We are probably the closest-knit family you could ever find because most of the time we can read each other’s minds and know what is needed without ever having to say it,” says Mona Roberts from Ralls, 30 miles east of Lubbock.
Roberts lives and works with her sister Melinda and mother, Laverne, and the mind reading refers to the family business of restoring vintage cars and trucks. Laverne Roberts, who turns 80 this month, has been restoring vehicles in Ralls for more than 40 years.
In that time, Roberts’ family has restored more than 50 vehicles, including a 1947 Willys Jeep, 1970 Ford Mustang convertible, 1961 Airstream travel trailer and 1974 International Scout II.
Laverne’s father was a John Deere mechanic in Crosbyton, where he also farmed. Laverne grew up on the farm and became a bookkeeper for a motor company in Crosbyton, where she met mechanic Lon Roberts. Three months later, they married. For date nights, they went to Lubbock to see movies and then to Hi-D-Ho, a popular drive-in burger joint where Buddy Holly and the Crickets played.
Lon and Laverne raised their three girls in Crosbyton before opening Lon’s Auto Clinic in Ralls in 1987. Restoring cars became a family affair when Mona was the first daughter to turn 16, and they restored a 1967 Ford Mustang convertible for her to drive.
“When we restore them, it’s a family project,” Mona says. “We restored them as we got enough money together to restore them. Dad was the mechanic, and I was the painter. Melinda’s the paint mixer, and Mama’s usually the hose holder.” They laugh as they fondly remember car restorations together.
Mona and her dad were both pilots—Mona also is an airplane mechanic—and went out on “morning patrol” together on Saturdays, when they’d fly around in a Cessna 150 to look for old cars they could restore. Mona would mark the map so later they could drive out to find the owner.
Lon died in 2015, but he left his girls a few projects. A 1954 Ford F-100 pickup and a 1940 Chevrolet half-ton pickup are two of the vehicles they’re working on now. And Laverne and Mona continue to do state vehicle inspections at Auto Clinic.
Though Laverne’s middle daughter, Michele, doesn’t work on cars, Michele’s son Nick inherited that talent, having restored a 1960 Ford Thunderbird and a 1946 Cushman scooter (at age 11), making him a fourth-generation mechanic.
Car culture in America has influenced the development of our cities, our highways and the businesses along the way. When horsepower replaced horses, we paved our streets. When we began driving longer distances and for pleasure, roadside diners, service stations and motels appeared.
And car culture shows no signs of slowing down. Since 2010, the number of antique, classic and custom vehicles registered with the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles, including street rods, has more than doubled.
In December 2017, there were 187,958 vehicles registered with the Texas DMV categorized as antique, vintage, custom or street rods. This is up 147 percent from the 76,171 registered in December of 2009. The state defines a “classic” as a motor vehicle that is at least 25 years old. An “antique” is at least 25 years old and a collector’s item. A car with antique plates has restricted use.
Bob Terhune, a South Plains Electric Cooperative member, is president of the Caprock Classic Car Club, based in Lubbock. The club’s 194 members meet regularly for cruises, fundraisers and fellowship. Terhune says he “got the bug” for restoring classic cars when he worked on a 1970 Buick GSX, number 160 of the 187 made that were white. Buick only made two cars with the same options as his. He knows the entire history of this car: It was in an episode of Hawaii 5-O, was bought by a serviceman in the Navy who hauled it from Hawaii to Louisiana, sat in a barn in North Texas for 15 years, and passed through several more owners, including Terhune’s brother, before ending up with him.
“These cars are rolling works of art,” Terhune says. “And they’re fun to drive. There’s something about taking a rusty, worn-out automobile and making it look new again. That satisfaction of seeing your hard work pay off and the appreciation that like-minded people give you for the work you’ve done, it’s just something else.”
Car shows are a prime opportunity for enthusiasts and collectors to show off their work. In addition to the Route 66 Festival car show in Shamrock on July 14, there are countless car shows across the state. Motor Texas (motortexas.com) keeps a list along with a blog that digs deep into the automobile culture of Texas through the lens of travel.
Today, vehicle ownership rates in the U.S. are down 3.3 percent from 12 years ago. As we look to a new era of transportation, it’s impressive to see so many families restoring these classics.
“To restore cars together was a pleasure,” Laverne Roberts says. “It meant that my family all worked together.”
Brenda Kissko is a native Texan who writes about nature, travel and our relationship with land. Visit her at BrendaKissko.com.