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A second life for the family Chevrolet

Published in blog.hemmings.com

Photos courtesy the author’s collection.

[Editor’s Note: Frequent commenter Brian Rausch (Brian64SS) thought we’d be interested in this story about how his grandfather found a new use for a wrecked 1962 Chevrolet. “Repurposing cars into other uses would be an interesting topic,” he wrote. We agree, and we’ll start with this example.]

In November of 1964, my Uncle Al bought a 1962 Chevrolet Biscayne 2-door sedan from a Milwaukee dealer’s used car lot. The car was bottom of the line, basic beige, powered by the last-year 235-cubic-inch “stovebolt” six-cylinder with three-speed on the column. It was one of about 1.5 million full-size Chevrolets built in ’62 and rather unremarkable by any measure.

Uncle Al drove the car every day until one day in 1973, when it was hit hard in the driver’s side rear quarter panel. With about 100,000 miles, burning oil and now crunched, it was destined for the junkyard. But Grandpa had another idea for the car. He was an engineer, welder, and fabricator – not by formal education but by experience repairing and improving beer and soda bottling machinery. By this time he had retired and was busy in the woods he owned in northern Wisconsin cutting trees and making firewood for the cabin he built on the property. Through the 1970s, Grandma and Grandpa lived there each year from mid-April through deer hunting season (late November) so they needed plenty of firewood for heat and for Grandma to bake her remarkable bread in the cast iron stove.

My brother Dan was born a car guy and at age 15, in 1973, it was hard for anyone to convince Dan the car wasn’t worth repairing. To him, a practically free two-door Chevy was the stuff dreams were made of. In spite of Dan’s pleas to let him fix up the car to drive when he turned 16, Grandpa would see his own plan through.

The plan required cutting everything off behind the rear wheels to make the car more maneuverable in the woods and to make the driver’s side rear wheel more accessible. With no support remaining for the gas tank, Grandpa fitted a 5-quart motor oil can with a copper tube, set it on the passenger side front fender and tied it to the radio antenna for a fuel tank. The tube was directed down through the gap between the fender and hood and directly over to the carburetor.

Grandpa fabricated a drive shaft with one end having a hub to fit the Chevy’s wheel bolt pattern. The other end of the drive shaft attached to a splined shaft on his homemade saw table. The other end of the saw table shaft held a 21.5-inch diameter saw blade to cut logs up to about 10 inches in diameter in one pass. The table had a sliding tray to set logs on with a guided track for easy feeding of logs into the blade.

Grandpa would drive the Chevy back into the woods where a pile of logs was waiting. He would park the car with the front bumper against a tree to keep the car from moving. The driver’s side rear wheel would be removed and the driveshaft attached to the hub. He would carry the heavy saw table with a hydraulic boom he added to the front of his workhorse 1946 Willys CJ-2A Jeep. He would set the saw table down where the driveshaft would connect to it. He’d position the Jeep and his homemade cargo trailer nearby to receive the cut logs.

Once everything was set up, Grandpa would start the Chevy and run it through the gears into third. He’d turn up the idle speed so the speedometer would read about 60 mph and commence cutting. My cousin Andy shown in the photo (with the Chevy front fender visible to the right) was a big help with the heavy lifting during cutting. The Chevy produced a substantial amount of mosquito repellent in the form of smoke from burning oil while cutting many cords of wood over five summers. Safety features were lacking but that’s the way Grandpa’s generation did things. Remarkably no one was ever injured working with the saw.

Grandpa passed away in 1980. After the car sat outside for four more years the floors and frame were too far gone to do anything more with the car so I took the hood, grille, and headlight frames to a swap meet to find new homes for them. Then I met a guy who was converting his ’62 Impala from Powerglide to four-speed and he hauled the rest of the car to his house for the pedals and other parts.

The Chevy had lived one common life and one most uncommon one. We still have the saw blade, table and driveshaft, a few paper mementos of the car, photos, key and a lot of great memories of the things Grandpa built.