- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Forget about age requirements. As soon as William Blackmon was physically big enough, his father, Willard, taught him how to drive. The vehicle of choice was a tractor on the family farm in Middlesey, N.C.

By the time Mr. Blackmon was entering his teen years he was adept at shifting gears and steering — on the farm.

Then came that fateful day in 1961 when a Nash County school teacher with a scheduling conflict asked the senior Mr. Blackmon to drive her car to an appointment. Whereupon William was handed the keys to the family Ford and told to follow. “I was 13 and that was the first car I drove,” Mr. Blackmon remembers. It was a black 1954 Ford Customline two-door sedan with a 239-cubic-inch overhead-valve V-8 engine that produced 130 horsepower. That was Ford’s first departure from the tried-and-true flathead V-8 since 1932.

Mr. Blackmon quickly learned that city driving was a far cry from country driving. He was straining the Ford to keep up with his father when he remembered the part about driving that involves gears. “I finally shifted into second gear and I was gone,” he says.

His mother wasn’t happy about her son’s driving but his father responded by saying,”He’s got to drive sometime.”

That 16.5-foot-long, 3,206-pound 1954 Ford was soon traded in on a 1957 Ford and was forgotten by everyone except Mr. Blackmon.

For more than 30 years he would reminisce about that old Ford. Even after he moved to Silver Spring and started his own business, Blackmon Home Repair, he would often mention the Ford.

For his August birthday in 1995 his wife, LaWanda, having heard all about that first Ford, bought him a Ford almost like the original, only painted light blue.

Her extremely happy husband soon was almost living in the garage — going over, under and through his new old Ford. He reupholstered the interior, bought new 6.70x15-inch four-ply tires, rebuilt the front end as well as the brake system and found both the water and oil pumps OK.

The 1954 Fords were the first to feature a ball joint suspension in addition to an “Astrodial” 110-mph speedometer which lets sunlight enter from behind the dial.

Mr. Blackmon’s Ford has “idiot lights” in lieu of gauges, but also has a radio, heater and turn signals.

He has also installed an aftermarket spinner on the two-spoke steering wheel. “It makes it easier to turn with no power steering,” he says.

Mounted in the dashboard is the clock and the control knob for the vacuum wipers to clear the one-piece windshield. Under the dashboard the foot pedals are suspended from above, eliminating holes in the floorboards.

Within a year Mr. Blackmon decided to repaint the light blue car black, as his father’s Ford had been back in North Carolina.

He completed the makeover with blue dot taillights because they look cool and dual exhausts because they sound cool.

The comfortable six-passenger Ford rides on a 115-inch wheelbase. It sold for a base price of $1,744 in 1954.

“I drive it year round unless they put down salt on the road,” Mr. Blackmon says. “Then I wait for rain to wash it off.”

The cooling system holds 20 quarts and the crankcase has a 5-quart capacity.

When changing oil, a little extra has to be figured in to fill the oil bath air cleaner sitting atop the carburetor.

About three times a year Mr. Blackmon drives his family, in the Ford, back home to North Carolina.

“It’s about a 275 mile trip,” he explains, “and I run about 65 mph.”

Mr. Blackmon says it’s good that the capacity of the gasoline tank is 17 gallons because the Ford averages 15 or 16 miles per gallon.

He recalls the joy of his father the first time he saw the shiny black 1954 Ford come up the driveway.

His father wanted to take it out for a spin, to which Mr. Blackmon agreed.

As he handed the keys to his father, he couldn’t resist uttering the admonition he had heard 40 years before: “When you bring it back, have some gas in it.”

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