Restoring antique cars drives Hillsboro hobbyist

Richard Dirks poses with the 1931 Model A Ford Coupe he restored several years ago. He has been restoring antiques for more than six decades.Restoring and preserving antique vehicles has been a hobby of Richard Dirks for more than six decades.

Born and raised in Marion County, Dirks has loved cars ever since he was a boy.

?I tried putting an engine on my coaster wagon so I didn?t have to push it or pull it,? he said, ?but it didn?t work out too well.?

Dirks said he also tore down a couple of older antique cars and junked them before getting really interested in the hobby.

?I really hated doing that (to those cars),? he said.

As with most teenage boys, Dirks remembers his first car: a 1941 Ford Coupe.

?I got it here in Hillsboro from Warren Dalke?s dad, Bill,? he said.

At that time, Dalke had a salvage yard where the Tabor College football field is today.

?It was blue with fender skirts on it, and he told me it ran pretty good,? he said.

Dirks said his father went with him to see about buying the car, plus he was prepared to trade it for his motor scooter and $45.

At age 16 and a sophomore at Durham High School, Dirks said he was proud to say the deal went through.

?I had me a car,? he said.

Taking off for home, he said he didn?t make it before the engine started overheating, but after stopping to add water, it was ready to go again.

A lot of older cars overheated, he said, and it wasn?t unusual for some drivers to keep extra water or tools in their vehicles in case of a breakdown.

?Every time I would go to Durham High School and back, that car took a quart of oil until I put a different engine in it,? he said.

Dirks said his love of antique cars really started taking off in his early 20s.

?I restored a 1930 Model A two-door sedan in the 1960s,? he said. ?I was on the Durham City Council at that time and drove it in the Hillsboro parade.?

About that same time, Dirks? father, who liked Model Ts, bought a 1926 Model T truck, which Richard said he bought from him years later.

During the next few years, Dirks said he got even more interested in antiques after moving to his farm north of Durham.

?I sold the Model A and already started on another (antique car), a 1931 Model A Ford Coupe,? he said.

Restoring it, Dirks was able to drive it in several parades to include the centennial celebrations for both Tampa in 1986 and Durham in 1987.

?I have had that car ever since,? he said, ?and it still goes through all kinds of parades, Old Settler?s Day and other car shows.?

One of his latest projects is restoring a 1935 Ford.

?It was quite a bit more work,? he said, ?but now it?s ready to be primed and painted.?

In addition to his own antique vehicles, Dirks, who also serves on the Hillsboro Museum Board, said he has been fixing up two antiques that the board had in storage.

?A 1923 Model T truck and a 1917 Willys Overland Touring car were both donated to the city,? he said.

The truck was Dean Schroeder?s original fuel truck, Dirks explained, and the touring car hadn?t run for years.

?I can?t take all the credit for getting the Willys going,? he said, ?because John McMinn, who repaired bicycles, was a mechanic, too.?

The vehicle hadn?t run for so long that Dirks said the valves were sticking in the engine.

?Like the Model A, I restored (the Willys Overland) by completely redoing the engine.?

Most antique cars don?t have a lot of mileage on them because people didn?t drive that many miles in those days.

?New cars can get sometimes 300,000 miles or more and still run good, but the older vehicles could hardly get 100,000?they weren?t built for that,? he said.

Citing an example, Dirks said his grandfather told him that he took his Model T to California.

?It was some trip,? Dirks said his grandfather had told him. ?All along the way there were people stopped fixing tires, engines and this and that, plus the roads were terrible.?

Another concern was that the older antique cars can?t drive more than about 40 to 45 mph at top speed and on a good road.

Street rods aren?t the same, though.

?Street rod owners put big engines in those and they drive like a regular car,? he said.

One thing about his antique cars, Dirks noted, is that the parts on his three vehicles are all original?engines and all.

?I wouldn?t mind having a street rod, but I still like the originals better,? he said.

With spring here, Dirks said he is also looking forward to taking his Model A out for the Hillsboro promenade.

?I said, ?yes,? to a couple of students wanting me to drive it?so it will be up there again this year,? he said.

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