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Omaha Magazine

The Way They Were

Sep 22, 2023 04:20PM ● By Mike Whye
Father and Son Duo Meets Classic Vehicles in the Middle active living october 2023

Photo by Bill Sitzmann.

[L to R] Pat & Patrick McCaslin

The Way They Were [3 Images] Click Any Image To Expand
Listen to this article here. Audio Provided by Radio Talking Book Service.

A small clock sits in the middle of the glove compartment door of Pat McCaslin’s 1969 Jeep Wagoneer. It doesn’t run but it’s the crown jewel representing the last six years of work he’s spent returning the Jeep to showroom condition.

In fact, he doesn’t want it to run. Even though it looks sparkling new, after having been in storage for about half a century, it carries a risk. “It’s so old that everything inside it is dried out,” said Pat, 63, “ If you turn it on, it would probably short out.”

The dark green Wagoneer is the third and latest vehicle that Pat has restored. Nearby rests a 1964 Ford Fairlane and 1966 Ford F-250 pickup, both appearing fresh off the lot.

Pat’s fascination with vehicles began years ago. “Even as a young kid, I was a big fan of older cars, I don’t know why.  They had a certain appeal to me, more than a new car ever did,” Pat said. “Especially pickup trucks which makes me even more strange.” 

He started working on another pickup truck while studying at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. However, he never finished it. “It was beyond my capabilities at the time,” he confessed.
After earning a degree in criminal justice, he joined the Omaha Police Department for a 24-year-long career. His itch to work on vehicles never let up, and around 2001 he learned that the F-250 was for sale in Montana. A grainy picture revealed it was a palette of colors—brown, white, primer gray, turquoise, and more—and it had been used hard on a ranch and then by a construction company. Still, Pat thought he’d buy it even though transporting it to Omaha would cost more than its $900 price.

“The engine started but the clutch was out and you couldn’t move it forward or backward,” Pat recalled. “Several of the brake lines were broken so it had no brakes.” 

The pickup appealed to Pat because it was rare. Out of 79,345 F-250s Ford built in 1966, only 3,500 were capable of shifting from rear-wheel-drive to 4-wheel drive.  Unlike many of today’s vehicles, in which the turn of a knob on the instrument panel can change them from 2-wheel-drive to 4-wheel drive, the 1966 pickup requires more effort. It must be stopped so someone could physically rotate the setting on the hub of each wheel before resuming travel.   

Not long after its arrival, Pat began working on the truck in his spare time. He contracted out the painting and upholstery while he toiled on everything else. Finally, when he retired from police work in 2008, the now one-color Marlin blue F-250 looked as if it’d cruised from 1966 untarnished.

Although Pat worked with a security firm for a while, he still had time to look for a Ford Fairlane.
“We had one when I was a kid,” noted Pat of when he grew up in North Omaha. “When Dad traded that one in for a different car, I was really upset. It had a special place for me. I liked its styling.”  

Pat placed a note online about what he was looking for and a local man popped up to offer the Fairlane; however, he did not have the car’s title. So, Pat backed off. A few weeks later, the man came forth again, saying he had contacted the previous owner and now had the title. A bit dubious, Pat eventually learned the offer was legitimate and made the purchase. Then yellow, the Fairlane is now a deep, rich Guardsman  blue, a color Ford created in the mid-1960s.

“I do quite a bit of work on the cars myself.  What I can’t do, I farm out,” Pat said. Like his two other classics, the Fairlane has features rarely seen on modern cars, such as vent windows. When open, they would direct air over the people in the front seat but with the increased use of air conditioning, their purpose disappeared and so did they.

Also, the Fairlane has something that the F-250 and Jeep don’t—working windshield wipers. “It’s the only one of the three I can drive in the rain,” Pat chuckled. Actually, he—like owners of other classic cars in Nebraska—can’t drive the restorations much at all. Their classification as ‘classics’ limits them to driving to and from car shows. “I’m not even supposed to make a Menards run in this,” said Pat, as he opened the driver’s-side door.

“Listen to this,” he said next, closing the door with a solid thump which makes today’s car doors sound like tin toys.  

Walking behind his home’s three-car garage, Pat entered a just-about finished detached two-car-garage. Its foundation and exterior were built by a contractor while Pat finishes the interior. The Jeep Wagoneer occupies one part of the garage.  Once avocado green, it’s now dark green.

The Wagoneer is a vehicle long admired by Pat. “We had a  neighbor who had one when I was a kid and I thought it was the neatest thing on the planet,” he said.  When his brother-in-law in Phoenix said he had seen one, Pat asked him to take a look at it. “It’s a project,” warned the brother of Pat’s wife, KC.  

Looking at pictures of the Jeep, Pat made a deal over the phone and had it trucked to Omaha. Having been in Arizona for many years, the Jeep had water, not antifreeze, in its cooling system. So, when it arrived in Omaha on a cold February day in 2017, the water froze, cracking the engine block.  

Despite that, Pat liked what he saw.  “Everything was there and everything was original which was pretty unusual. Lots of times guys put them up high and put big wheels and tires on them. This was the original vehicle but it still needed a ton of work.”

KC said the day Pat finally started the Jeep; many people turned out. “The neighbors, everybody heard it and came over. It was like Frankenstein resurrected,” she said.

Not everything built comes with instructions. When installing the tailgate’s window, Pat and KC about had it put in place when they realized they were holding it backwards. “We just had to laugh about it,” said Pat, who once found a dead scorpion in the Jeep. Finally, last year, Pat could drive the Jeep.

The Jeep and the F-250 have won honors at classic car shows. Pat holds off entering the Fairlane because it would have to go up against Mustangs, GTOs, Corvettes ,and other such luminaries of the 1960s class.  

Joining Pat in his restoration work is his 32-year-old son Patrick, a physical therapist technician at Immanuel Hospital. He’s the only one of Pat and KC’s four children to help Pat in the garage.

Patrick began assisting when Pat was working on the F-250. “His passion for that got me engaged,” said Patrick, who drives a 2019 Honda Civic as his daily transportation. “And then the second and third car.  I helped him and more each time.”

“Having hands-on experience influenced me more and more,” Patrick continued. “When it came time to work on the Jeep Waggoneer, I said, ‘Hey, what can I do?  I want to help you. I want to learn. I want you to teach me the things you know.’”

Patrick likes to stage the Jeep for car shows by creating themes for it. At times, he has put fishing poles, a minnow bucket, fish nets and a tackle box in it to make it look like it’s about to leave for a fishing trip.  Duck decoys and faux shotguns dress it up for hunting excursions.

KC said she’s proud of the work Pat and Patrick put into the vehicles. Occasionally, she lends a hand, like the time she helped move a 600-pound engine block. “It’s not like giving a check to someone for a completed car,” she said. “It’s an accomplishment.”

Pat, KC, and Patrick like going to car shows and meeting owners of other classics. It’s there they swap news and learn of others offering and desiring auto parts such as the Jeep’s dashboard clock.

“It’s fun to take a drive out it’s a conversation piece as well,” KC said. “People come up and they all tell a story like ‘My grandma had this, my dad had this,’ ‘We had a vacation in this’…it sparks historical conversations for people. That’s a nice thing about the car shows.” 

This article originally appeared in the October 2023 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.  

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