TACOMA - Six years after the pieces of a 1949 Washington State Patrol Ford "Shoebox" sedan were discovered for sale in Westport, it's been painstakingly restored and is now on display in the lobby of the LeMay - America's Car Museum in Tacoma through Father's Day weekend.
A retired state trooper who is now 93 years old recalls what it was like to patrol in one of these cars 70 years ago.
"What I remember is that this picture must have been taken up on Snoqualmie Pass, on my second trip up there, because there's snow and I had the car,” said Ret. Trooper Fred Schenk.
He spent his first couple of years with the Washington State Patrol driving a 1947 panel van, but then, they issued him a 1949 Ford "Shoebox" sedan, named that because it resembled the shape of shoeboxes of that era.
"The visibility was a lot better out of a 4-door sedan instead of a panel wagon and the performance was a little bit better, I'm sure of that."
His new car came factory-equipped with a Ford Flathead V8 engine, heavy-duty brakes, a spotlight and a steel reinforcement plate on the roof for an antenna.
Schenk patrolled Snoqualmie Pass back when it was only two lanes and the snowy driving could be extremely hazardous.
“Took a spin-off and bounced off the wall and over to the other side of the road, bounced off the snow bank and I was still headed in my direction, so I kept on going."
And then there was time he was racing to bring a portable Iron Lung to an Everett hospital, when he encountered a cattle crossing.
"I went through passing my lane of cars, through the cows, down the next lane and I missed ‘em all, but boy it worked out just right.”
Now, Schenk is honored to be part of the restoration after Seattle Metropolitan Police Museum founder, Jim Ritter, purchased the old patrol car. It wasn't much to look at, but Ritter put together a team of volunteers and experts to bring it back to life, just like they did with all of the other vehicles in their collection.
To get it looking as good though took years of hard work. “"When it came in, it was just like pieces, parts and we're just trying to put it all back together with some better parts,” said Neal Potter with B&B Auto Restoration in Union Gap. That meant scouring junkyards. Potter says they replaced the rusted-out floor with a piece of one found in a wrecking yard. "Everything has to fit. The doors gotta close and open and they gotta have the lines right, so that when you paint it, it looks like it never has been touched,” said Potter. It was the museum's most extensive restoration project to date.
Volunteers had to straighten the frame, patch up holes, weld the car together, strip the old pant, sand it, repaint it and replace the interior and electronics, carefully refurbishing the ‘49 Ford into a car that may even have been the exact one that Fred Schenk patrolled in every day as part of the greatest generation to serve.
Schenk hopes people who come to see it leave with some new admiration for the automotive history of law enforcement in our state and gratitude for all the hard work that went into restoring this old 'Shoebox.' "I appreciate the fact that these guys rebuilt this thing. They spent an awful lot of time and energy on it,” said Schenk.
The LeMay America's Car Museum in Tacoma is open 7 days a week from 10am to 5pm. CLICK HERE for more information and to buy tickets.