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Seven Days: Vermont Car Blog

September 17, 2008

Free Wheelin' Q&A: Hot-Rodders Jan and Linda Hemsted

Author's note: This is the first Q&A in my new series Free Wheelin'. I'll be interviewing a wide variety of people whose lives intersect with our car culture, whether it's due to their job or their passion. Why am I writing about cars? Find out on the "Who's this Bob guy?" page. You can also find Free Wheelin' on page 31B of this week's Seven Days newspaper.

Bob Kilpatrick: How long have you been interested in Street Rods?

Jan Hemsted: Ever since I was a kid back in South Dakota. 12 Years old I used to watch ‘em. All the juvenile delinquents had ‘em then. So I always wanted one. They had Hot Rods, I thought they were just the coolest car around.

JH: They used to cruise 8th street all weekend long. 8th street was like Shelburne road. They’d just come and go all night long and at the end of 8th street they had a Mcdonalds so they’d all wind up there sooner or later. I was too young to be cruising with them. They didn’t want a kid hanging around.

BK: What kind of cars, were they similar to what you’ve got here?

JH: Yep there were a lot of ’32 Fords, roadsters, a lot of T-Buckets if I remember right back then. Some ’40 Fords, of course this is back in the early sixties. They weren’t to the level of technology we have today. They were pretty rough, but they were cool.

I’d always wanted one since I was a kid. Of course I got married and I had kids and that pretty much took all my money. This one came available at a fairly reasonable price. Went home one night and asked the wife if we had enough grocery money for a couple of weeks. She asked me why and I said I want to buy a car. 250 bucks. She said we can probably get by so I bought this and they dropped it off and she looked at it and she said “You bought that?” Because it didn’t have any fenders at all, it was just basically the body and no engine, no glass in it, I mean it was just, phhht.

BK: But you had a vision.

JH: I did, I knew what it could be if I worked on it. So I did and now she knows why I bought it.

BK: From when you bought this car how long did it take before you had it to a point where you were proud to get it out and show it around?

JH: Well I bought it in 1975 and I got it on the road in ’79. So I worked on it four years. At that point in time I built a couple of houses for the family and I was contracting myself at the time. So I didn’t get a lot of work done on it per week let’s say. So that’s why it took so long and then I got to a point where I think for like, I had it all figured out for $1500 I could have it on the road. I came home one night and my wife gave it to me. She went and borrowed it.

BK: So this is really something that you’ve shared with your family all along.

JH: That’s why I have a sedan. My kids were young at the time and they used to have rod runs. I always wanted a coupe, but I knew if I bought a coupe I couldn’t take but more than one other person with me. So I bought the sedan and the whole family went. And I always planned when I get done, when the kids get grown up I’d sell the sedan and get my coupe, and jeez this is one of the kids now. So I can’t do that.

BK: How does your wife stay involved with this hobby of yours?

JH: Well it’s actually a hobby of ours. She goes with me to all the shows. She helps me out with the cleaning once in a while. She runs the craft show at the Nationals. We have a club picnic once a year that we do all the cooking and everything at. She goes with me every where. She enjoys it as much as I do.

BK: I see you are wearing a Champlain Valley Street Rodders shirt. That’s a local organization?

JH: Yeah that’s’ a club here in the Champlain Valley area. We have members from Swanton, from Ferrisburgh. We have meetings twice a month in the summer and once a month in the winter. And we go on little mini cruises. Different shows during the year we all meet up at.

BK: These aren’t cars that you just trailer around and show?

JH: Oh no, we drive ‘em all over. Just drive it to drive it. That’s why I built it. We’ve been to York Pennsylvania three times, Columbus Ohio, Syracuse NY, Lake George. Been up to Canada a few times with it. Of course we go to Rutland every year to that show down there. That’s the R.A.V.E. show. (Rutland Area Vehicle Enthusiasts)

BK: Did you ever get out and race this?

JH: A couple times. I took on some Camaros with some kids in it once in a while. They look at me, look at the old fart with the car. Then they were looking at the back of my car after we take off. Yeah I’ve gotten on it a few times.

BK: What do you think the top speed of something like this is?

JH: 120 my speedometer maxes out. I maxed it out one day on the interstate.

I did it very safely. There wasn’t any traffic. I don’t do any street racing or anything, but once, you know.

BK: If you had a dream car what would it be?

JH: Boy it’s hard. I really like ’34 Ford Coupes. With no fenders and big Hemis. You know, something like that.

They’re hard to drive, hard to ride in, but boy they look sweet. That’s my dream “Hot Rod”

BK: Go fast in a straight line, but…

JH: Right, they didn’t handle, they probably all had original suspension pretty much.

BK: Is the suspension modified in this car?

JH: I have a Mustang II front end underneath this. I took out the original. I modified the original when I first built it, but I thought if I was ever somewhere at a show and I needed parts I’d never find ‘em so I switched over to the Mustang II and it’s the best thing I ever did. This thing rides just like a Cadillac. I basically got it out of a junk yard and put it in.

BK: Do you try to compete?

JH: I’ve never won a whole lot of trophies with this, I’ve won a few. It’s just not high on my priorities. I just like driving it. It’s got stone chips. It’s got bugs on it. It’s a driver. I don’t think I would ever want to own one where I had so much time and money into it that I didn’t want to drive it. It just wouldn’t sit well with me.

BK: So you said your son had got the bug earlier on and built some vehicles?

JH: He’s had a ’29 Ford roadster. He bought that when he was sixteen and we built that. Then he had a ’38 Oldsmobile. That was chopped. That was a nice car. He had a ’65 Cobra 5.0 replicar. That was a beautiful car. He had that for a couple of years. He sold them all. Taken the money and done other things. Of course he’s got a young family now too.

BK: You were showing me the lamps you create. How did that come about?

JH: Well I rebuilt the rear end in this. And I had a lot of worn out parts, spider gears. Things that were worn out. Basically I had all the parts thrown in a corner. My son came up, he was in the garage for a couple of days, just doing something. I didn’t pay any attention. Next thing I know he brings me this lamp he made me out of all these parts. I mean it was really great. I still have it. I’d never sell it. So we were just talking and I said why don’t we get some parts and make some lamps up, sell ’em at the rod run if we can.
Use the money to buy parts there that we want. So we did. We made up quite a few, 20 lamps or so. They sold fairly well.

So I had a bunch of stuff I’ve been collecting since then, about for 5 years ago. When my grandson was up for the summer I said you want to make up some lamps and we can sell them at the show? Make some money on ‘em. He says sure. Off we went making lamps together. So I taught him how to do it. It involves quite a bit, sandblasting, drilling tapping, woodworking, sanding, routering, cutting the base out. So he learned quite a bit.

BK: That must have been really nice to share that with him.

JH: It was a lot of fun.

BK: So I see you’ve got another project going on in the garage?

JH: That’s a ’41 Buick. That came on sale at the garage sale one morning. My wife heard about it. She said you want to go look at it. Yeah we’ll go take a look at it. Went down and it wasn’t a real good looking car to me, but it was in such good shape I had to buy it for the price. So I took it home and just put it out beside my garage. And I looked around it probably for a month or two before I decided what I was going to do to it. So I figured I’d customize it. Completely change the look of it, so ir would look like something I’d want to have. So that’s what I did, chop, channel, custom grill, custom taillights.

BK: What would you say about this weekends car show?

JH: Next weekend the car show is at the Essex Junction Fairgrounds. There’ll be probably 1500 cars there. It’s a real good time. You’ll see some cars that are really nice. Talk to a lot of nice people and they all want to talk to you about their cars. That’s for sure. So if you come down I’ll be glad to see you there.

If you know people who love cars, take good care of cars or have auto events you'd like to see covered tell me about them. Email Bob at goodcarma@sevendaysvt.com

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