Car show exhibits honor miners, veterans
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Preparing a vehicle for display at a car show is a form of expression, and David Lambert of Beckley is using his entry in the Charleston Boulevard Rod Run & Doo Wop auto show to express a tribute to the fallen miners of the Upper Big Branch disaster.
Lambert was standing at the drift mouth of the Upper Big Branch mine on April 5, 2010, the day an explosion deep inside it killed 29 men.
"My shift was getting ready to start," he recalled. "Me and an electrician usually start early, but we couldn't get a ride in that day."
When word came back that a deadly explosion had occurred, Lambert, like others who worked at the Montcoal mine, was devastated.
"I knew every one of those guys," he said. "We used to harass each other and carry on in the bathhouse after work. One of them -- Steve Harrah -- was my boss."
One day not long after the explosion, Lambert caught a glimpse of his own head and shoulders profiled in a reflection that gleamed off the side of his Pontiac Solstice. "I thought, if I had a truck, I'd have room to put pictures of all those guys on it," he said.
He bought a 2010 Chevy Silverado pickup and contacted friend and airbrush artist Gary Mullens of Street Dreams custom auto painting in Beckley, who signed on to the project. It turned out to involve far more than painting remarkably lifelike head-and-shoulders portraits of the fallen UBB miners.
"He worked with photos of the miners and with the photos that came out with the report on [the] Upper Big Branch explosion," Lambert said.
The hood of Lambert's glossy black "Upper Big Branch Memories" tribute truck features a scene showing white light pouring from the entrance to the UBB mine, silhouetting the profiles of 29 standing men. Spelled out in letters formed by bolted strips of metal are the words "Upper Big Branch, April 5, 2010, The Day the World Ended."
The tailgate art includes a scene with an American flag and police tape blocking the entrance to the mine, which is ringed with safety messages.
"We've been working on it for three years and it's still not done," said Lambert. "I'd like to add the pictures of the two survivors, and then I'd be done and ready to donate the truck to a museum."
Lambert said he's been funneling most of his overtime pay into the tribute project, but he's received some financial support from DuPont and from the Charleston Daughters of the American Revolution chapter.
"I wanted to do something to honor these men," he said. "They won't be forgotten until the day I die."
Lambert said friends and family members of the fallen miners have responded favorably to his truck-borne tribute. On Thursday, scores of car show attendees stopped to admire and photograph the truck's artwork, and in some cases, find the images of the UBB victims near and dear to them.
"Everyone seems to love it," said Lambert, who now works in a mine less than two miles from Upper Big Branch. "I'm proud of it. I don't really care whether or not I win a trophy. I'm just glad that people get a chance to see it."
More than 700 vehicle owners had registered to take part in this year's Rod Run & Doo Wop show by Thursday morning.
Among them was Korean War veteran Richard Robinson of Charleston, whose restored 1942 Ford GPW Jeep served as a tribute to military vets.
Robinson's outfit, Charlie Company of the 25th Infantry Division's 14th Regiment, is spelled out in Army shorthand on the vehicle's bumper, along with his own Army serial number.
"I volunteered to drive one of these when I was in the Army," Robinson said, "but the closest I came was being ordered to wash one of them at the side of a creek."
Robinson said the Jeep, then in the form of a body and running gear "that had Jackson County clay mud all over it," had been taking up space in his son's Kenna area garage as he was beginning a cleanup project. "I asked what he was going to do with the Jeep, and he said I could have it," Robinson said.
The Charleston man restored the Jeep to its World War II era roots, complete with a new canvas top and olive drab paint job. Accessories added for the show include a GI's steel helmet, a mess kit, side-mounted shovel, and canteen and web belt.
"A lot of people don't know that Ford made Jeeps as well as Willys," he said. "You find every make and model of vehicle at this show, but this is the only one like this in the whole bunch."
For long-time Rod Run & Doo Wop exhibitor Carroll Hutton of Teays Valley, restoring and showing old cars gives young people a glimpse at life in the past.
"My idea is to take something old and create a new piece of history out of it," he said. "Today, young folks jump in an air-conditioned car, turn on the GPS and head down the interstate. They don't know what it was like for the people who drove the mud roads through the countryside in these cars from the past."
Among vehicles Hutton is showing at this year's event is a 1921 Ford Model T truck.
"It was a rusty cab and frame -- a barn truck -- when I got it in Greenbrier County," he said. "I call it the 2-3-4-5 truck, since it took two men working three months, busting four knuckles while working five hours a day to restore it."
Hutton said he and Jeff Reveal shoehorned a Mustang engine and automatic transmission into the vehicle, and installed a Nissan dual axle rear end, making modifications to accommodate the truck's original springs.
"Old Henry Ford knew how to make cars and trucks," he said. "They're still scattered across America, 100 years after they left the factory. The sheet metal's still holding up.'
Hutton said he recently bought three antique truck cabs and beds from an antique car "picker" in Indiana who travels the Midwest and West in search of salvageable vintage vehicles.
"I anticipate restoring more trucks," he said. "It's something to do in retirement."
Today's events at the 2012 Rod Run & Doo Wop show include a U.S. 60 cruise and poker run, starting from the Charleston Moose Club parking lot. Registration will take place from 9:30 to 10 a.m., followed by a drivers' meeting at 10:30 and the start of the cruise at 11:15.
Tours of Givens Machine Shop will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Spirit of West Virginia sternwheeler rides will begin at 12:10 a.m., 2 p.m., and 6:30 p.m. A concert by Gage and Confederate Railroad gets underway at 7:30 p.m., followed by a lighted boat parade at 9 p.m. and a "Light up the Night" exhibit by the West Virginia Flame Throwers at 9:30 p.m.
Reach Rick Steelhammer at email@example.com or 304-348-5169.