Working: Rusty perfection

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LEEDS — The 1954 Ford F-100’s frame is patched together with 29 vintage license plates, held down with screws dipped in acid and left out in the rain to get them nice and faux-old.

The overhead light in the truck cab is a bare light bulb. The seat covers are burlap sacks. The change cup on the dash is a weathered can of liver and fish cat food.

The license plate: TETNUS.

Doug Kirk spared no detail.

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His tow truck is old and it’s rusty — and, yet, it’s a looker.

By day, the second-generation mechanic works on brakes, suspensions, struts and wheel bearings at his shop, BackWoods Auto Repair.

Two to three nights a week in the summer, he’s out at vintage car cruise nights with his blue, beaten ride.

“I tell people, if you haven’t had your shots, don’t get near the truck,” joked Kirk, 53. “I hear ‘Mater’ over and over. The truck would be paid for if I had a dollar every time I’ve heard that. This gets more attention, 100-fold more attention, than anything else I’ve ever owned.”

Kirk grew up working on cars at his father’s shop. At 18, he started stock car racing at Oxford Plains Speedway.

“That taught me very quickly if you wreck a car Saturday night, you have to fix it before the next Saturday night,” he said. 

He eventually went to work for Superior Concrete, where he picked up welding and metal fabrication skills. In 1996, when he and his wife built their home on land near family, Kirk said he put in one request for “‘the garage of my dreams’ — that meant a 12-foot ceiling and a car lift.”

BackWoods started slowly — and unintentionally — from there.

“People find out you have a lift, ‘Well, can you do my brakes?'” he said.

By 2002, he was running his own shop full-time.

Several years ago, Kirk was checking out a listing in Uncle Henry’s for a Mustang when the owner showed him an old Ford truck in his barn, in parts, a restoration project he’d meant to tackle and never did. 

“It took me two trips to bring it home,” Kirk said.

He tore apart a 1996 Crown Victoria police cruiser, a Craigslist find, for the motor and all the mechanical underpinnings. Kirk approached the restoration with the Midwest “rat rod” scene in mind, repurposing what he could, leaving it “as crappy-looking as I could.”

“I attempted to patch it in a way that would look like a farmer did it 40 years ago,” he said.

The vintage license plates all date from 1919 to 1945, positioned so if you peer through the rust, you can still see the date. They cover the rocker panels and the dashboard. 

A rusty can of Gulf Livestock Spray in the truck bed covers the modern-looking gas cap. Half of a rusted-out 275-gallon oil tank covers the modern suspension beneath.

A stop light in the back came off a school bus. The front bumper is from a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air rear bumper. And the tow boom is a former naval bomb hoist.

Many of his fixes and additions were flea market finds.

“I can’t explain it any other way than this car was just a lot of fun to build,” Kirk said. “I didn’t have to follow any rules. It’s fun to sit back, ‘OK, what can I add to it?’ I laughingly say, ‘without going overboard?'”

He’s used chrome Cragar mag wheels, the only thing shiny on the truck. It sits 10 inches lower than it would have back in the day, another rat rod touch.

It’s been on the road for about a year. In the summer, Kirk regularly hits the classic car cruise nights at Roy’s in Auburn, Ainslie’s Market in Gardiner and Dutch Treat in Wilton.

Kirk said he thinks people eye his truck and think, “I could do this.’ They know it wasn’t built with a checkbook, it was built by a real person,” he said. “I encourage them — go buy a MIG welder and experiment for a year.”

kskelton@sunjournal.com 

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