Along the roadside in Rocky Mount, Virginia, there is a car lot with an old rusty Dodge tow truck out front. Around back, behind the lot of modern used vehicles is a garage where barn-find cars and trucks are not just restored, but preserved.
Hatman’s Steetrod Garage mechanic, Justin, was nice enough to show me around the property with my old camera and explained to me how they go about fixing these faded mementoes of American ingenuity and engineering. It is not just about getting them back on the road, but also keeping the history that is packed within every inch of rust and remaining original paint. An original paint job can only be that once.
It was the old tow truck that got my attention, but what they had hidden in that garage out back truly displays the talent of a small group of men who feel it is their responsibility to save these old cars and trucks from becoming scrap metal. This is a team who seem to have such a passion for the work they do and the time and knowledge it takes for every project they take on.
“That is how this all started. That tow truck,” Justin explains. “We ordered it from New Jersey and it started. It will drive. I would drive it to California right now. It started the fever and then it all just took off. That was about three years ago. We don’t sell anything until it is done. We build them for us. We have the newer car lot too, because these can take six to eight months to build one. The car lot is the main business. It subsidizes.”
While the builds are an adventure in itself, it all starts with finding an old ‘retired’ vehicle long since forgotten about, parked and left to the elements nature provides. They either wither away or they are rescued by someone who sees something more than what once was, but what can be too.
“We go everywhere for cars,” Justin says. “Get in an old car and ride around for the weekend until you find something. People know we are the guys now, so they just bring cars to us and drop them off here. People park cars they never should have parked. Now they are worth forty times what they paid for it.”
To look at these cars and trucks in passing, one might assume they are parked for good, put out to pasture, retired. But that is part of the charm. From the outside, they are meant to retain their original appeal. But what is behind the doors and windows and under the hood are where the modern art and comforts live.
“That is about a $50,000 truck,” Justin says of the old rusty Chevy pickup sitting in the carport. “You wouldn’t know by looking at it. It’s got $10,000 worth of interior in it. It’s for sale now. First $30,000 will take it but it takes someone $50,000 to build it. We built it all in-house from the bottom to the top.”
When the guys of Hatman Streetrod Garage go to a car show or a swap meet, they load up several old trucks on a trailer and head out to show the collectors and the admirers just what they can do. Every car and truck that leaves the garage is reborn, not with a start to its story, but rather a new chapter begun with decades of history felt with every mile and every head turned to see these pieces of American history and art.