History on wheels

Published 11:17 pm Monday, September 24, 2012

Jimmy Weaver holds a photo showing the condition of his 1933 Ford tow truck before it was restored.

Had his connection to it not been so acute, Suffolk’s Jimmy Weaver says he wouldn’t have restored the 1933 Ford tow truck taking pride of place in his collection.

His father was photographed standing beside it outside the former Fanney’s garage in Holland in 1944.

“I’d see it from out of the classroom window at school in Holland,” Weaver recalls.

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The 72-year-old says he eventually acquired the truck in about 1988, from a man named Rudolph Smith.

After buying it from Mills Fanney’s son in about 1956, following the garage owner’s death, Smith had kept the truck in his backyard for 20 years, Weaver says. “He said he was going to fix it himself.”

But Weaver, with the old jalopy plucking at his heartstrings, was persistent. “One day, (Smith) came to my house, and said, ‘Jimmy, I’m going to let you have that truck.’

“I said, ‘I appreciate that, Rudolph.’”

Smith signed the truck over to Weaver and died of a heart attack before receiving payment.

“I paid his wife for the truck,” Weaver says. “I was supposed to do a job. Once he died, they didn’t want to get the job done.”

With a dangerous-looking hand crank which, indeed, once killed a man who let it spin out of control – according to Weaver – the tow truck is among dozens of antique automobiles, tractors and farm implements Weaver and his son have lovingly restored.

Like the 1933 Ford, whose restoration took five years, attached to each are stories of times past – the people, their struggles, the triumphs.

“I’ve been messing with this stuff since the mid ‘60s,” says Weaver.

Weaver worked for Newport News Shipbuilding for 37 years, “working the pipes in the nuclear reactors in those old aircraft carriers.” After becoming a supervisor and finishing on the Ronald Reagan, he retired in 1998.

“I learned a lot, and it helped me, after I retired, in this stuff,” Weaver says. “A lot of this stuff I did while I was working. I like to take something old and bring it back to life, if I can.”

Weaver’s restorations are meticulously executed and spotlessly presented in a purpose-built 60-feet by 60-feet shed.

He works with his son, 46-year-old Gene, a city engineer who Weaver says is a dab hand with the spray gun.

One recent morning, Weaver interrupted work on an old Cushman motor scooter to show Suffolk Living around.

Seated on a low stool, he looked to be fabricating a new exhaust on the side of the scooter, which had belonged to a friend who died this year.

“It’s just like one that I had when I was a boy,” Weaver says, before explaining a quirk of the machine – a generator-powered headlight, which brightens as the engine revs. “The faster you drove, the brighter the lights,” he says.

Weaver has a peanut picker built in Suffolk by Benthall Machine Co. in 1948. “That’s what we used to pick peanuts with when I was a boy,” he says. “I took it out there and got me some peanuts before we put it in here.”

Almost straight from a Bonnie and Clyde newspaper clipping – they actually drove a 1934 V8 – are two Fords, a 1929 Model A and, featuring a rumble seat, a 1930 Deluxe Coupe.

Weaver said the latter was completed about four years ago and has never been driven on a public road.

“The problem with these old cars is moths,” he says, gesturing at the pale delicate-looking seats. “They eat the damn mohair.”

Some machines came from far away, such as a 1929 Model T Gene discovered on the Web in North Dakota.

It was too far to go all that way, Weaver says, but after some heavy negotiating by Gene, the seller met them halfway in Fort Wayne, Ind.

“We met there, loaded it on a trailer, and brought it back,” he says. “You can imagine what this stuff looked like when we get it … you’d think it was just a junk pile.”

Weaver is evidently a Ford and John Deere man. The green tractors line one whole side of his shed, and include a 1946 “D” wheat land model, which once populated the Mid West; a two-cylinder Detroit diesel-powered 435, only manufactured in 1959 and 1960; and a 1953 Crawler.

Over the years, Weaver has spent a lot of time on the road hauling restored machines to shows in places like Denton, N.C. and Somerset, Va.

He attended a swap meet in Hershey, Pa. every October from 1973 through 1995.  “I’d save my money during the year and go up and buy parts,” he says.

These days, Gene sources a lot of parts online, and John Deere still sells parts for all its machines. “But they’re expensive from John Deere,” Weaver says. “Get on the Internet, and they’re a lot cheaper.

“With two kids to raise and put through college, I saved what I could, and worked day and night.”

Weaver remarried about six years ago after hit first wife died of cancer in the year of his retirement. “She’s supportive; she really is,” he says of Shirley Weaver.

“I don’t fix anything to resell. I just enjoy it and it’s a good hobby, I think.”