How does a “mechanic” run off with $17,000 of a soldier’s money and live with himself? We here at Streetside Auto don’t know, but that’s what one Wyoming “mechanic” did. Thankfully, America stepped in to help.
From 1955-1959, Chevy built their Task Force series of pickups. They went by several bellicose names, like Apache, Viking, and Spartan, and could be had with Chevy’s 235 straight six, 265 V8, or 283 V8. The latter produced just over 1 hp per cubic inch, which was largely unprecedented for the day. Out of this range, if you picked, say, a 1959 Apache, it goes without saying that you would have a well designed, capable truck, powerful enough for any task with which you could charge it, and with enough iconic, 1950’s Americana coolness to win car shows in a few decades.
Skip those few decades to 2008, when Wyoming National Guard Captain Bruce Hays was deployed to Afghanistan. Like any good husband, he bought his wife Terry, also a servicewoman, an anniversary gift, and like an awesome husband, he bought her a classic pickup truck–a ’59 Apache. It was, in fact, the very truck Terry’s family had owned when she was a child. The Hays’ plan was to restore it together, but then Bruce was deployed, so he paid a “mechanic” $17,000 to fully restore the Apache and make sure it was finished by the time he returned from overseas.
But he didn’t return. On September 17, 2008, Captain Hays was killed in combat.
And instead of finishing his truck like a decent human being, the “mechanic” left it in pieces, absconded with the $17k, and spend more than half of it before police caught him.
Here’s where things turn around. Dave Delozier, a reporter for NBC affiliate KUSA, heard about the injustice and ran a story. With the help of the internet, the story swept around the country, and people began pouring in their support–and not just in the form of cards and flowers.
Kent Stevinson, President of Stevinson Automotive in Denver, was among those who saw the story. “I couldn’t just stand on the sidelines and do nothing,” he said. This led to an alliance between Stevinson Automotive, famed automotive school Wyotech, and many other sponsors and supporters, to fully restore the Apache and return it to Mrs. Hayes. Even GM pitched in, Chevrolet and Chevrolet Certified Service donating five grand to buy the fuel injection unit and the transmission.
Salvage yard owners across the country began pulling parts off of old Apaches, average Joes and Jodies sent in money, and Wyotech is restoring the frame as this is being written. Kent Stevinson will then haul the car back to Stevinson Automotive to begin the full rebuild. Since they want the truck to be as practical as possible to the Hays family, they’ll be installing a brand new Chevy small block and four speed automatic.
Though Stevinson Automotive is still in need of some of the harder to find parts for the half-century-old truck (and if you’d like to donate them, you can learn more at www.captainhaysapacheproject.com), the American people have given above and beyond their financial goals, and project leaders have used the surplus to start the Captain Bruce E Hays Memorial Scholarship at Wyotech. Out of a great evil, a greater good sometimes comes.
As for the “mechanic,” we couldn’t find out much about what happened to him when he was caught. Our guess is that in the interest of keeping him alive, prosecutors have kept his identity a secret. This is America, after all, and we don’t take kindly to people who mess with our servicemen.
The Apache restoration project will last the summer, and Stevinson plans to hand Mrs. Hays the keys at a ceremony on September 17th, on the three year anniversary of Captain Hays’ death.
Images provided courtesy of captainhaysapacheproject.com.