157 / 365 – Dents

FINN TILLARY

I told him he should have done body work. There were so many accidents, people driving drunk and sliding off roads, into ditches, into poles. He did beautiful body work. He restored Dad’s car, the old Hudson, from a very rusty piece of junk Dad picked up in Devil’s Lake. It took him almost two years. Dad was complaining about it all the time, how slow it was. I helped him with the engine. But he did the rest — slowly pounder out the fenders, the door panels. Carpeting the interior. Sewing the headliner. It’s a beautiful thing. So beautiful Dad just keeps it in the garage, under a tarp. Mr. Vanek said, “Your father should drive that car. That engine purrs.” It did, too, even when we were going almost a hundred miles an hour on the highway west from town. But dad doesn’t drive it. He doesn’t want it to get dusty.

My father said when he was younger they used to go up to Canada and drink in the bars over on the other side. A lot of guys would smash up their cars coming back home. He said once he was coming home and he forgot that the border station closed at 11. It was way after midnight. At the last minute he saw it ahead and swerved out into a wheat field. He had a girl with him he was trying to impress so he pretended he had meant to do that. Just drove over the budding wheat. There was no fence at the border. You could tell where the line was where one set of furrows ended and others started, not lined up. He drove through that and back on the highway on the US side. He banged up the undercarriage and it was jammed with mud and something was wrong with the steering but he got it home. Mr. Vanek didn’t want to do it. Dad said he said, “This is not a body shop.” But he fixed it anyway, out of respect for my grandfather, who was probably the biggest farmer around and had the most tractors to fix.

Later, when I was in high school, car engines were getting complicated, with computer chips in them and electronic controls. No more timing to adjust or carburetors to tune. He said, “These things are like computers now. You have to take them to a dealer just to see what’s wrong. They hook them up to a machine and it tells you what’s wrong. A person can’t do it. The engineers that make these cars, they want to take the people right out of it, all the repair guys like me that have always kept them running.” The tractors, too, were giving away to combines with computers on board that did most of the thinking for the farmer driving it. He couldn’t fix those either. You had to take them over to the dealer.

There was still bodywork, but he didn’t really like bodywork. “I’m not a sculptor,” he said. I kept thinking it would make him quit. I didn’t think it would take a fire to his hand to make him do it. Last time I was here, I went to visit him and told him I was surprised he was still open. He laughed. “I keep thinking I am done and then I find another tractor that someone refuses to replace, to take out of service. For those, I can stay in business.”

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