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Stolen vehicle returned years later

The called it their "fishin' car," the shiny, restored 1965 Chevy El Camino they always took camping and angling at mountain lakes. The kids, recalled owner Dianne York of Medford, would fall asleep in the pickup bed, under the stars — and the vehicle was almost like a member of the family.

But one winter morning almost 12 years ago, it was stolen from the driveway of York's Medford home, leaving nothing but a bare, rectangular patch in the snow. Years passed and the family accepted their loss and forgot about it.

But last Wednesday, their beloved vehicle came home.

With a straight body but stripped down, the car was towed into York's driveway in Medford, where the now-grown kids will start the long, expensive process of restoring it — this time with a new generation of kids to help and, York hopes, to build more fishing and camping memories.

"My emotions? Well, they're running toward sadness, that anyone could have raped it like this. All these memories of my dad (who has since passed away) came rushing back, all the good times fishing. It will be good to get it going again."

Though a restored El Camino is a rare and valuable item, one that would stick out from the crowd, their searching turned up nothing — until last month when a friend spotted it for sale at $1,250 on Craigslist, a Web site with classified ads.

Studying the Internet photo, York felt the car's distinctive burgundy color said this was the family "Elkey" — their nickname for the El Camino.

York's son, Will Morse of Medford, who enjoyed the car as a teen, went to see it at Rebel Towing & Auto Recycling in Cave Junction, and recognized it as the same car — but with engine, transmission, wheels, rear axle and interior gone.

"It was like a sucker punch to the gut, seeing it," said Morse. "I just tried to keep my emotions straight and not tip it off that I knew the car."

The family notified Josephine County Sheriff Gil Gilbertson, whose deputies confirmed the vehicle identification number matched the one on the nearly 12-year old stolen car report.

Gilbertson's investigation reported that the company said it towed the car from private land two-and-a-half years ago but didn't know it was stolen, he said. The company wanted the full sale price and storage fees, but since it was stolen, deputies oversaw its removal without payment, last week. The tow company's owner declined comment.

Asked if they would try to find who took the car on Feb. 26, 1996, Gilbertson said, "I doubt it. We don't have the resources. Medford police might process it, but I can't imagine they would, unless there's something (evidence) blatantly obvious. Who knows how many people have been in and out of that vehicle in 12 years?"

Restoring vintage cars is a pricey hobby, but York, Morse and other family members — her other son Joseph Goldring and husband David York — intend to start the $8,000 to $10,000 job, beginning with new wheels, tires and steering wheel, then dropping in a powerful Corvette V-8 engine.

But right now, the family is dealing with their emotions.

"We put a lot of time and money into it," said David York, "and it makes me sick to see it in that condition."

"We've been to Idaho in that truck and camping a lot up at Diamond Lake — a lot of memories and, oh, wow, it's kind of overwhelming. I'm kind of upset with the situation, it being stripped down like this," said Goldring.

His son Jesiah, and Morse's son Austin, seeing it for the first time, were more than eager to get started. The boys, said Dianne York, represent the fifth generation to form bonds with the car. The generational chain began with her father, Talmadge Creech, and grandfather, Jack Schmidl.

"I wanted it for sentimental reasons," she said. "Will and Joe want to honor my father by putting it back together, not letting it be crushed. It's part of their childhood."

Restoration of the vehicle will take at least a year and perhaps up to five years, depending on the breaks finding parts, said Goldring, who hopes to locate many items on the Web site of Year One, a vintage restoration firm in Los Angeles.

Restored El Caminos are popular in the valley and good ones are worth about $17,000, said Morse. But one lesson has been learned: the desirable vehicle won't be left parked on a Medford street, he said. "We're going to restore it at the house of a friend out in the country, and he has really big dogs."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Will Morse plans to restore his family’s El Camino. The car was found in a junk yard after it was stolen 11 years ago. Mail Tribune Photo / Jamie Lusch - Jamie Lusch