Salter; Chevy share similar story

Published 2:49 pm Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Herb Salter's midnight-blue 1954 Chevrolet pickup sat uncranked in his yard for 20 years before being restored.

There’s a remarkable parallel between Herb Salter and his prized 1954 Chevrolet pickup: at one point, both were way down and nearly out, but have since made remarkable comebacks.

Salter, 90, spent two and a half months in a hospital battling an infection following a surgery but is finally starting to recover and move around in a somewhat normal fashion.

Likewise, his midnight-blue Chevy spent a long time sitting in his backyard before being restored and capturing this year’s Peach Classic Car Show’s Best in Show title.

“I got it in 1974, and used it for my business,” said Salter of his truck. “I sold my business, and then parked it in my yard. I didn’t crank it for 20 years, but it’s got the same motor it’s had in it. It runs good.”

After a while Salter, a self-proclaimed “old car buff” and original member of the Chilton County Cruisers, figured his old pickup could be next on his restoration list. After all, the man already had four Model T’s, a couple of Model A’s and an estimated 18 restored vehicles at one point. Plus, the truck was special.

“1954 was the first year GM offered an automatic transmission on a pickup,” he said. “There were less than 1,000 pickups made with the automatic transmission.”

It took 10 months, but eventually it was completely restored. The truck was taken down to the chassis and then built back up into the blue and chrome beauty it is now.

“I had it completely redone,” he said.

Then, the sickness hit.

Salter went into the hospital in March for back surgery. Given his age, it wasn’t going to be an easy one, but it also wasn’t supposed to be life threatening. Or so he thought. While recovering from the surgery, he came down with a severe Staph infection.

“[If I had thought I would get sick], I’d never have gone,” he said. “In fact, it probably wouldn’t happen again if I did it again.”

Just a few weeks removed from a life threatening illness, Salter managed to claim the "Best in Show" title at the 2011 Peach Classic Car Show.

Slowly but surely, though, his health came back enough to make it out of the hospital and begin recovery. An invitation to the Peach Classic Car Show he received in the mail from Chilton County Cruisers helped pick him up a bit too.

“I didn’t know he had been sick,” said Peach Classic event coordinator Ricky Easterling. “I hadn’t seen him in a while, and figured I’d send him one.”

What happened next completed the Chevy’s comeback and helped Salter’s progress a great deal as well.

“His daughter told me he had gotten the invitation and was really excited about it, but didn’t think he could go because of his health,” said Easterling. “They took a day off from work, came over from Atlanta and got him and the truck over here.”

Salter stayed as long as his health would let him, but still weak from the sickness, he eventually had to get out of the heat. While he was gone, the Chevy began to catch the eyes of the more than 70 participants in the show. By afternoon’s end, they voted it “Best In Show.”

There was just one problem: Herb wasn’t there to claim his prize.

“I came home and laid down,” said Salter. “They called me and told me my son-in-law was scared to drive it.”

“His daughter called him and said ‘Dad, we can’t get it to crank,’ knowing it would get him over there,” Easterling said. “He came back and they surprised him with the trophy.”

Salter was appreciative, to say the least.

“We’ve got a real nice club,” said Salter. “I really think a lot of them.”

While Salter is still not 100 percent, he said he has a few more projects to work on and hopes they can make the recovery process go by easier.

“I’ve been working on cars most of my life,” he said. “I came to Clanton in ’52, and have been working on them about that long. I’ve got a ’64 Mercury Comet I’m working on and about two or three others. I haven’t been able to do them as much lately, so I’m getting a fella named Mike Martin to work on them.

“You know, 90 makes a big difference.”