Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Greatest 1955 Chevy Story Ever Told

45 years later the agent owns that runaway moonshiner’s family car.

Tell me more. Junkyard Life is fortunate enough to have many awesome barn find stories and fate-filled “meant to be” tales told to us. This very story is my favorite. Recently Junkyard Life did some filming and I (Ron) was asked what was my favorite story. Well, this one we didn’t cover, it just unfolded for me one night when an older gentleman in a new Mercedes was waiting beside my 1972 Vista Cruiser. After he asked permission to take a photo of the vintage wagon, we continued to talk. He told me he had a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air that he had owned since he was a young man. When I told him I too, had a 55 Bel Air and I wrote articles about finding such things, I had to ask. ”What was the story?” The man gazed away as if in a deeper quandary about if the story could be told. 
  He said, “You know, I have never really told anyone exactly how I got that car. Not many people ever knew.” 
  Okay, now I had to know...  

This story has it all! Firearms, Alcohol, Espionage, Chase Scenes, Child Birth, Moral dilemmas, Death, Bribery, Statutes of Limitations, and a Low-mile ’55 Bel Air in Green! 

  The year was 1955 and the city was Atlanta, Georgia. A Chevrolet enthusiast was finally in his place in life to buy a new car. Recently retired and also a new grandfather, life was good and he knew just the car he wanted. A brand new 1955 Bel Air 2-door hardtop in a lovely and a bit unusual color. Green and cream two-tone paint and powered by the new 265-cubic-inch V8.

  The car was purchased and he loved it. He took very extraordinary care of his new Chevy. He knew he had something special. Here the story gets a little sad. He died. His widow knew he loved the car, but she couldn’t stand to see it, so she had her children move the car to a back field and cover it up. No one other than family knew the car was there. Life happens and she became the primary caregiver for her now slightly older grandchildren. If you don’t watch them, they can easily get in trouble. One of her grandchildren found trouble.

  Now the year is 1972 and the city is Birmingham, Alabama. This gentleman was an ATF agent (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms). As a governmental agency they were often called to help other ATFs in other places. The ATF sent a few Birmingham agents to Atlanta to assist in shutting down some illegal whiskey manufacturing. Some were big time and others were just local moonshiners. Our hero was stuck watching a smalltime copper still with a few other agents. They watched for days out in the woods. Finally, all the culprits were present and they moved in for a bust!

A runner!
  As this gentleman told me of this moment, I could picture it like a movie. He said they each picked a guy to arrest and the one he picked was a runner. Could he run? You bet he could! Like a young moonshiner running from an ATF agent. Yes, exactly like that.
  They ran and ran. He chased this young man through trails, over fallen trees and down into deep ditches. The young whiskey maker thought he may be able to outrun this guy and make it back to his house. Actually, it was his grandmother’s house. 

First sight of the ’55 Chevy
  He almost made it. He made it as far as a covered car at the rear of the property. The pursuer and the persuee both collapsed over the car from sheer exhaustion. As the ATF agent , our hero and my future story teller, fell on the car, he realized it was a ’55 Chevy under the tarp. His dream car. 
  As the young and exhausted moonshiner was babbling his pleas of innocence, the huffing and puffing ATF agent asked him, “Whose car is this?” 
  The young man paused his desperate ramblings to answer the question. 
  “It was my grandfather’s, but my grandmother put it out here.” 

Owner’s identity protected – photo of car in story not used.

Angry grandmother
  As in life, timing is everything. For this young man, fate took mercy on him when his grandmother heard the commotion and came out to find an ATF agent with her grandson. She asked a very direct and very damning question. 
  “Boy, have you been down messing with that still again? I told you about that!” 

  So, now you have an angry grandmother, a very busted and scared young man and an ATF agent who just found his fantasy car. Perhaps taking slight advantage of the situation, the agent asked the culprit’s grandmother a very important question.
  “What do you intend to do with this car?” 
  She responded very confidently, playing her very obvious card. 
  “That depends. What do you intend to do with my grandson?”  

The price of freedom
  After a few awkward seconds of sorting out the moral dilemmas of the situation. The ATF agent replied, “I think he is very tired and could use a good night’s sleep.” 
  The unspoken deal was made and the ATF agent returned a couple of days later with the money, tools, a battery and some fresh fuel. This was 1972 and the car had been sitting since about 1958, so it was dormant for about fourteen years. After a quick tune-up and a trip to the tire shop, it was driven back to Birmingham, Alabama and the long retired ATF agent still has it to this day.

  Finally, enough time had passed and the exciting story was told. All of us here at Junkyard Life have been told some awesome car finding stories, but this story has been saving itself since 1972 for just the right listener. Fortunately for me, I drove my wagon that night and ending up hearing the greatest 1955 Chevy story. Thank you, sir.

Ron Kidd
— Junkyard Life

Do you have a great classic or muscle car barn find story? Send us details and we’re on the way!  Send emails to Ron Kidd at & Jody Potter at

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Flood cars: What to do after your vehicle suffers water damage

I photographed the event to have proof of what I was seeing. I couldn’t believe we were being flooded with a muddy mess from a nearby creek.

All wet. We have been asked a few questions lately about the conundrum of whether your flood-damaged car should be written-off as a total loss or should you fight to keep it. We always vote to keep it. Here are a few tips that may help you pull your favorite car from a watery grave:

Water does not compute
  A lot of people, most people actually, have a computer-controlled vehicle that manages a lot of electronics. The ECM (electronic control modules) are the very brain of your beloved car and are essential to virtually everything in your vehicle. When dealing with a flood vehicle, it is recommended to replace it with a new one. Buy a new ECM and try it. Allow the rest of the wiring to dry completely by disconnecting all electrical connection. When you think it is dry, hit it with compressed air wherever you can. Spray electrical connections with moisture-reducing chemicals, like WD-40 or others on the market. Then, let it dry some more. On a sunny day, park the car in the sun with the windows down and doors open. You may have more issues that will show themselves, but read on because the non-ECM cars have a lot of the same issues as you. Fluids!

The seat covers were removed and cleaned while the foam padding was dried.
This 1978 Pontiac Trans Am got a muddy bath in 4 feet of water. The interior was a muddy mess and required a complete overhaul.

Inside out
  Time to rip off the bandage. Carpet, insulation and seats need to be yanked from the saturated interior. Soap and water can do wonders for cleaning vinyl or leather seats and door panels. You may be able to clean the carpet and the seat’s foam padding once the seat covers are removed. Rent a carpet cleaner for use on cloth seats and the carpet. Replacing wear items, such as carpet, insulation, and foam padding/buns, would be a good investment if worn. While your scrubbing and cleaning every nook and cranny, pull the door panels. Lay them flat to dry in the sun. Also, clean and remove water and debris that may be inside the doors.
  You will have better access to clean under the dash with the seats removed. A tedious undertaking, but well worth the effort to get a deep clean and to access all the electrical components for inspection, cleaning.  

What about us non-ECM carb guys?
  At this point, we noncomputer-controlled guys have some of the same battles. Take those distributors apart and replace control modules, if so equipped. Be sure to lube with new dielectric grease under the module and dry that baby out!

Fuel and water do not mix
  At this step, even water and water do not mix. Flush those fluids. All that you can. Remove and replace oil and transmission fluids and add new filters. Use a small nozzle pump to remove power steering fluid as well. Yes, even the radiator must be drained and the coolant replaced. 
  Do it, you know you wanted to anyway. Take all the safety steps to drain the fuel if it was compromised. Maybe the high pressure systems come in handy here. We recommend removing the spark plugs and turning the motor to make sure there is not a big drink of water on top of the pistons. Hydro compression strokes and really not fun. We found out the hard way that water does not compress. 

This is the aftermath once the water receded. A car parked against the chimney.
Once flood water receded, it was evident that the ’78 Trans Am floated into the side of the house and chimney. No body damage, but amazing to learn that the 3,600-lb Pontiac will float.

Rear end issues
  Don’t call the proctologist for this one. Call the guys at your local auto parts store and get the proper gear oil and a new differential seal. You see, there is a vent tube that did nothing but drink as much water as it could during it’s brief stint as a submarine. So, pull the cover, drain the water-mixed gear oil and re-install with fresh lube.

Give it a try
  Woo-hoo! It lives! If possible, pull the car to a slight angle. This will allow any water that can drain out from the exhaust. If this isn’t possible prior to start up, move the car facing up an incline after the initial start-up to drain the water out of the exhaust. Let the car run to operating temperature and get everything nice and warm. But don’t get too froggy before you see if you have a functioning brake system. You probably will. If you do not, take measures to correct those issues before a test drive you will regret. We here at Junkyard Life have been in situations like that. Not fun.

Still owned 58 payments on the nearly new Jeep.
Jeeps are made for mud but this was how our new, never been off-road Wrangler got its first taste of dirt.

Waste not, want not 
  Said someone other than us. We hope you had fun with the oil and trans flushing. Why? Because now you get to go back, Jack, and do it again. It seems wasteful, but it is the right thing to do. Another oil and filter change. Another trans fluid and filter change. Check the power steering and radiator. Those may be okay. You’re probably a “Do It Yourself” kind of Junkyard Life reader, but for this second time please consider taking it to one of those fast lube joints. 
  Why? Well, the mess alone is a factor, I mean you just did that, it was indeed a mess. Plus, they can do it while the fluids are still hot. Removing more lingering moisture before it separates. Why a lube place? Because this time we are requesting their skills on the lost art of a chassis lube. No one ask for those anymore, but if there is a fitting on your U-joints, front end components and wheel bearings — grease them good! Plus, the employees there may love the opportunity to share your success story with other flood victims.

  Salvaging your classic car from a freshwater flood is easier than a salt water flood. If your car has been in salt water, you may need to replace all electrical components. No easy or cheap task, but worth the effort when rescuing your dream car. The sooner you get the wet stuff out, the better. Hop to it!   

Ron Kidd
— Junkyard Life 

We pushed the car away from the house and debated out first order of business de-flooding the car.
We pushed the Trans Am away from the house and debated out first order of business to de-flood the car. Always keep your classic cars insured.

1998 Jeep Wrangler Sahara in rising flood waters. Got some flooded car pics? Send them to us!
Got some tips for flood damage cars? Send us details and we’ll spread the knowledge to other readers.  Send emails to Ron Kidd at & Jody Potter at