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Beautiful on the inside

By Staff | Apr 26, 2020

John Hansen peers inside this 1935 Chevy he is restoring. The two seats inside, which came with the car from the previous owner, are in tough shape. Hansen will make them look brand new, something he does for many people in the area who are restoring classic old cars. He has a lot of experience doing it.

Car care includes many things, from engines to tires and batteries to transmissions.

But, it also can include the interior of your vehicle, and that can include the upholstery in the seats, carpet on the floor and the side panels on the doors.

“A lot of my business includes doing upholstery in vehicles,” says John Hansen of J & J Upholstery in Blue Earth. “Much of that is for people who are restoring older, classic cars. But, some of it is for modern vehicles as well.”

In fact, several new and used car dealerships bring car seats from vehicles traded in to Hansen to repair a rip or issue with the upholstery.

But, most of it comes from people restoring those old, classic, or even antique cars.

Hansen is currently working on car seats from a 1946 Ford, 1935 Chevy (seats, trunk, carpet), a 1927 Cadillac and more.

“I’m even working on an upholstered seat for someone’s homemade, wooden 1901 vehicle,” Hansen says. “I’m doing a few boat seats, as well.”

All that is in addition to more “standard” projects like living room couches and chairs.

There really is not any upholstery job he cannot do. It just sometimes takes a little while to figure out how to do it.

“I’m always learning new ways to get something done,” he says. “Sometimes I have to study it for two weeks, before I think of how to make it work. And, I have learned a few tricks over the years.”

That is close to 40 years of experience he is referring to.

Hansen started in the business in 1980, 40 years ago. However, from 1996 to 2000 he left and tried something else, working for a farmer, for four years.

“I guess I needed a break,” he says. But then I came back to it in 2000.”

The business was originally started by Hansen’s father, Herb Hansen, who started it in 1969-70.

“The building had been the West End Tavern,” Hansen says. “I used to always have people stop in and tell me they remembered coming here to have a cold beer in this place in the old days.”

The Hansen family lived in the house next door, where John Hansen still lives.

The family moved to Blue Earth in 1965, from a farm place near Albert Lea. John Hansen was 11 at the time.

The family included Hansen’s father, mother, Evalyn, and a sister.

“When I took over the business in 1980, for the first five or six years, my dad hung around out in the back shop,” Hansen recalls. “If I had a problem or a question on how to do things, he would sometimes tell me how, and sometimes just tell me to figure it out myself.”

It was the same for his mother, Evalyn.

“She used to do a lot of the sewing,” Hansen says. “But one day she just gave me the sewing machine and said she was done and said I could do it myself. So I learned that, too.”

Back in the days when his father ran the business, he did a few car seat jobs, but not many.

But, now his son has the business and enjoys doing the car seat upholstery, especially in old cars being restored.

In fact, he enjoys it so much he has done it to some cars he has owned himself, including one in his back shop right now.

And, he likes it so much he is doing a total car restoration to his 1935 Chevy, and doing almost all of it himself, and not just the upholstery, but everything.

” restored a 1963 Chevy Nova,” he says. “I did a lot of it myself but not all of it, like I had someone else paint it.”

It only took him two and a half years to get it done. That car was the subject of not one, but two feature stories in the Faribault County Register. One story was while it was under restoration and the other one when it was finished and on display at car shows in the area.

“It was a beautiful car, and I loved it,” he says. “But I discovered I really liked the older cars from the 1930s, and not the 1960s cars like I thought at first.

So, the Chevy Nova got sold to a guy in Great Falls, Montana, in 2003, and Hansen now is working on 1935 Chevy.

“I just really think this is a classic style,” Hansen says. “I was lucky to find it. And the guy I got it from had an extra frame, which came in handy.”

So far Hansen has stripped the car and repaired all the body areas that needed to have the metal replaced, which included much of the lower panels and the floor.

“The engine is all restored and back in place and runs well,” Hansen says. “I have all the parts ready to go. Really, this car is taking less work than I did on the Nova.”

Of course, part of what is left to do is the upholstery parts of the car. That will be done when most of the car is ready.

Hansen has kept J & J Upholstery open during the current stay at home orders, saying he really gets very little walk in traffic.

“When I?get something done I call the customer and they come pick it up,” he says. “Or they can just drop something off.”

The pandemic slow down has not been so bad for him, Hansen says, explaining that it has given him some time to get caught up on a lot of projects.

“I’m not too worried about not having any work,” Hansen says. “I am pretty sure I won’t ever run out of projects to get done.”