1954 Surprise

In February of 2019, I was mindlessly clicking through old cars for sale on Craigslist.  I had no interest in buying another old car, but always like to see what’s out there.  I came across this rusty ’54 Ford wagon, and clicked on it.  I’ve always liked the style of the ’54, and actually bid on one at an auction a couple years earlier.

Scanning through the Craigslist photos of this car, I was startled to see my name on the eighth one.  It was a shot of the tailgate, with an original ‘Stoudt’s / Jamestown’ chrome badge on it. 

Some background.  My grandfather, R. M. Stoudt, Sr., started working for Ford as a ‘traveler’ in the mid 1920’s, pitching Ford’s current lineup to dealers.  He worked his way up to district sales manager by the mid-thirties, and fifty years later, he told me a story about being called to Detroit for a meeting.  It was 1935 or ’36, and Ford was getting kicked by Chevrolet at the time.

Grandpa Dick said the meeting was brought to order, with all twenty-two district sales managers from across the country in attendance. He managed the Fargo district, which included all of North and South Dakota, western Minnesota, and eastern Montana.  Eleven sales managers were seated on the left side of the room, and eleven on the right.  Henry Ford himself then came to the podium, glared at the attendees, and said, “You eleven bums on the left… get out.  You’re fired.”  And then Henry just stood there, while half of his sales team was ushered out.

Grandpa said he had been specifically placed in the group on the right, but wasn’t sure if the remaining eleven were to be fired or shot.  Henry sized them up, and then said, “Gentlemen, your performance last year was… acceptable.  This meeting is adjourned.  Would you all care to join me for lunch, and a tour of my museum?”  And thus Henry Ford gave my Grandpa Dick and ten other ‘acceptable’ sales managers a guided tour through the Henry Ford Museum, and Greenfield Village.  They stopped to listen to his comments in the restored shop where he built his first ‘quadricycle’ in 1896, and at the bottle containing his friend Thomas Edison’s last breath (a mental image which, Grandpa claimed, was a bit macabre).

R. M. retired from Ford corporate in 1941, and bought the Ford store in Jamestown, ND, from Mr. E. O. Berry.  Interestingly, on the day they signed the buy / sell agreement in Fargo, my grandpa Dick, grandma Marlys, and Mr. Berry drove to Jamestown together that evening.  Outside of Valley City, ND, they crashed into the rear of an old farm truck with no taillights.  Both Dick and Marlys survived, but with substantial injuries, and Mr. Berry was killed.

Spinning ahead to 1954, my father, R. M. Stoudt, Jr., had been back from the Korean War for a year, and worked for his father when he sold the above ’54 wagon. It was a pretty cool coincidence to run across a car that my dad had sold new sixty-five years previous, but that was actually the least of the surprises about this car.

Back in 2000, my late wife commissioned the above painting of her father’s hardware store in Sanborn, ND, to commemorate his fiftieth year owning that business.  Her dad, L. W. (Bud) Anderson took over the store after the death of his father-in-law, Spot Ellison.

Note the timing here.  I saw this ’54 Ford wagon for sale on Craigslist in 2019, and nineteen years previous to that, it showed up on an original painting.  It seems that Bud’s wife Louise was pregnant with my wife in 1954, and she would be the fourth of four kids.  Thus Bud decided they needed a bigger car.  Unknown to she or me at the time, her father bought the ’54 wagon from my father, and drove it until it was worn out, in 1966.  The car retains it’s final 1966 ND license plate, as it was sold to a junkyard in Valley City, and never made it back on the road.  It sat in the wrecking yard, and then in a barn or three, for over fifty years.

Bud bought several cars from R. M. Stoudt Ford over time, but never mentioned the ’54 wagon, or its provenance, to us, as it was just another old car that he’d worn out and junked.

And finally, if curious things killed the cat, that feline has been declared DOA for the ninth and final time.  In 2018, my son Dan opened up a classic car restoration shop, and, a year before I saw the ’54 wagon on Craigslist, named the enterprise Bud’s Speed Shop, in honor of his grandpa Bud, who died in 2015.

So the 1954 Ford wagon was sold by Dan’s grandpa Dick, to his grandpa Bud, because Dan’s grandma Louise was pregnant with Dan’s mom.  And as I write this, sixty-six years later, the car is being restored at Bud’s Speed Shop in Stillwater, MN.  Oh, didn’t I mention that?  I bought the car from the guy who posted it on Craigslist.