EDITOR’S NOTE — This is the fifth in an ongoing series of columns focusing on the people of our area who restore and enjoy older cars, and on the cars that are their passion. The column is planned to appear in the Tri-County Sunday every week. If you have or know of one of these cars please feel free to contact Courier Express Editor David Sullens at (814) 503-8863 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell him about it. If you call about someone else’s car, please provide contact information including a telephone number for the car’s owner.
Pat Simons uses his 1962 Willys wagon to open doors for a cause about which he is passionate — Wheels of Hope.
Wheels of Hope is an organization that collects mobility aids — wheelchairs, crutches, canes, walkers, prosthetics — and reconditions them before sending them overseas to people in less developed or less fortunate countries who need them.
Simons’ interest in the organization began with his daughter, Sarah, who, as he was taking her to school one day when she was 8 years old, heard about it on the radio.
The commentator made reference to people in another country “walking around on stumps” and about an organization that was attempting to help them.
After listening intently, Sarah asked Pat, “Can we get involved?”
Pat told her he would check on it. A month later, she asked again. And they did get involved.
But the operator of that organization moved it from Canton, Ohio to Colorado. It was not feasible to ship the donated equipment from the east side of the country to Colorado, so the Canton warehouse soon was home to a new organization — Wheels of Hope — with the same mission.
Refurbished equipment has been sent to Honduras, Guatamala, Bolivia, Peru and its current focus is Thailand.
At one point, Pat and Sarah went on a Wheels of Hope mission trip to Honduras.
Pat’s interest in his Willys stems from his having owned one when he was in his 20s. He recalls that it was his “daily driver” and he very much enjoyed it but, over time, it deteriorated. He bought another one — with no engine — and intended to “make one from two” but then came marriage. With no time, he eventually sold both 30 years ago “to a guy who is just finishing the project now.”
A few years ago, Simons started looking online for another Willys wagon. He found several, but most were too expensive. Finally he spotted one on Long Island that was priced at $13,500. In six months that price had fallen to $10,000, so he took his money and went to look at it. He bought it, he says, for $9,250.
“The outside was like it is now,” he said. “I’ve done nothing inside it yet and the engine still needs work.”
He has driven the wagon in parades and last year started taking it to car shows, “mostly for exposure” for Wheels of Hope.
The fact that the Willys he owns today is a 1962, which was what he owned more than 30 years ago, he says is either coincidence “or a God thing.”
The Willys is “mechanically sound” but needs a valve job, he said. “If the engine was running properly it would do 70,” he said, “but now only about 50-60.
It is powered by a “Super Hurricane” flathead six cylinder engine. Power is transferred to either the rear or all four wheels through a 3-speed manual transmission with overdrive and a two-speed transfer case.
Simons, who is a factory representative for Mac Metal Sales, said he has replaced the wagon’s heater, “so now it does heat.”
He put new, larger all-weather radial tires on it and has replaced “lots of seals.” He still needs to replace the door seals and re-do the wagon’s body mounts, he said. He also has given it a new single barrel carburetor.
It had already been repainted when he bought it. He does not typically drive it in the winter months, but has on occasion. “I use it every chance I get,” he said.
David Sullens is editor of the Courier Express and executive editor of the East Coast Group of Community Media Group.