution is the new power steering unit built into the steering column. If you go this route now is the time to have a tilt wheel. The other option is to cut the frame at the firewall and weld in a Mustang II, Firebird, Volare or Fat Boy front suspension. Many companies offer these with the price varying by manufacturer. This way you have the modern front end for less money and also less work. With the frame now complete have it sand blasted before giving it a good enamel paint job. Now you can start adding shocks, brake lines etc. If you got a used frame clip from a car be sure to go thru the brakes checking all moving parts and replacing all brake lines with new ones. Now that your frame looks like a show piece, this is the time to dress up the engine that you will use with your transmission. If your engine has good compression you will still want to replace every item that could go bad. Once you have it on the road you want to rely on it like it was a new car. That means spark plugs, water pump, alternator, carburetor etc. If you plan to add air conditioning you will need a radiator with a good water flow. When you weld in your motor mounts make sure you get the right degree angle. This is critical for a smooth performance at all speeds. If you decide to eliminate your springs and install to air suspension keep in mind it is much easier when the body is off the frame.
At this time you may want to start hiding all the recipes for parts if you don’t want your wife to know just how much this little project is costing you. When my wife found out she said (and I have had this kitchen for how many years) yes honey, how soon do we start …………….. Note: she got her new kitchen.
By the time you have accomplished all this you are well on your way. Part #2 of this article will follow in about a week.
King's Hat Drive-In
Duane Demars, author and photographer
A bit of history in Montana & Billings serving the foods of yesterday as well as today. The “Kings Hat Drive-In” Billings, MT, “Dash Inn” Lewistown, MT, A&W Gillette, WY, “Top Hat” Livingston, MT, and “Ford’s Drive in” Great Falls, MT to name just a few should have a Hall of Fame of their own. For all of those who grew up in the late 40’s and beyond it was places like these that hold fond memories to this day. The type of service may vary from car hops, to drive up windows, and yes we got to know these young workers who always had a smile along with a friendly voice to greet you. For so many this would be their very first job on the road of life.
Where it all began ----- back in 1949 when the Slovak family started they named it “Big Boy”. However in the years to come had to change their name due to franchise copyrights. The name was changed to the “South Side Drive In.” They spread their wings to open a restaurant on Broadwater Avenue and another on 27th Street which were sold years later. In ’77 it was named “Kings Hat Drive In” with new owners Tom & Ailene Carr. The speakers were designed so the passenger had to order. Bad idea when only one person was in the car. Tom changed that. When they decided to retire after six years at the helm. Their daughter and son-in-law Cathy & Tim Gerard took over and the business grew by leaps & bounds. In 2010 they retired and sold it to Jim & Vicki Hodgson who are doing just great.
“Kings Hat Drive In” is a crown jewel for those who want great food at a price they can afford. Located on 1st Avenue South, Billings. It was started over 60 years ago. The number of hamburgers served would undoubtedly be far greater than many times the population of Billings. When you are family owned and family operated you take care of your customers and never cut corners on what you serve to them. A good reputation takes years of dedication, service, and good quality control. Most importantly, respect for the people who work with you. Long before the days of “Romance Busters” known as bucket seats, every young guy would pull up to the speaker to order with his arm around his sweetie. It was a great place to show off both your girl and your ride. Times have not really changed that much. Yes she may have to sit on the console but love will always find a way.
At the “Kings Hat Drive In” the food is prepared the way that people want it such as their home made French fries. What they do is to start with about 200 pounds of potatoes for the day. Every one pulls K-P as we did in the armed forces, peeled them all by hand Next comes the use of an old fashioned potato slicer that gets them ready for the deep fryer. Jim & Vicki Hodgson do their very best to support our local agricultural farmers and ranchers. This way they know the quality will always be the best they can serve. If they support the community, the community will support them, as simple as that. As I prepared to do this story I had to spend time in their kitchen, as a retired food broker I was impressed with how clean things were and the excellent condition of their deep frying oil. When you are cooking all day you must also be cleaning all day. You may have to be on the job at 6 AM if that is when your food delivery comes. They rely on their food service salesmen to make sure their items are always in stock. You don’t want to know what would happen if a popular item was not available. Around lunch time there will be about six or seven cars getting their orders, many people will call in ahead to place their orders (259-4746) to save time. We may be in changing times but the service and the quality of food served today has not changed in the past 60 plus years. The owners are also the operators, very important. There is a canopy to keep the hot summer sun off and tables to enjoy a picnic setting for the kids. Can life get better than this??? I think not.
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