A life driven by automobiles

A Sykesville man has restored cars and memories for more than 50 years

August 22, 2007|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,Special to the Sun

Roger Fountain tells snippets of his life story based on the car he owned at the time.

He grew up on a Howard County farm where old cars were part of the landscape. He rebuilt and restored a 1939 Ford Coach at age 12. He courted his wife at the local speedway where he drove in stock car races.

"Cars are in my blood," said, Fountain, 68, of Sykesville. "My brothers were always working on cars, and I picked it up from them. I constantly had my head under the hood of a car."

Over the years, he nurtured his wife's interest in cars. He took Barbara "Bobbie" Fountain to car shows and taught her about the models on display, he said.

Then in 2002, he purchased a car for her and went to sign her up in his car club. But they hit a quite unexpected roadblock -- the Strokers Car Club of Manchester didn't allow women, he said.

So Fountain rallied seven other antique car aficionados, and in 2002, he founded the Dream Machines of Carroll County. The club has about 60 members, half of whom are women, he said.

In addition to attending about 30 auto shows a year, the members raise money for charitable organizations in the county.

The Fountains plan to show their cars in Taneytown at the 10th Annual Car Show on Saturday. Between 150 and 200 cars will be on display at the event, which runs from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and benefits the Taneytown Volunteer Fire Department.

Groups such as the Dream Machines are not rare. Clubs are popping up all over the world, said Steven Moskowitz, executive director of the Hershey, Pa.-based Antique Automobile Club of America.

"What we're seeing in the collectible car industry is the heaviest activity we've ever had in our history," said Moskowitz, who owns six antique cars. "There has been a significant rise in car shows, auctions, and television programs, and these things are helping to bring the collectible auto hobby into mainstream America."

Formed in 1935, the AACA is the oldest and largest antique automobile club in the world, Moskowitz said. Made up of 400 regional chapters in 50 states and 50 countries, the club has grown from 14 founding members to more than 60,000 members, he said.

"Most of the collectors in this hobby are baby boomers with expendable income," said Moskowitz. "But everyone is drawn to it because the hobby is fun, it can be shared by the entire family, the cars are cool and they speak to the individuality of the owners."

High-profile collectors have contributed to the burgeoning growth of the multibillion-dollar industry, he said.

"Although there are some prestigious people -- Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld and Nicolas Cage -- involved in auto collecting, it doesn't have any income restrictions," Moskowitz said. "You can buy a car for under $10,000, or for as much as $10 million."

Fountain's interest in antique cars was fueled up by constant exposure to autos, he said. His brothers worked on cars, and he was able to pick up rusted junkers cheap. Between ages 16 and 18, he rebuilt a 1936 Fleetwood Chevrolet, a 1948 Chevrolet, a 1950 Ford and a 1953 Mercury, he said.

"I bought the cars, or what was left of them, and went to junkyards to find the parts," said Fountain, who has restored dozens of old cars that cost $5,000 to $10,000. "And I've learned to improvise and modify what I can find. Some of the parts you just can't get anymore."

In 1960, he started driving in stock car races, he said.

"I learned to race at home in the fields," said Fountain, who retired from a job as a pipeline inspector last year and now works in construction part time. "When I won first place, I felt as high as a kite."

Many of his dates with Barbara were at the speedway, she said.

"I loved cars, too, so I didn't mind," said Barbara Fountain, 64.

After 45 years of marriage, Barbara shares her husband's love of antique cars, but said she has tried at times to encourage him to complete restoration projects sooner.

For example, he has been restoring a 1930 Model A Ford for nine years. Part of the process included taking off doors and panels and painting them. But when he finished the paint job, he needed a place for the pieces while he continued work on the car, she said.

"He has pieces of that car all over the house," she said. "He has stuff under the beds, in the closets, and anywhere else the pieces fit. I'm into this, too, but I want it out of the house."

About five years ago, she became a little more forgiving about car pieces in the house when he surprised her with a car of her own -- a 1955 indigo blue Chevrolet 150 Sedan. "All throughout high school, I never had a car," she said. "Roger gave me rides in his, and then after that we had the family van and family cars, but I never had my own."

The couple show their antique cars, which now include a 1951 Ford, a 1953 Ford F-100 pickup truck like the one that Fountain's father owned and Barbara Fountain's 1955 Chevy 150 Sedan.

They attend shows every weekend from April through November, she said. They even drag race.

But when the shows are over and the races are done, it's all about nostalgia, she said.

"In my case, I never had a car of my own, so when I drive my car it takes me back to the days of my youth," she said. "When people admire the cars, they say, `I had one of these.'

"Antique cars are a remembrance of where we were in the years when the cars were new."

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