THE DOWRY MONTEREY
This 1950 Black and Canary Yellow Mercury Monterey was the perfect wedding gift to Larry Pointer from a College teacher and colleague in 1972.
By Larry Pointer and John Stroble
The first weekend in June the Roaring Twenties Club of “all original” car enthusiasts would stage their annual auction and swap meet outside Billings, Montana. It was 2006. Alone, I pulled into the lot to walk up the line of cars awaiting the auction block. All the predictable models were there, with visions of Barrett Jackson bids dancing in owners’ heads. Then, what should my wandering eye behold? A certain car up the line caught my eye.
Tears soon unabashedly spilled down my cheeks! Here was MY old car. Perhaps the most special, symbolic period car I was ever to embrace and celebrate: this was a 1950 Mercury Monterey. Twenty-two years before, I had been forced to sell this very special car. Career and life would take me far away, then back again. But, unquestionably here she stood. I stepped up the hill to her in silence. Beyond the auctioneer’s prattle, we held our reunion. Recollections came rushing through my brain.
Twenty-two years in the passing. My life seems to go in elevens. Eleven year periods, phases, and cycles. From where this story of life’s twists and turns begins, I once was given the care of this very special Mercury Monterey.
The car was a wedding gift. In 1972 when I married Patsy Kay Samelson, we were given this car by its first owner, a very remarkable lady. Pat Hamilton and I go way back in life’s quirky journey. She was one of those larger than life, electric energetic people with attractive magnetism. It didn’t hurt that she was a tall, statuesque blonde. Her infectious enthusiasm for life gifted her as a teacher, mentor, and rodeo coach.
Yes. A woman rodeo coach. She launched a rough and tumble career path for many, not the least of which were the World Champion and western songster, Chris LeDoux, as well as Conquistador Harry Larsen’s little brother, six-foot-six Fred, “King of the Cowboys” in the movie Buffalo Bill and the Indians. She was a motivator, and her encouragement energized in so many of us that certain spark of life and accomplishment beyond whatever seemed possible.
Pat Hamilton taught at Sheridan College, both when I was a student there from 1958-1960, and when I returned to teach there from 1963-1966. She and I would share shared an office there. She would roll in from her ranch in a cloud of dust behind her 1950 Mercury Monterey, slide to a stop, jump out, run into the office, shut the door, change from her ranch jeans into a proper dress and nylons, and stride off to give the day’s lecture. The nylons always were at the ready, draped over her office chair. The dress, my favorite, a black leather sheath.
Ahh, nostalgia. That Mercury! The Mercury Monterey always was a personal favorite car to me, on the nostalgia side, but it really was a most remarkable automobile. Perhaps the SYMBOL of the Fifties. Hot rods, custom cars, movie cars… James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause” used a jet black Merc, mildly customized. There was “Something about a Mercury”, as Alan Jackson would sing. They just captured the romantic vision of those rock-n-roll Happy Days. It seems few survivors today remain unchanged from the original. Chopped tops are the new norm. But the Monterey… They were rare. Possibly 850 Monterey models that first year for the option. And today, very, very rare.
GM had come out with the “hardtop convertible”. No side “B” pillars or door posts. When all side windows were rolled down, there was free open space from the windshield posts back to the rear window frames—like a convertible, with its top up. Ford/Lincoln/Mercury were caught flat-footed behind the advancing times.
To counter, while feverishly retooling to a Gordon Buehrig designed Victoria “hardtop” to break out late in 1951, there was a scramble to come up with a stop-gap adaptation: the Mercury Monterey and the Crestliner of Ford. What they did was cover the Tudor top with a vinyl or, even in some, leather upholstery. Glued right over the top of the roof. And with color coding to match the upholstery of the interior. Chrome garnish moldings dressed up the interior cabin.
The color combinations were few. There was black on black; black vinyl over a tomato red body. And then the color combination on Pat Hamilton’s Monterey: Canary Yellow vinyl over a black body. Striking. Garish? Eye catching for sure!
So, in 1972, Patsy Kay and I started our life journey together with this gift, Pat Hamilton’s one owner, low mileage 1950 Canary Yellow and Black Mercury Monterey. It had been left sitting beside Drew Jackson’s garage and gas station in Ranchester, Wyoming. We hooked onto it with a chain, my new bride steering, and me towing with our new 1972 Ford ¾ ton truck “Mallard”. We dragged that car for twenty miles, over the dusty gravel foothill roads from Ranchester to Soldier Creek to the Heights Ranch, past the fairgrounds to my folks’ place in Sheridan.
Black and white photo taken in 1973 Riverton, Wyoming back yard. The nose of the Merc showing, behind the small, dirt-floor garage in which I painted the 1967 Ford T-bird for Vic Svilar in trade for his mechanical work on getting the Merc on the road again.
Life does strange things to us in our journeys. I was then teaching and coaching rodeo in Riverton, Wyoming. There, in Hudson, Wyoming I traded labor with Vic Svilar (one of Conquistador mentor Cecil Wentz’s old dirt track racer crowd). Vic soon had the old flathead running like a clock. He overhauled the carburetor, put in a new voltage regulator, spark plugs and wires, belts and hoses. In return, I painted his 1967 Thunderbird a metallic Ginger brown.
Pat Hamilton still was providing encouragement along the way. We would merge our rodeo teams to share travel and lodging expenses down the road. Chaperone their activities, cheer their successes, stand by them in hospital emergency rooms. Listen to charismatic Chris LeDoux try out his ballad compositions.
Then, once again it was time to move on to new “Forrest Gump” episodes in my life. Schooling in Denver; a new job in natural resources in Biillings, Montana. The Mercury waited at my grandfather’s farm until it could join our family now of three. I did some bodywork on the car. The passenger door had sheared a hinge pin, so I replaced it. Those doors are heavy! I stripped off the tattered fragments of vinyl from the roof, and gave it all a coat of black primer. A rusty wine colored cloth was draped over the cracked leather of the front seat.
My wife would drive our son Jade and his little friend Sarah Lewis (now a medical doctor in Seattle!) around the neighborhood. She had to have wooden blocks added to the pedals so she could reach them to drive. The seat didn’t go far enough forward. To a five-year-old son, those rides were exciting; to the same 39-year-old today, precious memories.
In 1984 I was transferred to Phoenix, Arizona, into an exciting job creating training videos and materials for civil servants managing our public lands in the West. With career opportunities and the uncertainties that came with them, a painful decision was made to sell that Mercury Monterey. I sold the car, for what? Maybe $1200.
“Don’t look back,” Satchell Paige used to say. “Somethin’ might be gainin’ on you.” Well, that doesn’t make those choices less easy to swallow, especially when you are all choked up watching your Mercury drive away. Time and miles had taken their toll. The front springs sagged, the rear sat too high for the original fender skirts Gary Richards had scored for me. Fit and finish, ummmm, Not. She wasn’t pristine, but she sure had History.
Away. As I stood staring at that same Mercury on the auction block, a lot had gone Away in those intervening 22 years. Pat Hamilton had died, much too young, of a brain tumor. My wife Patsy had passed on unexpectedly in 1995. Even our balladeer Chris LeDoux was gone. I and my son had relocated back to Billings in the aftermath. In 2002 I began the build of my 1936 Diamond T “Neferteri”. Occasionally, I made inquiries after that Mercury Monterey, but came up empty.
But here she stood, her number in queue for the auction taped to her windshield.
AND the name of the present owner! Neil Schlaeppi. I was dumb-struck. Neil was a major player in the Roaring Twenties club. I had even gone to his nearby place to view his extensive Montana license plate collection. I was wanting to restore a pair of 1936 plates for the Diamond T.
The Mercury Monterey at the auction in the first weekend in June 2006. The Roaring Twenties Club of “all original” car enthusiasts staged their annual auction and swap meet outside Billings, Montana.
How close had I been to that Mercury Monterey that day? It had been there, just feet away from me, behind garage walls.
I nearly fell over myself tripping back down the hill to go find Neil Schlaeppi. We had quite a conversation, as I would learn what all life adventures the Mercury had undergone in those 22 years. Turns out Neil had bought it from the fellow to whom I had sold her: Bob Walker. Bob had frenched the headlights, shaved the decklid, then in turn, the meticulous Neil had obtained the proper Canary Yellow material and had the upholstery and roof redone, before repainting the car jet black. She was refurbished with shiny new bumpers and grille parts.
Bob Walker, the guy bought the Mercury from Larry had completely redone the car as a mild custom. Frenched headlights, nosed, decked and new black paint with Canary Yellow top and yellow to orange flames by an unknown painter.
And given a flamed paintjob, fading from bright yellow to tips in red. Hmmmm.
But mechanically? She was exactly as Vic Svilar had made her whole in 1972! But with a more proud stance.
Neil told me what his reserve was. Quite beyond my capabilities. So too, all bidders by the end of the day. It didn’t help when, seeing my forlorn look, in parting Neil Schlaeppi told me, “Tell you what, Larry. I’ll sell you back the Mercury for $10,000. You can even make payments.” I left the auction, agonizing. Decisions! How could I come up with what Neil fairly wanted? I already was committed—and deeply into—the build of “Neferteri”, my 1936 Diamond T “streamline moderne dream”.
The next day I first stopped by Buzz and Jerry’s Rod Shop just up the road. It was there that I had bought Neferteri’s beginnings. There, we had sparked a lasting friendship. Buzz was a meticulous fabricator, metal man, and upholsterer. Jerry was a car guy too. A lawyer, a decorated Vietnam veteran, founder of Montana’s exemplary Purple Heart Memorial, a series of black granite monoliths inscribed with the names of our fallen and our wounded in service to our Country. “Jerry has done more for people quietly behind the scenes,” Buzz once confided to me, “than we will ever know.” Behind that tough lawyer patina is a solid bronze American.
Who also happened to own a radical chopped custom 1949 Mercury. “That car,” Jerry responded when I would ask about it, “is just an ordinary car. I just drive it. It won’t die. It’s been from Creston, British Columbia to Algodones, Mexico. I take it to Phoenix each winter. Americruise in Lincoln, Nebraska, three times there. And “Jimmy Dean Days” in Spokane. Been there, done that.”
“The Wanderer” is the lettering hand-brushed on one rear fender. The car wears a weathered coat of DP90 black primer, and a really wild set of flames across the front and back to the doors, in yellow fading to orange, to red.
“Six different people butchered and chopped on that thing,” Jerry pointed out. “The basic body modifications were there, we just finished it up.” The body has been shaved of trim. There is a narrowed 54 Pontiac grille bar. 55 Pontiac bumperettes, shortened, front and rear. The trunk has a wicked recess built into it, and extensions out over the rear bumper. Volkswagon tail lights sit sideways low on either side of the deck lid. Then there is that “bad” chop. Jerry grins mischievously as he describes the reactions he gets, even from experienced custom guys. “The 1950 rear window and frame are upside down. Thant’s why it flows so well. That is the secret!”
Jerry goes on to explain that the car isn’t really even a Mercury. “It’s a 1977 Oldsmobile! We had that body on and off that chassis and floorpan 13 times before it sat right.” The donor was a low mileage, 32,000 mile Delta 88. Now the odometer read 140,000 miles.
The day I arrived at the shop, Jerry was putting new wheel discs on his “not-a-Mercury”, these smooth caps were from a 1960 Buick. He only had three of the hubcaps, so he thought we could go up to the Roaring Twenties swap meet to try to score one more. So, we jumped into Jerry’s three hubcap custom and headed over to the clubhouse.
I had my camera. We convinced Neil to place the Monterey nose-to-nose with Jerry’s car. The contrast between stock proportions and Jerry’s wild chop was too much to pass up such a “photo op”. Then a voice hollered out.
“Hey, Jerry. Did you hear? I just bought my old car back!” A big fellow came striding up to us, smiling from ear-to-ear.
“What?” Jerry answered. My jaw dropped. Jerry turned.
“Bob Walker, I’d like you to meet Larry Pointer. He’s the guy you bought this Merc from back in 84.”
Now Bob’s jaw dropped. Matching the Mercs? How about matching the dropped jaws of all three surviving owners out of four ever to own this unique 1950 Mercury Monterey!
And now it was going back home. Not to my home–as I was almost on the verge of negotiating–but back home to Bob Walker, its 3rd ever owner. Elevens. 22 years to lay to rest this quest.
P.S. Bob Walker and his son still own the Mercury Monterey. Jerry LaFountain has his custom Merc, now with a Mercury Maurader mill. Neil Schlaeppi still is at the forefront of the Roraring Twenties. And I am approaching the start of my 77th year. Elevens!
Sadly, Larry’s son Jade Pointer, recently passed away May 8, 2016.
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