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A Fun Hobby

By Staff | Jan 10, 2009

Ever since he was a boy, Stan Johnson has thought about building a pioneer-style car.

A few years ago he saw one, made of wood, at the ‘Farming of Yesteryear Show’ in Kiester.

“I don’t know who it was who had it there, and I didn’t talk to him, but it sure got me thinking about building a car again.” Johnson recalls.

The Blue Earth man got some plans off the internet, and last winter he built his own car.

It was so much fun to build it, and then drive it around at parades last summer, that this winter he is building another one.

He took the three different plans he downloaded from smallcarplans.com and modified them.

“I made it better,” he says. “I added hydrostatic transmission, and a better, stronger frame, among other things.”

Johnson purchased the wheels, transmission and springs for the first car, but he made the rest of the metal frame pieces and all of the wooden body parts.

“The engine was an 18 horse Briggs and Stratton I took off my wife’s lawn mower,” he chuckles. “For the second car I had to purchase a 17.5 horse engine, because she didn’t have another mower.”

Johnson has a large shop next door to his home on East Fifth Street in Blue Earth. It is there he spends his winter days doing both metal and wood work.

“Building these cars is great, because it combines both of these hobbies,” he says.

The cars are not exact replicas of early cars, but are a modification.

“They are loosely based on an early curved-dash Oldsmobile,” he explains.

Johnson’s wife, Susan, helps out with finishing the wood and staining it.

“I have Lee’s Body Shop paint all the metal pieces, and J & J Upholstery do the seat upholstery,” he says. “But Susan and I do the rest.”

Stan and Susan Johnson recently celebrated their second wedding anniversary. Although they had been first grade classmates, they only met up again recently.

Stan had been living in White Bear Lake for many years and working for Control Data.

“When they went out of business, I was looking for work. In 1990, electronics engineers were a dime a dozen,” he says.

So he and his first wife, Pam, moved to Blue Earth where his mother was. Stan opened up a repair shop, and Pam went to work for the school, as a teacher and an associate.

“She taught things like English as a second language and adult adaptive class,” Johnson recalls. “She even taught a class at the jail.”

He says her job and his work as a handyman got them by until it was time to retire.

However, Pam Johnson died in 2004.

Susan had married her high school sweetheart, Larry Peterson, and they farmed near Amboy. He also passed away, after suffering from Alzheimer’s. He had been in St. Luke’s Care Center in Blue Earth.

“He was well known for his chickens, and was quite a poultry judge,” Susan recalls. “He worked with a lot of youth in Faribault County at the fair and through 4-H.”

Stan and Susan went to school together both in Vernon Center, and in Garden City.

They met up again in Blue Earth after losing their spouses, through a common contact with Stan’s sister.

“My friend, Pastor Harry Curran, asked me if I was going to marry again, and I said I wasn’t sure,” Stan remembers. “He said he would pray that I find a good woman, if I did decide to re-marry.”

A month later, Susan gave him a call. They were married on Dec. 23, 2006.

“We have a lot of things in common; values, friends, religion, school history,” Stan says.

One thing they didn’t have in common was motorcycles, but they do now.

Stan has ridden a motorcycle for years, and Susan, who had never been on one in her life, was game to ride along.

“Now I just love it,” she says. “If you are sad about something, getting on a motorcycle just clears your head, and takes away your problems.”

Stan had a 1987 Honda Gold wing, and they put a lot of miles on it that first summer together. The next summer they bought a new Harley-Davidson.

“We have ridden it to a lot of places,” Stan says. “Last summer we trailered it to South Dakota and then rode it all over the Black Hills, and Badlands. It was a fantastic trip.”

Susan agrees. “We met so many nice people who were also traveling around on their cycles.”

While Stan putters away in his shop, Susan has another ‘hobby.’ She has been a columnist for The Land magazine in Mankato since 1978.

Currently she is working on a book which will be a compilation of her column, called ‘The Yield.’

“My editor thought the book would be a good idea,” Susan says. However, she is self-publishing the work through Beaver Pond Publishing House.

While the couple stays busy with their writing, car building and motorcycle riding, they still have time in the summer for touring around the country and driving Stan’s wooden car in area parades.

Last summer they took the car to Kiester, for the parade at ‘Farming of Yesteryear.’

It was fitting, since that is where Stan first saw a wooden car and decided to build his own.

Now with two of them, the plan is to take both to parades this summer.

“I think I will be done with this car in March,” he says. “So it will be ready to go.”

Since he built a car last winter and is working on one this year, the natural question is, will he build a third one next winter.

“I guess I will just have to wait and see if I feel like it,” Stan says with a chuckle. “But if I do, I’m not sure where I will store it. The side room of my shop only has room for two cars and a motorcycle.”