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Gary Pool fronts a 1931 Cadillac, left, and a 1930 Packard Super 8 outside the home of Billy Thomas in Richards.
Gary Pool isnt a wealthy man, but you wouldnt know it by his rides. The Huntsville Unit Machine Shop floor supervisor routinely drives classic cars that cost a pretty penny when they rolled off the assembly line and are worth a small fortune today when fully restored.
Take the 1929 Cadillac he spent a year restoring for owner Billy Thomas of Richards, Texas. Bought new off the lot, it cost about $5,000, a years salary for most laborers back then. Now, once again dressed in its original finery, the luxurious two-tone sedan with its V-8 engine, 20-inch spoke wheels, etched wing windows, gilded backseat handrail and dual interior flower vases would bring hundreds of thousands of dollars if sold in todays market. Even so, its likely to end up on display in a museum, along with 35 or more other classic cars and trucks Pool plans to restore for Thomas.
When finished, it will be one of the most extensive collections in the state of Texas, Pool said. Thats what were working on.
Pool, an 18-year veteran of TDCJ, started working on Thomas farm equipment about 15 years ago and gradually began restoring cars the proprietor collected from around the country. Other vehicles in the collection include a 1930 Packard Super 8 touring car, a red and white 1960 Corvette Stingray, a 1959 Cadillac Fleetwood with fancy fins, a 1916 Model T Speedster, a 1919 Studebaker, a 1929 American LaFrance fire engine and a 1929 Model A Roadster driven by actress Cheryl Ladd in a CBS television movie. Theres also a 1943 U.S. Army troop carrier that was used in the movie, Saving Private Ryan.
Pool grew up around cars, including hot rods built by his father. One was a two-seat roadster that Pool recently retrofitted with a 12-cylinder Lincoln engine.
Now daddy has his hot rod Lincoln, Pool said, echoing words from a popular song.
All of the cars Pool restores are street legal even though some of the vintage models lack seat belts. He recently took a fully-restored 1931 Cadillac out for a spin on the rural roads of Grimes County.
You get a lot of looks, thats for sure, he said. But you want to be very careful driving on the street because of the value of these cars.
The Cadillac and Packard have been rented out for weddings, and Thomas is registered with Hollywood movie studios that might again need one of his collectibles for a production.
Theres good money in that, Pool said.
Being a machinist comes in handy when working on old cars, especially when original parts are missing or beyond repair and must be remanufactured.
There are a lot of parts for these old cars that you cant buy, so we have to make them, he said.
Pool bases his restorations on old photographs and other illustrations. He does most of the mechanical and electrical work, but farms out some of the woodwork and painting. He spends between five and six hours a day on Thomas collection and plans to be a full-time restorer when he retires from TDCJ in two years.
Pool said he doesnt get too attached to any of the classic cars he helps bring back to life, although he is fond of the old Packard in the collection. He simply likes making something old look new again.
I enjoy it, he said. Being able to rebuild something you dont see much of anymore is fun to do.
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