In the evening when Hays carpenter Rod Roy closes up Roy’s Custom Cabinets on east 11th Street, he sets to work in the back of his shop restoring a 1948 Woody wagon he bought off Craig’s List in February.
“It’s a big challenge,” Roy said of the wagon. “Just look at the curvy-ness of the parts, there’s nothing straight on it.”
So far, Roy has crafted all new doors and door posts from maple and mahogany, making this the sixth vehicle he’s restored over the decades, from a classic Corvette to various pickups, including a 1955 Chevrolet Cameo.
“That’s my hobby,” Roy said. “I like to take something and turn it around I guess.”
Classic cars like Roy’s from Ellis County, as well as surrounding counties and states, will be on show next weekend for the Thunder on the Plains Car, Truck and Cycle Show.
The fourth year for the event, it kicks off Friday evening with the group’s signature cruise night. This one is in Municipal Park on south Main, followed by a dance to the tunes of the Good Sam’s Club band, along with burgers, fries and other food for sale from Johnny’s Diner Truck.
People from far and wide enter their cars in the event, said Harold Bettis, of Hays, a member of the small group of 16 or so who organize and host the show, which is Saturday in Frontier Park East, off Old 40 East.
“This year we’re hoping to have 300 vehicles registered,” Bettis said. “We’ve heard from guys in Denver, New Mexico, Arizona, Nebraska.”
“People who used to come to school here will be back for it,” said Jim Doty, of Antonino, who along with his wife, Shelby, also helps with the annual show and monthly cruise nights and poker runs the group sponsors during the spring and summer.
While the show is free to the public, the fee to enter a vehicle is $25, with registration on Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon. Awards in various classes will be announced at 3 p.m. Saturday.
Money raised from the show and monthly cruise nights is donated to local charities.
So far the group has donated $21,000, said Bettis. Money has gone to Big Brothers Big Sisters, Options Domestic and Sexual Violence Services, the Cancer Council, First Call for Help and Developmental Services of Northwest Kansas, among others.
“At the end of the year we save a little to operate with next year,” said member Louie Gilmore, of Hays, “but at least 90 percent is donated to local charities.”
The group has 124 sponsors now, from auto parts stores and gas stations to law offices, implement dealers, oilfield companies and more, always adding new ones. Sponsors supply everything, from cash to in-kind donations, such as portable toilets for the two-day show, bottled water and soft drinks, items for goodie bags, and prizes. Sponsors get acknowledgement on banners, Facebook, the web site, with the goodie bags, and on advertising.
“People contact us and ask to be a sponsor,” said Bettis. “We’re getting pretty well known in the community for the work we do for charities. We go out and we personally deliver the checks.”
One of the handful of car enthusiasts who help put on the annual event, Roy won’t have his Woody wagon done in time for this year’s show. Like others who have restored their vehicles, a restoration can easily take several years, if not longer.
“It’s a long ways to go,” Roy said of the Woody. “Maybe next year if I’m lucky.”
The mechanical part he’ll probably hire out, said Roy, a Stockton native who's been making and selling custom cabinets since 1986 after graduating from Fort Hays State University.
Made of wood from the floor pan on up, Roy's Woody is a 1948 Buick Super Estate Wagon, but other car makers, like Chevy, Ford and Chrysler, each had their own design as well.
“Nineteen forty-eight was the last year they made the true Woody,” said Roy. “After ’48 they made them of structural steel, with a tin roof and tin panels, with wood over it to give the appearance of wood.”
The wagons are roomy, giving them a reputation in the ‘60s and ‘70s with California surfers to haul their boards. In actuality they were more like the modern-day SUV, ushering in the station wagon.
“You would see them a lot at resorts or campgrounds to carry people around,” Roy said. “A guy with money would use it to check his cattle ranch, or a doctor to go on vacation."
New in 1948, a Woody was expensive, about $3,300, when a regular car was selling for $2,000, he said. They date to the 1930s, Roy said, literally used to transport passengers and supplies from train stations.
Made of mahogany and maple, like his, or ash and oak, the wagons were of hard, furniture-grade woods, although they had metal fenders and hoods, and a frame of steel with a canvas top. It was a heavier vehicle than a solid metal one.
Restored, Roy said any classic car is worth what someone wants to pay, but he’s seen Woodies sell for $70,000 to $100,000. Roy plans to keep his.
He’ll need to find a new steering wheel, and plans to install carpet, put in modern running gear, add a motor and automatic transmission, and air conditioning.
“It’ll have all the modern conveniences, but look like a classic old vehicle,” Roy said. “The trend in the market is going to what’s called a resto mod, which is restored, but modified, to make it more driveable, and safer. I want to be able to cruise across the country with it.”