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I've been a part of my fair share of coincidences and on more than one occasion I have been compelled to mutter "small world, isn't it?" under my breath. 

Many times, in fact, I've headed off go to look at something and gotten within a block of my destination only to realize that "Oh, I've been here before," with a vague, hazy  recollection of some sort of dealings that had previously occurred, most often years before. 

I've also talked to hundreds and hundreds of people over the years while wheeling and dealing on rusty old cars, hot rod trinkets and downright junk. I save every phone number of every person I end up dealing with, along with the circumstance that lead to them earning a position in my seemingly endless roster of ten-digit numbers stored away in my perpetually overworked phone. Good or bad, I save them all. From "Dave-you bought black 1931 Coupe from-nice guy" to "Jim-is a prick-fucked you around on a '32 frame" and everything in between, if we've ever had dealings, you're saved in my phone and most likely with a description.  Often times I end up dealing with the same people over and over. Other times, I never hear from them again.

One particular contact in my phone that is a perfect example of this was a fella named Bill. I had spoken with him just one time and nothing ever materialized from the conversation. This is how it went down: 

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine named Matt gave me the phone number of a guy, along with this simple briefing: "His name's Bill and he has a couple cars you may be interested in." Matt is the kind of guy that when he says something, he means it and when he gave me the number and said I should call, that's all I needed to know. He's given me plenty of leads like this over the years and they have all turned into either a good deal, a good story, or both. 

So without any further pressing, I punched the numbers into my phone and waited for my new pal, Bill to pick up. "Yeah-hello?!" I could tell maybe this was a bad time... Still, I pressed ahead. 

"Hi, Bill? My name is Jake, and my friend, Matt gave me your phone number and said I should give you a call about some old cars you have and may want to part with." 

After a few seconds of silence, a confused and annoyed voice stammered through what I had just said, repeating it back to me, with an obvious question mark at the end of every other word.

"Your... Friend? Gave.. YOU... MY.. Phone? Number? About a car?!?"

"Yes," I confirmed. And after a few more seconds of awkward silence, you could just about hear the lightbulb turning on on the other end of the phone. And Bill finally replied, "Probably my old Fords." Yep, those would be the ones! 

After a little more conversation back and forth, Bill described a 1940 Ford that was in pieces and a 1934 Ford Coupe that he wasn't sure he was ready to let go of just yet. He also named a price on the '40 and it was.....let's say, a little ambitious to say the least. That, coupled with the fact that the entire conversation seemed to be through gritting teeth and with an undertone of annoyance that I'd even called at all, made me file this encounter under "follow up at a later date" and that was that. I made a note to call Bill back in a few months to see if he might be in a better mood. His contact in my phone was saved as: "Bill has 34 and 40 - is kinda gruff." and that was that. 

Well, long story short, I never made that call. I had sort of forgotten about it by the time when, a couple of months later, I started hearing grumblings from other guys in the old car world that either they, or people they knew had also heard about Bill's cars and had already been over there looking at them and making offers. I never saw either car in person and they both sold. I heard a rumor about what had been paid for the '34, which was a 3 Window Coupe, it was cheap. I started to regret not pushing the issue with Bill months before.

And before long, I started getting text messages and calls from either the person that bought it, or someone in their group that was somehow involved in the deal, to see if I'd be interested in buying it from them, at a much taller price, of course. The pictures they sent me of the car I would later find out, were taken in Bill's garage. 

I never bought either car and never heard where they ultimately ended up. I have had plenty of things slip through my hands over the years and I just sort of shrugged this one off like the others and vowed to be more diligent in the future when it came to following up on some of these leads, even when they seem a little uncomfortable. 

About nine months later, I'd forgotten all about Kinda Gruff Bill and the cars that I had let get away. I had done dozens of deals in between and hadn't given it a second thought when, out of the blue one day, that same friend, Matt rang my door bell. 

"I have something for you," he said as he motioned for me to follow him to his truck. 

Here's what you need to know about my friend, Matt: He is in his 60's and is just one of these guys that is ALWAYS getting into something. He's a quirky and very hard-working guy that doesn't let a single day go wasted. He's up at the crack of dawn every day, out beating the bushes, and is always in the middle of some kind of transaction. The guy never quits. When he says he has something I'd want, he's always right. 

We go out to the truck and he pulls out an old blue drag strip jacket and hands it to me. It says "McMinnville Oregon Champ, 1963" 

"WOW," I said, "Where did you get this??" He just kind of smirks, hands me two other drag strip jackets and says, "You should see the trophies......"

After some quizzing, I find out that Matt, in typical Matt fashion, had stumbled onto a situation where the grandson of a gentleman that had passed away was in the middle of trying to figure out how to liquidate his estate and was completely overwhelmed. Matt had heard about it from the neighbor of the guy who'd passed, who happened to be a friend of his. And just like that, now he was right in the middle of it. 

He explained that when he got involved, the grandson, a kid in his thirties, had just inherited everything and was right on the cusp of literally hiring a company to come in and THROW EVERYTHING IN THE HOUSE AWAY so that he could sell the house and move on. Yes, literally, he was going to pay someone thousands of dollars to throw the entire contents of the house away. Total insanity. 

Needless to say, Matt advised the grandson to stop immediately and just hear him out, proposing that they instead have a series of garage sales, which Matt would run for him (for nothing) and now he was there at this place every day, sorting the garbage from what could be sold and getting everything organized to have some sales. Of course he was pulling whatever he wanted out of the mix and buying it before the sale happened, and these jackets were some of those things. The trophies he mentioned had already been claimed by the neighbor. (don't worry, I ended up with them too!) After some pressing about what else might be there, Matt said I should just come out and have a look for myself, to which I happily agreed. 

A few days later, I found myself at a rundown looking 1970's house in a neighborhood about ten miles from me. I go in and find a sprawling two-level house that had apparently been occupied by someone who never threw anything away. It was visibly dirty, smelled like cigarette smoke and there was just shit everywhere. Household items, car parts, garbage, you name it - it all indiscriminately occupied every square inch of this house. And on the couch sat an overwhelmed-looking guy, the grandson, clearly distracted and feeling the pressure of this tremendous undertaking. I started to understand why someone would consider the option of just throwing it all away. Except for one thing: among the garbage was actually a whole bunch of good stuff! Car stuff.... 

I go out to the garage and find a sea of tool boxes, engine hoists, parts and pieces laying everywhere, some junk, some not. There are engines on stands, some are covered up. I'm doing a cursory check and start to notice things like MSD ignitions and Hurst shifter handles. I look a little further and I'm noticing drag slicks, cam shafts in their original boxes, multi-carb intakes and gas cans labeled "RACE ONLY." After further digging, I'm starting to realize there is some very good stuff there. I'm looking at the motors on stands and pull the cover off of one in particular to find that it's a BRAND NEW, never ran 502 Big Block Chevy.

I pull Matt aside and with sweaty palms, ask what the deal is... He tells me "Just make him a fair offer and he will take it. He was going to throw all this away, so any amount of money and he will be tickled, but just be fair and you can load it up." 

So with that, I made a deal on a bunch of stuff: The Big Block and all the new in the box parts, tons of tools, you name it. Anything there that was worth buying, I bought it and for a very fair price. I was good to the kid, I wasn't unnecessarily greedy, but I definitely got a fantastic deal and was very happy.

Toward the end of the day, as I'm peeling off hundred dollar bills and handing them to a wide-eyed guy standing in the middle of a bunch of stuff he thought was trash, he casually mentions something that gets my attention. He said this:

"Man it's too bad you hadn't made it out here sooner, you'd have probably loved the cars my grandpa had. You probably would have bought them too. He sold them right before he died and for too cheap, I think..." 

After a little prodding from me about what kinds of cars they might have been, with visible strain as he tried to remember what his grandfather might have told him about them, he finally said, "I think they were a '34 Ford and a '40 Ford if I remember right..?"

I was, in fact, standing in Bill Kinda Gruff's garage....... Small world, isn't it?

PS - Part of what I dragged out of that house was a shoebox full of photos. I literally pulled them out of the garbage and I'm very glad I did. Below is just a handful of what was in that box. It seems gruff 'ol Bill was quite the prolific drag racer and car guy. A life well-lived by the looks of it. I wish I could have known him. Enjoy.


Metalflake Jake

Looks like Bill lived the life a lot of us younger guys wished we could have, during the heyday of grassroots drag racing.
And he must’ve been a cool motherfucker to hang onto a ’34 and a ’40 until the bitter end.

Pop Gilligan

Bill was a fuckhead. I did the body and paint on the black 40 Ford coupe. I was in my late 20s . My wife and I had opened a body shop in Vancouver Washington in 1984. Around 1985 or 1986 Bill Keno lived near us. Brought in the 40 coupe in rough shape, painted in tan enamel, should have been grey primer. Anyway I got the body, doors, decklid, rear fenders all done and installed ,and put most the glass back in,Bill came by and was all excited, wanting the car back to install his blown small block Chevrolet. The front sheet metal wasn’t done yet, so he gave me 1500 dollars and would pay me the balance when I got the front fenders and hood finished. I let him take the car, knowing where he lived. No big deal, right! When I got the front fenders done and ready for paint, I called Bill. Phone disconnected. I went to the house to find someone else living there. Many year’s later I found out he inherited his grandmother house. Which he lived in the rest of his life. The 40 coupe never did get a motor put in it. I keep the front sheet metal for at least 10 years before I started getting rid of it. Fast forward to when he was trying to sell the car, of course friends were calling me about it, he was telling them the sheet metal was in Vancouver. Really? He thought that dunb kid still lived in that house and those parts were in his garage. Not!! Anyway, guy’s that grew up with Bill said anything he wanted his granny would pay for. What a loser.

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