Feature: Antique truck lover

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ENJOYABLE WORK: Don Bovaird, above, created a limousine business from his love for antiques. At the end of his life, the Girard, Pa., hobbyist had four vehicles in his fleet. For getting around, though, he and his dog, Elmo, rode in a '39 pickup (below).

My father, Don Bovaird, of Girard, Pa., followed the same routine for the last 10 years of his life. At 7:30 a.m., he got into his green 1939 Ford pickup, and his black Labrador retriever, Elmo, got into its place behind him. Then the two headed to McDonald’s for an early morning chat with his antique car buddies. Dressed in a faded jeans jacket, work jeans and chauffeur’s cap, Dad would sip coffee and chat ‘truck talk’ with his makeshift car club.

That was his overriding passion in life – cars. As he aged, his interests aged with him; he became an antique lover, and that love led to a lucrative and unusual limousine business.

Practical antiques

Don Bovaird was a dreamer – but a practical one. Born in Brockway, Pa., in 1927, he moved to Girard in 1962 and later bought land in Fairview, four miles away. There, his dream of restoring old vehicles would become a reality.

He had long ago become known as ‘Don Bovaird – the Tree Man,’ thanks to the tree removal business he started more than 50 years ago. Business was slow during the winter season, and he began restoring antiques on the side about 1990, with some of his tree crew helping him.

His vision was to restore old vehicles to their heyday glory, but he decided straightaway to install modern motors in them. That way, he could drive them on an everyday basis. As he restored a vehicle, he added body panels to stretch it out. And so, he found a practical, if unconventional, avenue for his hobby: a limousine business.

Business gets cranking

My dad’s limousine business officially came into being in 2002, as the Fairview Transit Co. At its biggest, his fleet grew to include four vehicles – and he would have a fifth in the works at the time of his death.

Dad mainly used a 1937 Railway Express Agency (REA) truck and a restored Model T Ford as taxis. (No longer in existence, the REA once served as a popular way of transporting cargo.) The ’39 Ford pickup, meanwhile, got him around town. In addition to ferrying himself and others, the vehicles were also called into service for parades.

To keep business rolling, Dad and his employees restored the vehicles, and three other employees served as chauffeurs. It was a family business, run by word of mouth.

Dad’s trucks created quite a stir. By 2006, stores were selling wooden blocks featuring the familiar sight of Dad’s pickup, his dog in the back. That’s the year he was diagnosed with cancer. He died two months after the discovery, at 78.

Memories roll on

Dad passed the business on to my sister and her husband, Carolyn and Dave Wehr. The vehicles are in storage, but perhaps when my brother-in-law retires in a few years, the fleet will roll back into service.

Folks often say they miss the constant gentle presence Dad had about town. He was a dreamer and entrepreneur who was able to draw folks into his world – one of loud, aging horns, shiny chrome grilles, and bulging headlights – and make them dream along with him. It still seems as if he will appear just around the bend, with a wave and a smile, perhaps a honk, and that black Lab behind him.