By Matt Avery
Special to the Daily Herald
The Great Depression of the 1930s hit everyone hard. Money was tight, yet John Brayton's grandfather, in need of transportation, managed to scrape together $1,000 from his job with the Works Progress Administration, where he helped construct public buildings and roadways.
In May of 1936, Brayton's grandfather headed to the Fisher Body Plant in St. Louis and bought a new Chevrolet Master Deluxe Town Sedan right off the assembly line. He proceeded a few blocks to the closest Chevrolet dealership and added about $400 in additional options, items such as turn signals, sun visors, a second taillight, sunshades in the rear windows, a radio and heater.
The Chevy served as his daily driver for a few years until 1942, when he put the car away. He had joined the Army Corps of Engineers and knew he'd be gone for a few years serving overseas.
Wanting to preserve his purchase and having access to construction equipment, the grandfather quickly sourced massive concrete blocks and placed them around the car. He also covered it in oil tarps. From there he slathered the car in gobs of cosmoline, a waxy military grade preservative, to prevent rust and protect the classy sedan from the elements. Inside he used multiple bars of Amour deodorant soap to keep pesky rodents and other undesirables out of the handsome cabin materials.
After saying goodbye to his family (and his car), he headed off to Fiji with the 821st Battalion, building roads and airstrips for our World War II GIs.
After returning home to Chicago a few years later, he got a job with the Southern Railroad where he spent the remainder of his career. Throughout all that time and decades passing, he never retrieved the Chevy from its cocoon of protection. All told it sat for more than six decades until his death, at which point his grandson took over ownership.
"From the time I was a kid, I always told Grandpa I'd like to have the car," Brayton says. "His one rule was that it couldn't be turned into a hot rod."
Now that the Chevy is John's, the Des Plaines man has obeyed his grandpa's wishes and left the car bone stock, just as it sat in the 1930s. Getting it roadworthy wasn't easy. All that protective jelly had dried out.
"It was as hard as a rock when I went to scrape it off," John says. Still, he got it all off and had the car repainted in its original silver metallic color.
John gets the Chevy out and about often. He took it to Chevrolet's Detroit headquarters in 2011 to celebrate the iconic brand's 100th anniversary.
"With 79 horsepower and a top speed of 45 mph, it's a challenge to go anywhere," John says. "But it's worth it since my favorite part is sharing the history."
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