- The Washington Times - Friday, September 7, 2001

Back before retirement occupied all of Dave Westrate's time, he was assigned to be the agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration Training Academy in Quantico, Va.

The new assignment meant a lengthy commute from his Oakton, Va., home, so Mr. Westrate thought a small pickup truck would be an ideal commuting vehicle.

With that goal in mind, Mr. Westrate and his wife, Barbara, drove to Leesburg, Va., for some car shopping. It was August 1994.

"We spotted a 1939 Ford standard woodie wagon for sale on a small used car lot," Mr. Westrate said. "The car looked so interesting that we stopped to look at it."

After placing a down payment on the 3,080-pound vintage station wagon, one of 3,277 such models manufactured, the couple went down the street and bought the small pickup truck that had been the original purpose of the trip.

"Then we went home," Mr. Westrate continues, "to wonder exactly what we had done."

A few weeks later the Westrates returned to claim their prize and drive it the 50 or so miles to their Oakton home.

"Little did we know what an adventure we were starting on, as we had absolutely no experience with antique cars and certainly none with woodies or restoration," Mr. Westrate said.

The first day of 1995 was when the old Ford began to be taken apart. To make sure that the car could be reassembled, Mr. Westrate filmed the disassembly. The process consumed 17 videotapes.

During the dismantling Mr. Westrate discovered the wooden body was truly a shadow of its former self. "It had rotted away," he reports, "and the wooden panels were in bad shape."

The only good news was there were enough good pieces on one side or the other to make a complete pattern of the wood body.

Once the 15-foot, 8 3/4-inch-long wagon was taken apart, Mr. Westrate began to take inventory.

While he was determining what he had and what he needed, Mr. Westrate found another 1939 Ford wagon — this one a deluxe model in Mystic, Conn., and purchased the vehicle. As it turned out, the purchase was fortuitous.

The second Ford unexpectedly came with special custom-made cutting blades to carve hardwood maple into the proper shapes as well as the long finger joints critical to the construction of the wooden body. Those cutting blades were especially valuable since 1939 Ford wooden wagon parts are not reproduced.

It was only after Mr. Westrate acquired the second Ford that he realized the difficulty of reproducing the wooden parts of a 1939 Ford.

Of the seven years Mr. Westrate spent restoring his 1939 Ford standard wagon he estimates five of those years were spent building a complete new wood body out of hard maple. The panels between the maple framing are birch. The original wooden body reportedly came from Iron Mountain, Mich.

"The only parts of the wood body that could be saved were the 16 basswood slats and maple crossbars that form the wooden roof system," Mr. Westrate laments.

A pair of new rear fenders were found to replace the battered and rusted originals.

The 85-horsepower, 221-cubic-inch flathead V-8 engine was restored to good health. The strong engine is fed from a 14-gallon gas tank and is kept cool thanks to a 22-quart cooling system. The entire rig rides atop a 112-inch wheelbase on 6.00x16-inch tires with a suspension set up so that the car has an 8 1/2-inch ground clearance and can be turned in a 40-foot circle.

The mechanical part of the restoration was the easy part since all the associated parts are easily obtained. Even the rusted floor pans were replaced with a minimum of difficulty.

"You've got to think ahead a little bit," Mr. Westrate said in explaining the reconstruction of the wooden parts. He became adept at the selection of good 6-foot lengths of hard maple stock.

Of the 75 pieces of maple and 15 pieces of birch selected for the car Mr. Westrate proudly reports only three pieces had to be discarded.

He remains mystified at how, even with the economy of scale, the Ford Motor Co. was able to sell the car for a base price of $860.

Mr. Westrate sent many parts of his car to farflung places for chrome replating, fake wood graining and other trim refurbishing. His handsome wagon is the first year Ford featured hydraulic brakes and the last year with a floor-mounted shift lever, at least until recent years. Naturally, vacuum wipers were standard equipment.

As the old Ford began to come together after years of restoration with the metal parts painted Dartmouth green and the wooden parts covered with eight coats of marine spar varnish, the effort began to finally be rewarding.

According to Mr. Westrate, it took three men three days to stretch the vinyl top across the basswood skeleton. Additionally, two men spent three days forming and mounting rain gutters on the wagon.

"The original rain gutters," Mr. Westrate explains, "were flimsy and were usually thrown away."

In order to secure the replacements to match the curvature of the body, a screw was inserted every inch along the top. "The rear corners were the most difficult," he said.

With the top in place and the three-spoke steering wheel in place in front of the 100 mph speedometer, the interior was also beginning to take shape.

Since the car was a standard model, it had only one sun visor, that above the driver's windshield. An oval-shaped mirror was standard equipment across the Ford line, as were hubcaps emblazoned with the V-8 emblem.

By June, the car was completely restored and Mr. Westrate anxiously took his wood wagon to the Eastern national meeting of the Early V-8 Fords where he won the Dearborn Award.

Having earned this prestigious award doesn't deter Mr. Westrate from enjoying his car.

"I'm going to drive this car and have fun with it," Mr. Westrate exclaims.

He has five grandchildren that he has to teach all about wooden wagons.


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