“I grew up on my family’s farm in Kemper County, Mississippi, and I could teach a class in Farmboy Engineering. If I was in the hayfield and the tractor broke down with a storm coming, there was no time to go to town and get a part. I had to be innovative and use what I had to to make it work. Out here, the nearest neighbor is two miles away. I probably wouldn’t have seen anybody else if it hadn’t been for school or church.
My grandfather gave me a 1967 F-100 truck when I was in kindergarten. Mom would sit with me in that truck to make me do my homework. I put my books on the steering wheel and worked it out. Mom bought me hot rod magazines, and I rebuilt my first engine in the fifth grade. Tinkering with my grandfather’s truck made me want to see the world. I still have that truck and it runs beautifully. After that truck, I learned how to fix anything. My part-time job in ninth grade was fixing TVs and VCRs in a little repair shop down the road.
My other grandfather was a minister; we called him ‘Poppy’. I loved my Poppy. He used to say, ‘Let’s put $5 worth of gas in the car and just take off.’ We would end up in Gatlinburg or wherever the road took us. Those are some of my favorite memories. When Poppy was on his deathbed, I asked him how to raise boys. My oldest son was a baby then, and I expected a profound theological message from the pastor. Poppy said, ‘Take them camping.’
As my two boys got older, I understood Poppy was telling me to get away with them. I became a scoutmaster, and my boys became Eagle Scouts. We have done a lot of camping over the last 15 to 20 years.
We did some campouts in a large Mississippi State cowbell that I built out of plywood in 2016 for a tailgate contest at our church Halloween festival. The Alabama fans in my Sunday School liked winning, so I built the cowbell to beat them at the tailgate party. The festival was rained out, and I turned the cowbell into my scoutmaster teepee.
Our first road trip with the cowbell was to the Yogi Bear Jellystone Park outside of Memphis. I put the cowbell on a trailer and drove it up the highway. I accidentally made reservations for the RV resort instead of the campground, and our cowbell was in the middle of the expensive motorhomes. We had a grand time.
We kept camping in the cowbell, and I chronicled our trips on the wall until the boys outgrew it. It’s now my scoutmaster teepee.
We had a few rules for man trips: only shop at Bass Pro Shop; if it itches, scratch it; be responsible with flatulence, no farting in the cowbell; enjoy the time and fellowship and make lasting memories; and be still and listen to God’s leading and directing.
We graduated from the cowbell to the A-Team van that we got while helping members of our Sunday School class move away. They were going to abandon the van in the side yard. It would be an eyesore, so I bought it and got it running.
I’m the principal of a career technical school where students do hands-on training and learning. I like integrated projects and told the students this van is the same model as the A-Team van, and we could turn it into a replica. They didn’t know what the A-team was, so I pulled them into the auditorium to watch a few episodes of the TV show. I told them if they could make the van as pretty as the one in the TV show, I would go to school dressed like Mr. T with a mohawk haircut.
The students got to work and didn’t forget our bet. They got very close to the actual van, so I walked the halls with chains and a mohawk saying ‘Shut up, fool.’ The Associated Press ran a story about it. Our family made five or six trips in that van and got stopped all the time by people wanting to take pictures.
Camping has been a way to connect with my sons, but I also wanted to share working on cars with them. I had two Mustangs when the boys were babies. I sold both cars to buy diapers, but my boys were worth the sacrifice.
Braden was 11 years old when we bought a 1967 Mustang from Facebook Marketplace for $700. The color was dirty brown because of the rust, and we could see the ground below as we drove down the road. We put the Mustang in the shop and worked on it side-by-side for four and a half years. I didn’t work on the car unless Braden worked on it with me. A girl slowed things down here and there – I call it the gasoline and perfume syndrome. I taught Braden how to weld, cut with a torch, put an engine together, rebuild a carburetor, and bend and fabricate sheet metal. We converted it to a numbers-matching Mustang with an original engine and transmission – just like when it left the Ford Motor Company. It’s easy to find parts for an iconic car like this. But this was more than the car, it was the time we spent together.
The Mustang came out of the paint shop and hours later, Braden and I took it for a test ride on a road trip along the Natchez Trace. We were driving a car that hadn’t been driven in 20 years and that we completely rebuilt. We hadn’t even driven it to the gas station before that trip. This wasn’t the smartest idea, but I had friends and backup plans along the way.
I had driven bits and pieces of the Trace, but never the whole thing from beginning to end. I usually don’t suffer from anxiety, but I did on that trip over what could go wrong. The first morning, I prayed through my anxiety to enjoy the moment with my son. The trip was a combination of hard work, a beautiful spring progressing along the Trace, and getting to know people we met. Each morning, people were buzzing at the breakfast table about the Mustang, so I would take them out and show it off. The car went dead once coming off the Trace but ran the 1200 miles better than we expected.
It was a phenomenal experience that I will remember for a lifetime. When we got back home, I dropped the keys in Braden’s hand. The car is his now.”
“I had my senior portraits made with the Mustang. I was so proud and happy to ride with my dad on the Trace in the car we built together. I haven’t taken the car to school because I don’t want anything to happen to it. I will take it to prom and maybe the last day of school and park it in the back. Dad got me into these cool old cars, and I want to work with him again to keep bringing these cars back.”
“We are working on a 1946 Willys–Jeep CJ–2A. It’s an old military jeep. The frame is original, but the body was rusted out. We bought all of the pieces in a box. Our next trip will be taking the Jeep on trails in Colorado.
I would love to find and restore a Scooby-Doo bus. I also have a couple of original tractors that worked this property after they converted from mules to tractors. I’m slowly putting the fleet back together. There is also a truck my grandfather used to haul his watermelons that needs attention.
After I retire, I will return to this farm and do more with crops and cattle. Even with all of these memories and plans, facing the empty nest is hard. Have I done everything I needed to do as a father? I hope I have taught them to be men who live with intention and purpose taking steps in the right direction.”
Check out Rob’s YouTube channel, A Holy Rust Revival, for videos of his restoration projects and road trip with Braden.