(originally published here on 11/26/08)
As I mentioned in the comments to a TA post several months ago, my husband is now the proud owner of a restored 1940 Ford pick up truck. The Mason family, specifically dad Jerry, son Allen, and assorted relatives & friends, have been working quite a while now to transform the rusty wreckage of a Georgia farm truck into the sleek black & chrome splendor in the accompanying photo.
It’s the other photos down there at the bottom I want to write about on this Thanksgiving holiday, though. The folks who own Mason’s Hot Rods (Rods, Parts, & Restoration) are South Carolinians from the Spartanburg (pop. 39,407) area. All bets out on the table right now might be for the Mason family/friends’ profile to somehow fit one of Hollywood’s favorite stock characters, the clichéd small town Southerner: narrow-minded (& of course rednecked) men who value their trucks & hunting rifles over their wives & sweethearts, those long-suffering ladies always silent in the kitchen, emerging only to hand their hubbies another cold one. In other words, “some” might think these Southern folks a compendium of the tattered images the U.S. has been fed over time about the inhabitants of the rural South via television, movies, & mainstream media.
“Some” would be every kind of wrong.
Southern Clichés, meet The Masons. “I didn’t vote for no Bush!!” paterfamilias Jerry bellowed across a production trailer to my husband once (we met the Mason clan & friends due to their remarkable expertise as mechanics- they’re much in demand working on car-oriented movies such as the “Fast & Furious” series). Right after the election of Barack Obama another local who is a close friend of the Mason family emailed me to say, “Just think, Maureen, if we lived a little further up the road we could have been part of that landslide!” Spartanburg is about a half hour’s drive south of the North Carolina border. And say, did you know Junior Johnson publicly endorsed Obama for President?
Which brings us to more background info- Jerry Mason is a friend of Junior Johnson. Any NASCAR fans reading this may have already pricked up their ears. You might call Johnson the original “Duke of Hazzard,” that is, before he started on the racing circuit. Two painted portrayals of him engaged in his family’s former trade hang in the parts store/office of Mason’s Hot Rods, located on the periphery of the city of Spartanburg. I’ve stared at those paintings quite a bit- a youthful Junior behind the wheel of his moonshine-running car on a backwoods road, plumes of dust obscuring his wake, Junior & friends loading cases of white lightning into the trunk of another souped-up vehicle. Why was I in Mason’s Hot Rods at all?
We had traveled there for an annual charity car show financed completely by the Mason family, all proceeds of which go directly to aid the local poor & needy families of Spartanburg. A car (last time it was a 60s Mustang) fully restored by the Masons is auctioned off for charity during the show. Several hundred car enthusiasts brought their antique trucks & cars, hot rods, & trailers this year on November 8th for display, as well as to engage in swapping info, visiting, telling stories. The entire Mason family along with their friends worked the show as usual without pay, save for the free annual group dinner at a local Cracker Barrel that evening. Allen Mason’s wife Gina does her human dynamo act during the day of the show- simultaneously selling t-shirts for charity, collecting toys, directing the flow of work & the cooking, riding herd over it all with a wide smile, while Allen, Jerry, & the crew chat up the crowd, park cars, greet friends old & new. The price of admission? An unwrapped new toy for the local Toys for Tots program, cash donations for local charity organizations also accepted. A bountiful home cooked lunch is provided, all coming out of the Mason family & friends’ largesse toward their needy Spartanburg neighbors. Right now there are plenty of those.
The last time I was in Spartanburg I rode with my husband to a local BBQ place for supper. Allen Mason, the owner of Mason’s Hot Rods, was at the wheel. We listened as Allen described in detail the “family histories” of several cars he had bought to restore & sell. He wove the stories he’d teased out from each owner into the fabric of the South Carolina countryside rolling by us- it was each vehicle’s history, the tales of the various people who had owned it that really made for his fascination with these old cars. Allen Mason, native of the rural South- a business owner, a mechanic, a craftsman like his father & friends who are also deeply imbued with a love of oral history via their chosen profession. It seems to go hand in glove with the love of making an old vehicle purr under the hood again, shine, run like new, even race like new. They’d all throw back their heads laughing to hear themselves described this way, I’m pretty sure. After all, they’re just folks.
Folks who make up the warp & woof of our nation.
I couldn’t attend the Mason’s annual charity car show this year due to health issues, but my husband did. From sunup to sundown the Mason family and their friends (including my husband & his good friend from Phoenix AZ) toiled as usual without pay to hold their biggest car rally yet (see photo of Allen Mason & our friend Mike Price grinning in front of two station wagons that are filling up with donated toys).
In these difficult financial times, rural areas & small businesses are being hit hard. I hope Mason’s Hot Rods weathers the economic storm. Allen Mason confided to my husband that he's not sure he can continue having the November charity car show & auction in 2009, as the cost is starting to be too much in this tough economy.
It wouldn’t be fair to end this post without some links to car music, the kind always playing over the loudspeakers at Mason’s Annual Cruise In. Plus, it’s great toe-tapping music. Happy Thanksgiving to all:
Stevie Ray Vaughn & Double Trouble- Tightrope (not a car song, but somehow appropriate)
And of course...