Helping others is a lot like describing the weather -- everybody complains but rarely do they actually do anything about it. That's not the case for two area pals who rolled up their sleeves and got to work using one of their favorite hobbies to create what they are calling the "Metal of Honor."
This olive drab 1932 Ford Roadster is being built completely out of donated parts, supplies and labor to serve as a rolling military tribute. With the final all-steel product going to auction for a charity that the guys created themselves, its clear that these hot rod 'GIs' are not about to be AWOL when it comes to assisting those in need.
Lake Zurich resident Chuck Caswell and Bryan Reehoff of Barrington originally came up with the idea in the fall of '07 at their church's annual men's retreat.
"Every year there is a theme for the weekend and for that October we held a pedal car build-off. With 135 in attendance, we divided into several groups and ended up assembling 15 toy cars," Caswell said. "The whole project turned out to be a complete success and enjoyed by all. I told Bryan, 'Now, we've got to build a real car!'"
The pair quickly realized they needed a worthy cause to rally around and looked for an area where they could do some good.
"While a lot of great organizations are out there, there aren't many providing college scholarships for children of American military servicemen and women who were killed or disabled in the line of duty. We wanted to have a way to help provide for these kids' education who are lacking that support of a father or mother," Caswell said.
A plan was drawn up and in 2008 the IronMen Foundation was formed. Caswell offered to take up position as the volunteer director of the project and Reehoff cleared out space in his Island Lake shop, Custom Classics Restorations, to house the work-in-progress, as well provide the required technical support and supervision.
Other knowledgeable volunteers were brought onto the foundation's board to provide guidance and direction, including a retired Air Force general who serves as a military adviser for the organization.
"The initial breakthrough came when Ohio-based Brookville Roadster agreed to donate one of their steel bodies for the project. From there the details really came together with Ford contributing one of their V-8s, Bowler donating a transmission, MHT/Foose and Pirelli giving the wheels and tires and a host of other top-notch suppliers offering the necessary pieces to complete the car," Caswell said.
Of course, all of those loose, brand-new parts won't help any college-bound kids without first being assembled into a cool custom roadster. For that, the shop doors were opened and whoever was willing to come out, grab a wrench and get dirty was made a part of the construction team.
Using after-hour build sessions, it wasn't long before the crew had expanded to include enthusiasts from all over the region who had heard about the project from area cruises, shows and social networking sites like Facebook. On any given night you'll find several guys working away, with ages ranging from as young as 13 all the way to enthusiasts in their 80s.
As for the flavor of these weekly wrench sessions?
"It's a good time of hanging out, joking and laughing as we put together the Deuce," Reehoff said.
While the process of building a street rod is never headache-free, neither enthusiast regrets the decision to embark on the arduous venture.
"I've been so richly blessed and am thrilled to have a way to give back," Reehoff said. Caswell echoes those sentiments.
"This project is all about reaching out to honor and support our American heroes who have given so much," he said.
The completion of the camo'd coupe will be just in time for an appearance at the Grand National Roadster Show in Ponoma, Calif. Following that event, a coast-to-coast journey will ensue in a donated truck and trailer, racking up 4,500 miles to shows and events across the country. The tour will end in Scottsdale, Ariz., at the 2012 Barrett-Jackson auction, at which point the four-wheeled salute will cross the auction block.
All of the proceeds will go directly to the IronMen Foundation, providing funding for those much-needed scholarships.
While we may never be able to do anything about the blustery Midwest winters and all-too short driving season, with local guys like Chuck and Bryan out there, rest assured that the warm, benevolent spirit is alive and well all winter within the hot rod and classic car community.