Wheel life – a man’s passion for old cars

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I admire people with passion. It doesn’t matter what it’s for, as long as they have it.

I can always recognize someone with passion: when they talk about it – whatever the purpose – I can to feel their dedication, their fervor and their admiration.

And I can feel their inherent will to keep that passion alive.

Years ago, when I was still working, I passed a white house in Tyrone on my twice daily commute. It has always caught my attention: not so much the house, but the garage.

Between the garage doors was an old Sinclair gas pump and a Coca-Cola sign, and inside the garage was an assortment of exquisite vintage automobiles.

One afternoon the garage doors were open so I decided to stop. I’m glad I did, because that’s the day I met Tommy Davis, a man with a passion for everything that moves on wheels.

***

Tommy Davis has been working on cars since the age of 10, when his father Johnny ignited that passion by teaching him how to restore. Tommy has learned his lessons well: to date, he estimates restoring around 100 cars over the past 50 years. But that’s only half the story: ‘God gave me the ability, and my dad taught me how‘, this is how Tommy explains his incredible ability to transform cars made before JFK was president into something that seemed to come off the assembly line.

Tommy worked for several years with the College Park Police Department. One night, while on patrol, he “stopped” a friend of his after spotting a “cute blond” in the car. In 1994, he married Shirley, the ‘cute blonde’. They have two daughters, Britney and Michelle. When Britney got married, she and her husband left the marriage in Tommy’s White Ford Model A Shay ‘Polar Bear’ (I encourage you to google it!).

After leaving the police department, Tommy spent 28 years with Delta. Ironically, the only job he didn’t have with the airline – other than a pilot – was a mechanic. Shirley, meanwhile, worked for 35 years with Bank of America. In 2019, after living in Tyrone for 28 years and in Fayette County since 1975, Tommy got his hands on – that is, gathered his collection of everything on wheels – and moved to County of Coweta in December 2019. They chose Senoia to settle. for two reasons: (1) his collection had grown too large for his residence in Tyrone, and (2) he and Shirley looked forward to the solitude and peace of mind that the city had to offer.

***

Tommy says he’s been a “collector” for over 50 years. Among his impressive collection are his late father’s 1931 Model A, a car Johnny personally restored, and a 1955 Chevrolet Belair that Tommy owned right after high school. (Technically, he didn’t own it all the time. It was stolen, stripped, recovered in the mid-1970s. In 1992 he needed money and sold his beloved ’55. But a year later , he bought it back from the man he sold it to for the same price he sold it. When he bought it back, it had been repainted and re-upholstered. Tommy explains his good fortune: ‘The Lord has truly blessed me.’

Tommy’s collection doesn’t stop with vintage cars. It has old signs, model cars, gas pumps, Coca-Cola accessories, bicycles (some made before the Depression), coin-operated rides (as you will find on the sidewalk outside Woolworth) , pedal cars and enough Americana to make Mike and the gang on American gatherers salivate. Among Tommy’s favorites are a 1936 Chevrolet coupe – one of his first restorations with his father – and a 1932 four-lane traffic light that once hung in the middle of Adel Town Square, in Georgia. How he came across the latter, some would call luck. Tommy just says that “God really blessed me:”

“I was buying a car from a man from Adel, and we were $ 500 off the price.

I noticed the light sitting in the corner of the man’s garage,

and I said if you throw in the light you have a deal.

Today the light hangs in the middle of Tommy’s garage – he calls it a garage, but I’ve visited museums that aren’t as impressive – and to further illustrate his good fortune, the 12 lights (red, yellow and green and all four sides) still lights up!

***

Tommy spends an average of 50 to 60 hours per week doing restorations in his garage. He only restores cars that he has personally purchased. He goes to at least 10 auto shows and auctions each year, his favorite being the one in Hershey, PA. He is always on the lookout for quality vintage cars and trucks. He hopes to bring two or three back with him from Keystone State.

After all, he said, “I don’t hunt, fish or golf. “ Tommy Davis’ passion will always be for old cars and trucks.

***

Tommy told me that I was not the first person to pass by his old residence in Tyrone.

Twenty-five years ago, a writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution passed by.

Coincidentally, he also wrote a story about Tommy for the newspaper.

Truett Cathy stopped several times to see what Tommy had. But they were never able to strike a deal, as Truett usually offered about half of what Tommy asked for.

But they have always liked to share their common passion for vintage cars.

After Truett’s death, his extensive collection of vintage automobiles was auctioned off for charity.

Tommy bought three.

Tommy, Shirley and their Chevrolet 55

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Tommy’s garage

Scott Ludwig lives, runs and writes in Senoia. His latest book, SOUTHERN COMFORT is his second collection of 101 columns. His first, SOUTHERN CHARM, and all of his other books can be found on his author page on Amazon. He can be contacted at magicludwig1@gmail.com


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