Laura Dean Bennett
Some people may look at an old car and see just an old car. But when Loy Burgess looks at an old car, he sees history and a way of life.
Born and raised in Woodrow, Burgess is Pocahontas County through and through – a gentleman of the old school, who looks back with pride on the good life that he and his family have enjoyed here.
When I arrived at Loy Burgess’ home in Marlinton, he had graciously pulled both his Model A Ford and his 1930 Ford sedan out onto the driveway for me to see.
And they are gorgeous.
Burgess and his 1930 Ford Model A were last year’s Cranberry Nature Center Classic Car Show winners in the Oldest Car category.
Of course, winning at car shows is nothing new to Burgess, he’s been entering and winning at car shows for 20 years.
Just a few weeks ago he won a trophy at a car show in Lewisburg.
He modestly estimates that he’s probably won dozens of trophies and plaques at car shows.
“But I really didn’t get into this for awards,” Burgess insisted.
“I like to do car shows because the fee you pay to show your car goes toward scholarships for kids.
“The best part is, I get to make the drive to the show, visit with other old car owners and go out to eat with them.
“I meet a lot of people and the kind of people you meet at these shows are really nice.
“They come to look at your car and ask questions about it, and then you go over and look at their cars and do the same.”
Burgess has taken his cars to shows all around this part of the state as well as into Virginia. His hobby has taken him to Union, Ronceverte, Lewisburg, Webster Springs, Richwood, Monterey and Covington, Virginia, and shows in Bath County, just to name a few.
And he meets a lot of antique car enthusiasts who come to car shows from out of state.
He doesn’t mind venturing out for a road trip on a rainy day, but never in the snow.
In the winter, his cars stay safely tucked up in the garage.
And Burgess likes to keep his antique car travels to within about 100 miles of home.
“After all, an old car isn’t always so dependable,” he said.
“One time I was at a show, and I said to a car show friend, ‘I hope I don’t break down going home,’ and he said to me, ‘Well, if you do, we’ll just put your car in my garage, and you can stay with me until it’s fixed.’”
That’s the kind of people vintage car people are.
Burgess got into collecting vintage cars about 20 years ago when he retired from the Department of Highways.
“I’ve always been interested in old cars,” he said. “In fact, I like all cars – they don’t even have to be old.
“I work on my cars, but there’s some things I can do and some things I can’t.
“I like tinkering around with them, but I’m by no means a top mechanic!
“Of course, old cars are a lot easier to work on than cars these days. But they do take a lot of work,” he added.
“A lot of companies are making parts for the old cars now.
“It used to be that there were lots of old cars driving around and you could get refurbished parts from the ones that were in junkyards, and parts were easier to come by.
“But now most of them are gone, and we usually have to buy new parts.”
His 1930 Model A Ford Coupe was his first, and it’s been his favorite car for 20 years.
Burgess explains that, just as a Harley Davidson has a distinctive sound, a Model A’s engine has a sound all its own.
It has its original 4-cylinder engine and features beautiful brown upholstery inside on a dainty-sized bench seat.
It’s a coupe because it doesn’t have a back seat, but it does have the famous “rumble seat.”
Burgess has refurbished the car to make it safer for riding on today’s roads. He’s added seat belts, signal lights and a second tail light.
When the Model A was built, from 1928 to 1931, it came with only one tail light.
He said people often ask him how fast his Model A will run.
“Well, they want to run about forty-to-forty-five miles an hour,” he said. “And you might say that’s not too fast, but you have to remember that before the Model T (the first car Ford ever made) and the Model A (the second model), people were traveling by horse and buggy.
“And the roads back then were pretty bad. There were probably a lot of roads you couldn’t even have made forty miles an hour on.”
His 1950, shiny black, Ford sedan looks like a glamorous car from a gangster movie.
It has a V-8 flathead engine which is also original – just the way it was when it was driven off the showroom floor.
“I’ve had my Model A for 20 years and my 1950 Ford for 10 years,” he said. “I like both of them, but I really love the Model A.”
You won’t see any grease or dirt when you look under the hood of these cars – they are immaculate and, as Burgess is quick to point out, both engines are original – just the way they came off the showroom floor.
They are just beautiful and so elegant, it’s hard not to fall in love with them, even if you’ve never really been interested in classic cars.
But Burgess always sees room for improvement.
“My cars are not perfect,” he said. “The Model A needs painted, but if I have it painted, I’d probably be too particular about it.
“I like sharing my cars with people. I enjoy letting people really get in there and look at my cars, and I like talking to people about them.
“I can make friends with anybody,” he added, smiling.
Burgess has a cabinet full of awards – stacks of trophies and piles of plaques.
“I’ve won lots of shows, but that’s not really why I take my cars to them,” he said. “Mostly, I really enjoy driving my cars and meeting people.”
Burgess is a widower now, and he looks back fondly on the days when he and his beloved wife, Mazie, would set off for a ride in the Model A.
“If it was a pretty day, we’d enjoy taking a ride,” he recalled, “just to see the countryside and enjoy looking at the scenery.”
“I still do that – if the weather’s good, I like to take a car out. Sometimes I drive across the Scenic Highway or through Watoga.
“Sometimes people want to stop and talk about the car.
“I’ll meet motorcycles and they’ll throw up a thumb or wave at me, and I’ll always wave back. I guess because they’re enjoying riding and I’m enjoying riding, we have that in common.”
Burgess also provides a unique service for newlyweds.
He gives them another memory of their special day – taking their first ride as man and wife in the rumble seat of his Model A.
He showed me the two places where they’d have to carefully step onto the back of the car to get into the rumble sear.
“There’s been many a bride in a big dress get up in there.,” Burgess said, smiling. “I’ve had several couples ask me to come and pick them up after the ceremony. I wait in the Model A and then take them wherever they want to go.
“And I never charge them for it- I enjoy doing it.”
Some people might think it’s strange to love old cars as much as Burgess does. But that’s okay with him.
“The good Lord didn’t make us all alike, you know,” he explained. “If everybody was alike, everybody would want to buy the same house or marry the same spouse.
“I have an old friend who likes to bear hunt. And I like to collect old cars. But we don’t have to like the same things to be good friends.”
Burgess is a great-grandfather now, and he says he feels blessed to have his family living close enough that they can all be together for holidays.
In fact, Burgess’s three children – two daughters and a son – all live within a few minutes’ drive of him.
Maybe the love of classic cars runs in the family. His son has a 1959 Ford and his daughter has a 1969 Chevelle, and they keep their cars at their dad’s house, parked carefully under cover, just like his.
If people are interested in getting into the vintage car hobby, Burgess says that he recommends it.
“It’s kind of an expensive hobby,” he said, “what with the insurance, the licenses and the upkeep. But if you like to drive older cars, it really is fun.”
He’ll have both of his beauties in the Pioneer Days parade – driving one and having someone else drive the other. They are sure to draw admiring glances from old and young alike.
Anyone interested in a closer look at Burgess’ 1930 Ford may see it this Sunday, June 23, at the Cranberry Nature Center Classic Car Show where Burgess will be happy to talk cars, or anything else, with you.