Following the conclusion of George W. Bush’s presidency, Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer and his wife Nancy left the national spotlight in Washington D.C. and moved back to their home in Fargo, North Dakota. Being both a former cabinet secretary and a former two-term governor, it seemed the Schafers’ days in the national spotlight had come to a close. Yet, on this date in 2009, Ed and his wife Nancy were again featured in newspapers across the country. This media attention however, was not for Schafer’s efforts developing markets in China for North Dakota farm products or for his work formulating ag-policy with the US Department of Agriculture. It was for Ed and Nancy’s restoration of a 1955 Chevrolet pickup.
Car restoration had been an interest of Ed’s even before his days as governor. He had even owned a classic car dealership. So, it was perhaps natural that when the Schafers once again had extra time on their hands that they decided to restore the ‘55 Chevy pickup owned by Nancy’s father. Over the next four years, the two took apart, and rebuilt the old farm truck; even adding some additional, modern features; a CD-player, power disc brakes and air conditioning. By 2004 the restoration was complete. After driving the truck back to Nancy’s family farm in Montana, her folks were overjoyed to see their old work truck fully restored. Seeing the joy on her parents’ faces, Nancy offered to let her father drive the Chevy, but he didn’t feel up to the task and instead opted for a ride. But within minutes, the old farmer changed his mind. He slid into his old seat behind the wheel and headed down the road, transported back in time. “It was a thrill to see the joy on his face,” Schafer recalled. Nancy’s father passed away one year later.
Certainly, the story of the Schafer’s auto restoration will not rank in the pantheon of North Dakota history, alongside tales of George Custer, the Mandan nation or Fort Union. However, it provides an important illustration that some of the most important things one can accomplish are not done while living in a governor’s mansion or directing departments of state – it’s doing the simple things to preserve one’s past, and to hold on to the memories of those who came before us. It may be as simple as writing our family’s history, maintaining our community heritage or even, preserving our father’s pickup.
Dakota Datebook written by Lane Sunwall
Parker, Vern. "Dad's Old Truck Looks Like New." Wisconsin State Journal, March 14 2009.
US Department of Agriculture, "Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer" http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?contentidonly=true&contentid=bios_schafer.xml (accessed March 9 , 2011).