Wagon Tale

Stories behind classic cars, such as a 1937 Ford Woodie, bring life to the annual Rod & Custom Show
Sam Cooper of Ashland shows off his 1937 Ford Woodie Saturday during the Southern Oregon Rod 7 Custom Show at The Expo in Central Point.Julia Moore

The 1937 Ford Woodie station wagon sits sedately among the muscle cars, including what many visitors are calling a rocket car, at the 36th annual Southern Oregon Rod & Custom Show at The Expo.

But the Woodie's functionality suits owner Sam Cooper just fine, thank you.

If you go

What: Southern Oregon Rod & Custom Show

When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. today

Where: The Expo, 1 Peninger Road, Central Point

Tickets: $8 adults, $2 for children 6 to 12. Free for kids 5 and younger

"They called them station wagons because they went to the train stations — they were built for carrying people and their luggage," explains Cooper, 78, of Ashland. "You could get all their luggage back there and eight or nine people in it.

"A lot of resorts back East had them," he adds. "They would put them up on blocks during the winter and use them only in the summer, so they were very well-preserved. It was not a car for bad weather."

After all, the top was patterned after the ones used in the old horse-drawn surreys, he says.

"Ford used that lathe ceiling until 1948," he says. "They put on a layer of felt and a canvas top."

The popular annual show, which continues from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. today, features more than 100 custom vehicles from throughout the Pacific Northwest. Visitors will see gleaming vehicles of all types, from Corvettes to customized motorcycles.

The "rocket car" at the show is not of space-age design, although it looks like it was created for the next Star Trek movie. It is actually a pulsejet-powered Belly Tank Lakester. The engine that powers it is the same kind used to propel "buzz bomb" rockets built by Germany in 1939, says builder Bob Maddox, 52, of Medford.

"I started messing with them 10 to 12 years ago while I was searching for a way to get more airtime while I was skydiving," he says.

His experimentation brought him down to Earth. In addition to the Lakester, his exhibit includes a "Comet Bike" and a "Jet Skateboard" powered by pulsejet engines. They run on regular gas, diesel or jet fuel mixed with air, he notes. The engines have no moving parts.

"I've tested the engine, but I haven't taken the car out yet," he says, adding he plans to eventually take it for a test drive on a dry lake bed in Northern California.

"We estimate it will go over 300 (mph)," he says. "That little car will go fast but it is really more of a nostalgia thing."

Nostalgia also seems to drive the vehicles collected by Woodie owner Cooper. He acquired the old Woodie 21/2; years ago after seeing an ad in the Woodie Times, a publication that keeps track of all things Woodie.

"I traded in my 1950 Ford Woodie that was pretty nice for it," he says. "I wanted this because the doors, ceiling and tailgate are all wood — all maple.

"They quit making them like this in 1948," he adds. "In 1949, they started making steel roofs and doors and stuck the wood on for looks."

A retired art teacher at the high school and college level, as well as a former custom jewelry maker, Cooper hails from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

"We didn't have Woodies in Iowa — they would have been very rare there," he acknowledges.

When he was in high school, his parents had a 1939 Mercury sedan, he recalls, noting they also got behind the wheel of Packards and Nashes. He drove a 1939 Ford coupe at the time.

"We had a club called the Cedar Rapids Rod Benders," he says. "I've always been interested in classic cars."

When he got the 1937 Woodie, Cooper worked on it a bit, including restoring the dashboard, which is made of steel.

"It had a lot of dings and scratches," he says.

A coat of paint made it look like hardwood.

The vehicle also had only one tail light, so he added another for safety's sake.

The Woodie's maple wood gives it a golden glow that is nicely offset by a coat of dark-red paint on the metal fenders and hood. The 16-inch tires with fat whitewalls add to the period look.

"When it was new, it would have been dark brown or tan with a black top," he figures.

Because the odometer has been replaced, there is no telling how many miles are on the 76-year-old car. The 1937 vehicle is powered by a 1949 Ford flathead V-8 that looks very similar to the original flathead engine it came off the assembly line with, he says.

Cooper has tooled around in the Woodie a bit, including a visit to a car show in Grants Pass and out to the Applegate Valley, where it was used in a wedding shoot.

In addition to the Woodie, which he says he will part with for $85,000, Cooper has a 1939 Ford standard coupe, a 1939 Mercury sedan, a 1947 Nash Model 600 Brougham coupe and a 1926 Ford Model T roadster pickup.

However, only the Woodie and 1939 Ford coupe are on display at the show.

"Cars are a hobby for me," he says. "They all take a lot of care. There is always something you can be doing to improve them. But they are wonderful to have around."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or pfattig@mailtribune.com.


Reader Reaction
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Rules. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or fill out this form. New comments are only accepted for two weeks from the date of publication.
COUPON OF THE WEEK