Father, son restore history

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 14, 2005

PROCTORVILLE - Gary Tillis and his father, John, share a love of of restoring cars - but more importantly - a love of restoring history.

This family story began many years ago when John Tillis, soon to be 84, was a salesman at Harriston and Higgins Chevrolet when his son Gary was a teenager.

Every couple of weeks, John would drive home a new car as demos

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of different styles and different models.

"He would come home with some really neat cars," Gary said. "That's how I got hooked on cars."

Tillis said that he and his father started buying old cars, fixing them up and selling them. It did not take long before they were hooked. They completely restored their first car in 1978.

"The first car we bought to restore cost $180, sold for $2,000," Gary said. "We put part of that money into another car and we've been doing it ever since."

Tillis said they have restored many cars and as they build cars, they complement each other pretty well. He said that everything ties together as a complete project and each man has areas of restoration that they do well.

The job requires an immense amount of patience, as they can literally spend weeks working on some aspect of the car, Gary said. The men completely take the cars apart and restore them.

"It is a labor-intensive hobby," Gary said.

Gary and his father do the body work, paint, interior and minor mechanical work on the cars they restore. On the last car that they completed, a 1953 Ford Ranch Wagon, Darin Allen of Ashland, Ky., did the airbrush wood grain.

"He's a super artist," Gary said.

Some of the cars they restore they sell right away and some they hold onto for awhile to enjoy.

"It's truly done for the love of a hobby," Gary explained about the cars. "Transforming the old car into something new … we're restoring history."

Tillis and his father travel to car shows with their work but for them the show is not about winning trophies - it's about the joy of getting their cars out there and seeing friends that they have made over the years.

"What we see at car shows are people we see every weekend," Gary said. "It becomes a situation where you develop friendships and support each other."

Tillis said that they get much more satisfaction out of someone liking the car. To them, that's more important than a trophy.

The hobby is about gravitating towards the cars that were popular when the person restoring the car graduated from high school, Gary said. He said that at shows now they are seeing a lot of foreign cars from the youth today - and that they are seeing a lot of men and women at the shows with cars they have restored.

"It's really good," Gary said. "It is keeping the hobby alive."

Gary said that his wife, Glenda, loves the cars they restore and she is very supportive of their hobby. She loves to ride in the cars, too.

Tillis, who teaches at Ohio University, has recently redirected his career but said he is looking forward to being a part of the Ohio University Proctorville Center where he will still be teaching art class and having exhibits. He said that he feels the new center will be a great showplace for Eastern Lawrence County.

"Dad and I both share that philosophy," Gary said. "You have to keep working, keep your mind active, keep busy."

Both men appear to be doing a good job of that. Keeping busy while giving others a little piece of history to enjoy and admire as they drive past on the highway.

Tillis said that the cultivation of that $180 has paid off - in more ways than one.