My wife says wait and you will find a nicer one...
After searching for a Graham-Paige car for two years, I finally decided to purchase a 1929 Graham-Paige 619 sight unseen in 2001 from several states away. It was a good solid car; the previous owner had put a lot of money into the engine rebuild so he was extremely unhappy to part with the car for what I had offered. The 619 Graham-Paige was great car but it had been restored one too many times. What that means in my book is, parts had been lost during the several restorations so I was now on the hunt to find some nearly impossible to find parts. The problem with the 1929 Graham-Paige 619 is it was an extremely short run car only 200 made. It was a 1928 body on a 1929 chassis, with some unique trim parts to make it look new for 1929. Most of these unique parts were lost in one or more of the restorations. I was getting frustrated with the car because it was not going to be as nice as I wanted it to be. The hunt for the elusive parts continued.
I was off to my local spring swap meet to hunt for Graham parts. I talked with a few of my old car friends and to my surprise one of them knew of a 1929 Graham-Paige not more than 30 miles away, my luck might be turning. I was hoping to just look at the car and take some pictures so I could figure out what I was missing. The big problem was I had no idea what model this car was, most of the Graham’s in 1929 were the “small” six cylinder cars. I had a “big six” so all the parts are different! I was able to find the gentleman’s phone number. His name was Donald Hauling and he said the Graham was stored at his cottage near Red Wing, MN just up the river from me.
I talked with Donald several times and he agreed to let me look at his Graham. It was spring of 2002 when we were able to get together. Donald was your normal great car guy, a few cars in the shed, some unique toys including a collection of antique lawn mowers he still used. He even had and an old Aries K car he had turned into a wood splitter! It was a cold spring day so my 3-year-old son and my lovely wife headed for the warm house with Donald’s wife Louise.
There was a row of cars in the shed, the first was a 1965 Chrysler, second was a 1955 Pontiac Chieftain, third was the 1929 Graham-Paige, fourth was a 1970 454 Chevelle, fifth was a 1953 Studebaker, parked in front of that was a 1956 Chevrolet BelAir. Lots of beautiful cars but the Graham-Page stopped me in my tracks. It was the second largest Graham built in 1929 an 827 five-passenger sedan. What a beautiful unrestored car the paint and interior was factory original with only 58,000 original miles.
After getting past my shock and disbelief that a Graham like this could be in my back yard, I took lots of measurements and pictures. Donald asked me if I would be interested in purchasing the Graham. I explained how I had just bought the 619 and my “fun money” supply was completely drained. He said it is yours…. not sure I understand? I am looking for good homes for my cars, and if you are interested it can be yours. I thought for a moment and said we have not even talked about how much…”we will work that out.” Well yes I would love to take care of the Graham for a few years!
His plan was to have a list of buyers his wife could call if something happened to him so she would not have to worry about the cars. We discussed prices and timetables, and came to an arrangement, I would save money and he or his wife would call when it was time to pick up the Graham.
Donald told me the story of when he was a Carpenter at Mayo Clinic one of the Doctors had told him of this old car he still had from when he went to school at Mayo in the 1950s. He was a young doctor from Massachusetts and drove the Graham-Paige between Minnesota and Massachusetts during school. He had never been able to bring himself to sell the Graham-Paige. Donald called him and asked him every year for over 10 years if he would sell the Graham-Paige one year he said yes. Donald and his friend drove to remote location in Wisconsin to get the Graham-Paige from the Doctors cabin. The Doctor said it was in the shed in the back yard, can’t be that shed it is too small, yes it is in there. When Donald opened the shed doors there was no Graham just a pile of firewood. “She is under the wood”…sure enough after digging in the wood they found a headlight; the entire front of the Graham had been buried. After a long dig and airing up the tires, they pulled out the Graham out into the sunshine, they had no idea how long it had been buried but after the Grahams long rest it was finally heading back on the road. After loading the Graham on the trailer they noticed the rear tires were not quite on the trailer. The car was so big and long it was hanging off, it was lifting the rear of the truck! The result was they could not exceed 35 mph before the entire rig started swaying back and forth, the 4-hour drive home that now would be over 6 hours!
Almost two years had passed since Donald and I had made the deal on the Graham-Paige. I had called Donald from time to time to make sure everything was still good with the Graham; till one day I got a call… Donald, yes I still very much want the Graham, “can you pick it up this weekend? My head racing do I have enough money…yes, I can I think. “We will talk more when you get to the cabin” see you then. What I did not know is someone had broken into Donald’s cabin and trashed the place, and they had stolen the 1970 Chevelle and wrecked it. His wife Louise was so upset she refused to return to the cabin. He had sold the cabin to a neighbor and they were moving what was not broken out that weekend, including the remaining cars.
Donald and Louise meet us to pick up the Graham, despite the unpleasant events we had a good time loading the Graham on the U-Haul trailer. We talked and reminisced over the events of the last two years including our new daughter, Louise was holding while Ben was playing on the old lawn mowers. We took pictures of Donald and Louise with the Graham; it was a somber moment for them to see the Graham go to new caretakers. The back tires of the Graham were hanging off the rear of the trailer just like last time. I was a little worried I would have to drive home at 35mph again, but my truck was much bigger, I had just finished building the truck (that is another story) this was the madden journey.
We headed out on the way home; I gently accelerated to about 55 mph enough speed to get home safely. We stopped at Red Wing to get some ice cream and access our new Graham-Paige. I was not ready for the onslaught of well-wishers all asking about the Graham. I could see all ready this would be another lifelong relationship; she is one of the family now.
I sent Christmas cards to Donald every year after we acquired the Graham-Paige. The kids got used to me bringing out the 827 in the fall with the Santa hats for our annual picture. Louise passed away in 2007, Donald passed away, August 2011. His son Bryan told me when he went to see Donald the latest Graham Charismas card was always posted on his refrigerator.
The 827 Graham-Paige is still running and driving strong, each one of my kids have their favorite Graham Cars from our collection, but it will be exceptionally hard for me to ever part with the 827, I can still see Donald leaning against the fender laughing about the 35 mph trip home.