The Diary of Doc Hudson
"If anyone thinks the idea of the Hudson folks being a family is just talk, please read this story, start to finish. Nobody but family would do all that has been done to and for the Doc Hudson project." I am so proud to get to be a part of the family." - Mike Cherry, Former HETHS President
It begins with a donation from the Harry Bong estate of a 1951 Hudson Pacemaker sedan. After the Board of Directors of the Historical Society decided to make a Doc Hudson replica, the Pacemaker was transformed by the Martinsville High School shop class and others into a strikingly beautiful Doc Hudson that draws crowds of children and adults everywhere it goes.
The very beginning of the story is probably in July, 2001 at the Seattle National HET Meet. Larry Kennedy met Harry Bong and admired his all original 1951 Hudson Pacemaker convertible. Harry was already a member of the HET Club and he and Larry talked about the purpose of the HET Historical Society. Harry Bong died in 2007 and left to the HET Historical Society his 1951 Pacemaker convertible and his 1951 Pacemaker sedan “parts car.”
Both were transported to Indiana. The convertible was buffed and cleaned enough to be museum presentable and is on display in the Historical Society’s exhibit at the NATMUS Museum in Auburn, IN. The 1951 Pacemaker sedan was a rust free Hudson, but looked rather pathetic. Its grill was gone and the front end had been wrecked at some point. The hood and front fenders were green, but the rest of the Hudson was the original Texas tan paint dulled by the sun to a rusty colored brown.
Most all of the components of the dash were missing, wires hanging everywhere, which made it really look sad. Most all of the side trim was missing and the chrome it had was pitted. There was very little interior to speak of, but it did have a front and back seat.
Two years later, a bright idea developed that the HET Historical Society should do a truly charitable project. Since the Hudson brakes and engine are so simple, high school students could work on the Hudson and bring it back to life in the form of a mock Doc Hudson. Using students, we could do most of the restoration and put the Doc Hudson replica on display at a museum. It could be an interactive museum exhibit, a Hudson that children could touch, be photographed with and sit in.
In 2009 the idea of building a Doc Hudson was presented to the HET Historical Society Board of Directors and they were cautiously optimistic, to be polite about it. After much debate, the project was approved. In November, 2009 the Pacemaker was towed to Martinsville High School in Martinsville, IN.
There Brian Van Buskirk is the shop teacher and he and the students rebuilt the brakes, removed and worked on the engine and other mechanical components. The front fenders and hood were taken off and many items were stripped and painted. After two years, Brian declared that they had done all they could do.
So in August, 2011, just before school started, Brian, Larry and Sue Kennedy worked for four days in the auto shop at Martinsville High School and finished the engine, installed a clutch, painted the firewall and jams, and put the engine back in the Pacemaker. Thereafter, the upholstery shop had an opening, so the Pacemaker went to get a completely new interior. It was purposely given a “taxi cab” interior to withstand its future use. The pleats and buttons from the seats were eliminated so people could easily slide across the seats. Larry had junked a Hornet the year before, so he saved the dash components from the Hornet for Doc Hudson.
Bill Koressel of Bloomington, IN had regrained the dash finish. The day Larry installed the dash in the Pacemaker was a great turning point—the Pacemaker was no longer so sad. The body was roughed out and in etching primer before the Pacemaker went to Cookie’s Body Shop in Acton, IN. They used more filler and did sanding and priming. The Pacemaker was painted Doc Hudson Blue and it was straight, slick and beautiful!!
Then Larry and Sue began hanging the chrome and stainless on the Pacemaker. The construction tires and wheels were replaced with freshly powder coated red wheels and white sidewall tires donated by Dennis Flint. The graphics were applied by Rush Graphics of Whiteland, IN to read “Fabulous Hudson Hornet”.
Brian Van Buskirk drove Doc Hudson from Indianapolis to the HET Club National Meet in Gettysburg. At the National Meet, without a doubt the most photographed Hudson was the HET Historical Society’s Doc Hudson. A few Doc Hudson toy cars were given to children who saw Doc Hudson and you would think that they had been given a piece of gold.
We don’t really know much about Harry Bong,but we do know that his bequest to the HET Historical Society will bring great joy to many children. Doc Hudson then moved to Auburn, IN by way of Indianapolis, for the big Auburn Cord Duesenburg Festival. From there, it went to Iowa. The moves were made mostly by Brian Van Buskirk and Larry and Sue Kennedy.
Spring of 2013 found Doc snoozing in the wilds of Iowa. HET President Aaron woke Doc and drove him to his Army training location at Ft. Ashland NE. This is where Ron Falk and crew took over. Luckily, Ron and Doc beat the snow to North Platt, NE.
Tom Henry and the Dikeman’s then guided Doc to Ft. Collins, CO where a couple of weeks of appearances exposed Doc and HET to many new fans. The Colorado activities were arranged by Bill Lentz.
Bill Lentz and crew showed it there at many events. From there, Bill met Mike Cherry and Brownie Petersen in Wyoming for the transit to Park City, UT. Doc had a wonderful visit in Utah. Brownie Petersen and Mike Cherry did a super job exposing Doc at many different venues. By mid July, it was time for Doc to leave for San Mateo. What an adventure that proved to be.
Chapter 1 - Carl & Pricilla Weber and Ted & Sue Steinmetz meet Mike in Utah and off they went. The caravan reached the Nevada desert where a weak spot in the radiator blew. A 20 mile tow to Wells, NV was necessary. The radiator patch took two hours to cure.
Chapter 2 - About 25 miles west of Wells, the radiator hole appeared again. From there a tow truck took Doc to Elko, NV. The next morning Carl Weber and Mike rented a tow trailer and Carl towed Doc to San Mateo.
Chapter 3 - Doc looked fine but still needed advanced first aid. Larry and Sue Kennedy, Paul Myers and many others helped. Doc's radiator was removed, surgery was performed and he was stitched up and ready to greet hundreds of Doc admirers at the International Meet. All was well again.
Following the Meet, Dick Teeter drove Doc to the Cal Auto Museum in Sacramento. Dennis Flint did a marvelous job arranging for Doc's visit. There Doc was reunited with his old friend Luigi, the tire guy from their movie days. Doc was a very popular attraction at Cal Auto Museum; they wanted to keep him until spring. The problem was that Richard Espraza had already arranged for Doc to visit the San Diego Auto Museum for a couple of winter months.
Doc enjoyed wintering in San Diego with all of the other snow birds! Members of the Southwestern Borders Chapter of HET picked him up at the end of October from the California Automobile Museum, They made great use of him in Sacramento and would have kept him if we had let them.
Buzz Stahl, with help from director Richard Esparza, hauled Doc from Sacramento to San Diego with his truck and trailer. After a thorough checking over and some minor repairs Doc went to the San Diego Automobile Museum in Balboa Park and has been delighting children and visitors there all winter. In February, Doc was featured at the Big 3 Auto Swap Meet at the San Diego Qualcomm Stadium. Again, it was a big hit. Over the 3 days of the swap meet, many kids, parents, and adults stopped to climb in the car, take pictures of kids in the car and Doc put a lot of smiles on kid’s faces. We didn’t keep count but we were all kept busy making sure nobody slammed a kid in the door. It was a great deal of fun. Also two docents from the San Diego Auto Museum stopped at the booth to say what a big hit Doc had been at their museum.
Then the fun began. Doc was originally planned as a museum piece for children to experience first hand. But with its popularity, it has become a traveling exhibit of the “Fabulous Hudson Hornet” covering the vast USA and all points in between. Driving a 60+ year old car back and forth cross-country was not the original idea. The mechanical inspection turned up a number of areas that needed attention. So Buzz Stahl, with help, built a new engine for Doc. The 262 block went to the machine shop with new pistons to have it bored, valves ground and cleaned up. The car and re- built engine was moved to Vintage Coach in Fontana for the engine installation. Jason Fisher and Val Smith were ready for the task. On the trip West, there was a mysterious loss of cooling water. Several fixes were tried with no success. Jason and Val found the problem. There was a pinhole leak in the water tube going back to heater. It was all soaking into the canvas splash guard which is why no water was seen dripping anywhere! So that problem was also fixed.
After the major rebuild, Doc went to La Jolla, CA to be a major exhibit at the La Jolla Concurs de Elegance and lead the tour. From there Doc moved to the Western Region Meet in Henderson, NV (just outside of Las Vegas).
Doc spent the summer in the Nevada desert wowing all the kids and adults at many local car shows.
From Southern Nevada, Doc made his way to Wildrick Restoration for a going over. Many repairs were made just in time for Doc to attend the Grand Opening gala at the National Hudson Motor Car Company Museum in Ypsilanti MI.
Doc has been making his way back across the country - wintering this year in Texas. Be sure to attend the National Meet in Colorado Springs CO this summer to catch up on what's going on with Doc.
- Article adapted from the Hudson Triangle Magazine Special Edition 2014