December 21, 2019 11:06:09 PM
On a July day in 1966, MSU student and future Oktibbeha sheriff Dolph Bryan walked into the Starkville Ford dealership with the intention of buying a new car. As it happened, a salesman was sitting in the car Bryan would buy. He was reading a newspaper.
Seeing Bryan, the salesman tossed the newspaper into the back seat and stepped out to greet his potential customer. Bryan bought the car, a red '66 Ford Fairlane GTA with red interior. There was no charge for the newspaper, still in the car when Bryan drove it off the lot.
In fact, the newspaper would remain in the car for 50 years, until 2016 when Bryan sold the car. Along the way the backseat archive of the Fairlane acquired a yellowed sheet of notebook paper with directions to and through Peoria, Illinois, written out in a neat script for Bryan by his wife sometime in the pre-GoogleMap era.
Growing up on Gunshoot Road in Steens, old cars were among Josh Frady's first playmates. There were always cars around the house, he says. His dad, Jerry, had been a salesman at Nabors Ford before opening a lot of his own on Highway 82 in east Columbus.
"Everybody in Lowndes County knew my dad," Josh said. "You couldn't go in any restaurant without 12 people speaking to him."
Josh, 45, was 14 or 15 when he painted his first car, a '54 Chevy, for a couple who went to his church. Word spread about the quality of the younger Frady's work, and soon his after-school and weekend hours were consumed with paying jobs.
While his social life may have been curtailed by work, there was time for football at Heritage Academy and hunting and fishing. His mom Bernice's home cooking proved an irresistible draw for his schoolmates, who, as it turned out, rarely enjoyed such.
Around 1995 Frady got his first car, a '66 Ford Fairlane GTA. The Ford was red with a red interior. Eventually, he had to part with the car, selling it to his dad to help pay tuition at the University of Southern Mississippi where he was studying radio, television and film.
Tommy Nabors III bought the Fairlane from the elder Frady and eventually sold it on the internet. To his regret, Josh learned about the sale of his beloved Fairlane after-the-fact.
Around 1998 Josh and his dad opened Frady Customs, an auto restoration shop on Highway 50.
Several years later the continued existence of the business came into question, so when Bob Taylor, of Bob's Paint and Auto Body told Josh he had a '40 Ford sedan he'd owned for 30 years he wanted restored, Frady rose to the bait. He's been at Bob's ever since.
Somewhere along the way Frady learned of Dolph Bryan's red '66 Fairlane. Over the years, Bryan rebuffed repeated entreaties from Frady and other potential buyers. Finally in 2016 Bryan relented.
"I made him an offer on it and he said, 'Come get it.'" Frady said. "I was there in an hour." Also included with the car was a yellowed newspaper dated July, 1966 and hand-written directions to Peoria.
Like he does for all his restorations, Frady disassembled and then reconstructed the Fairlane bolt-by-bolt. He's fully restored the car, which awaits painting.
When asked about the hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars these restorations require, Frady is quick with an answer. "If it's got sentimental value, it's not about the money. They want it done."
"How else can you get a second chance at being a kid?" says Hank Gunter for whom Frady has restored several cars.
Most recently Frady restored a '56 Ford Country Sedan for Gunter.
Why a '56 Ford Country Sedan?
"I remember Daddy buying the car new when I was 8 years old," said Gunter. "I remember it very well; it was white."
The vehicle Frady restored for Gunter isn't the same car his father owned, but as Dolph Bryan's '66 Fairlane does for Frady, it packs enough emotional wallop to justify the effort and expense.
"Every one of these jobs has its own character," says Tom Cooper, majority partner and manager of Bob's. "They're like individuals."
Take the oil field worker who called from Alaska. He told Frady about a '76 Jeep in Brooksville an aging family friend had given him.
"I'm gonna tell you where it is," the caller said. "You go get it with your wrecker. I want to fly in and drive it back to Alaska."
Frady and his team -- one of whom, Kevin McWilliams, has worked with Frady for more than two decades -- have removed "every piece off it, every nut and bolt, everything you can take apart."
At the moment the unpainted body of the Jeep sits in the center of the shop at Bob's. The Jeep will get a new, more powerful motor and a rebuild from the ground up.
Frady estimates the job will take six or seven months and about 1,500 hours.
"I trust you," the Alaska client told Frady. "Do what you gotta do."
The projects in the shop in their varying states of completion offer testimony to the trust clients have in Frady and his team.
"I'm picky," Frady says. "(They know) I'm not going to let it go until it's right. That's my problem, perfectionism."
For Tom Cooper, Frady's passion is not a problem. Far from it. "Josh will go until 5 in the morning to accomplish that one little detail," Cooper says. "If it takes five times to get it right, he's going to do it."
Hank Gunter concurs. "Josh is an automotive artist extraordinaire," he said.
Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.
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