20 Laps Around Earth in a 1939 Ford

Growing up on Yucca Street in Beltsville was mostly boring, except for the cool Go Karts and cars that populated the neighborhood.  Mostly I looked up to older guys, but a few younger guys proved to be very interesting.  There was Gary Skaggs, one year older than me, who lived two houses away, who returned from Vietnam and treated himself to a new, silver 1969 Corvette,  Next to him lived another "Gary" -- Gary Franklin, three years younger than me, who owned an awesome new 1967 Camaro RS. But the most interesting "Gary" in the neighborhood, Gary Manley, lived one block away -- on Sellman Road, along with a few other guys about his age.

Here is Gary (center) with the Dietrich brothers,  Dale on the left, and Bob on the right -- "The Sellman Road Wild Ones!"

Gary was four years younger than me -- graduating from High Point High School in 1969.  While at High Point, Gary was building a 1939 Ford (his first 1939 Ford) in his back yard (without the luxury of a garage). He started working on the ex-race car -- what there was of it at least -- at the age of 15 in 1966. He bought this car from another Beltsville guy -- Robert Jones -- for $125.  

For four years he labored away on the Ford, installing a full-race 300 cubic inch Ford Flathead engine, a 1939 transmission with Lincoln Zephyr gears, a 4.44 ratio rear end, and making enough repairs to have a running car.  By 1969 Gary somehow convinced himself that he needed a pair of snow skis more than a car.  So he sold his car for $275 to a Bread Route salesman from Baltimore -- Sonny Boteler told the guy about Gary's car.

Before long, Gary pined for another 1939 Ford. The second car was purchased for $100.00 in June 1970 from a guy named "Otto" from Laurel, who had parked the car next to the Exxon station on the corner of Greenbelt Road and Route 1.  Version 2.0 had no engine, fenders, hood, or interior.  Sometimes vision and imagination are needed to achieve your goals!

Undeterred at the condition of his new prize, Gary set about to build himself a Street Rod and by October he was driving the "new" 1939 Ford on the streets of Beltsville.  50 years later, Gary is still driving the same car!

Over the years Gary has constantly improved the car and changed it to suit his tastes.  Along the way he became close friends with people like Pete La Barbera, owner of The Rod Shop, Joe Mack Schubert, Darryl Richards, and other Beltsville Shell legends.  Pete and his friends were so impressed with Gary that they hired him to work at the Rod Shop. Each person influenced Gary to make the car better and better.


A real turning point was when Gary decided that he wanted his purely street car to mimic an A-Gas "Gasser".  This look distinguished him as unique and became his signature aura.

We find ourselves in an era of "Hot Rods" that are CNC-machined, meticulously crafted, and burnished to a spotless masterpiece.  By contrast, Gary and his car exemplify the true roots of Hot Rodding -- making a car "cool", high performance, fun to drive, and doing all of that on a shoe-string budget.  Over the years he has run steel fenders, fiberglass fenders, different hoods, an Anderson Industries three-piece fiberglass front end (purchased from Pete for $50 when he worked at Creative Speed in College Park)  -- anything that he could find to refine the car.  His first 327 engine was out of Gary Franklin's 1967 Camaro (purchased for $125), an eight-quart oil pan crafted by PeeWee Thompson in the 60's, and the intake manifold he is running today is the same one he ran so many years ago.

The car has been painted multiple times -- it has been black, red, and stain black, with a variety of pin stripe and flame additions.

I always love it when Gary drives the Ford from his home in rural Virginia to Herman's house for a Beltsville Shell reunion.  Here is Gary's appearance in 2015.

Having the same car for 50 years -- a car you bought right out of high school -- is an amazing accomplishment.  But that feat is nothing compared to how much, and how far, Gary has driven the Ford.  He has driven across the USA multiple times, visited all 49 continental states (for valid reasons he hasn't driven the car to Hawai'i!), and even six of the ten Canadian Provinces.

His first cross-country drive was 1975 from Beltsville through Billings, Montana (for a girl friend's family reunion), to Long Beach, California.  While here he visited Catalina Island, and went to the classic drag strips at Irwindale and Lions with Dave Wallace of Rod Shop fame. On his way back to Beltsville he used I-40 and went through Memphis to attend the Street Rod Nationals.  The trip consumed 6 weeks, pulling a tear-drop trailer and living a carefree life.

Gary has also experienced more recent cross country trips -- one of the most memorable came in 2018 in which he traveled from Virginia to Washington State by way of Glacier National Park.  In 2019 Gary drove from Virginia to Alaska and back (see Gary's "log book" at the end of this article).

Crossing the Rockies in 1975:

Devil's Tower National Monument, Wyoming (Close Encounters of the 39th Kind!):

At the geographic center of North America, Rugby, ND:


Glacier National Park, Montana:


Gary has accumulated 500,000 miles -- which equates to 20 laps around the Earth at the Equator.  And consider all those miles are without the benefit of modern auto technologies.  While the car has power steering and cruise control, it lacks common conveniences such as: air conditioning; power windows; power seats; power brakes; ventilated/heated seats; ABS brakes; lane-change assist; blind-spot warning mirrors; or a backup camera!  Simply amazing!

Recently I asked Gary what attracted him to the book, Beltsville Shell?  He told me, "Cary, you were my hero -- you had a cool-ass '59 Vette, a 34 Ford in your back yard, and your kid brother had a 57 Vette - my favorite year!"

Actually, Gary, YOU are MY hero!  Keep driving that 1939 Ford, buddy!  I'm hoping to see you again at Herman's real soon!


Closing Note:  If Gary had kept a logbook of all his trips, it would look something like the following:

1970 - White Oak, Maryland -  Pictures with "Early Ford V8 Club" Charter Members in the White Oak Sears parking lot

1971 - Key West Florida, First long trip

1970s and 80s Many trips to Florida, occasional trips since then, one with Pete La Barbera around 2001 in which I dropped him off at his parent's home in Dunnellon, then stayed with Jim Noll in Dade City

1972 - Detroit, NSRA Street Rod Nationals with Steve Bragonier, Steve Reid, Mike Jarvis, Bob Rice, and Ralph Bull

1972 - Ft. Lauderdale, with Steve Bragonier and Larry Colbert to visit Barry Taylor

1973 - Tulsa, NSRA Street Rod Nationals with Edard Powers, Charlie Baker, Bill Armstrong, Larry Krobath, Ward Casey, John Baxter, Bob Rice, Steve Bragonier, and Tommy Hunt

1973 - Drove with Pete to Buffalo, NY and then on to Rochester to a drive-in for a Sunday Morning Auto Parts Flea Market, visiting Pete's hometown on the way

1974 - Gatlinburg, Towed a 1933 Austin behind the Coupe;  a trip with Martha Morton, Edard Powers, Larry Colbert, and Jim Noll

1975 - Florida, a trip with Bob Dietrich, Gloria Ray, Martha Morton, Edard Powers, Jim and Paula Noll

1975 - Memphis, NSRA Street Rod Nationals with Martha Morton; met up with Edard Powers, Jim Noll and John Mahoney in Memphis

1975 - Timonium, MD, Street Rod Nationals, East with Edard Powers, Larry Colbert, Gina Marconi, and Steve Bragonier

1975 - Cumberland, MD, Larry Colbert, Gina Marconi, Martha Morton, and Jim and Paula Noll

1976 - Tulsa, NSRA Street Rod Nationals (passenger) in Steve Bragonier's 1929 Ford Model A Roadster Pickup Truck

1977 - Cumberland, MD,  Mike and Tina O'Donnell

1980 - Memphis, NSRA Street Rod Nationals with Claziena Barbeto, Mike Lookabil; we set up a booth selling Torch-Mate Flame cutting machines

1982 - Florida,  Coupe was painted black, sporting a Sea King Canoe on top

1983 - Florida, this time the Coupe was red with flames, but the canoe was still on top!

1989 - Alexander Springs (Ocala National Forest), Florida, Old Town Canoe and Perception Kayak on top!

1999 - Louisville, NSRA Street Rod Nationals with Mike Lookabil and Mike O'Donnell

2000 - Columbus, Good Guys with Al Vella and Joe Schubert

2000 - Cheverly, MD, Queenstown Mighty Mo Reunion

2001 - Hartford, Road Agents with Ron Thorpe, George Donaldson, Mike Szuba, Jody Lilly, Al Seay

2002 - First trip to Canada while attending the wedding of Mike and Cathy Wolniewicz (near Buffalo)

2002 - Altoona, PA, Lakemont Park Show

2009 - Florida (again)

2009 - Beltsville, MD. Beltsville Shell Reunion

2015 - Beltsville, MD. Beltsville Shell Reunion

2015 - Kennesaw, GA, Visit Phil Fisher, Moultrie Swap meet, Don Garlits Museum (Ocala, FL), Zephyr Hills Swap Meet, visited with Jim Noll

2015 - Westminster, MD, Jalopyrama (first time entering an indoor car show), towed the 1933 Austin

2016 - Dauphin, PA, Bruce Larson Annual Car Show

2017 - Duncannon, PA,  Car Show at the Old Sled Factory

2018 - Dauphin, PA, Bruce Larson Annual Car Show

2018 - Cross country trip to visit the last of the Lower 48 States

2019 - Dauphin, PA, Bruce Larson Annual Car Show

2019 - Easton, MD, Jalopyrama

2019 - Cross country trip to Alaska (8,400 miles), Destination: Hyder, Alaska

 2020 - Springfield, MO -- 80th Anniversary of the 40 Ford -- it was on this trip that the Coupe odometer rolled past 500,000 miles while driving through Poplar Bluff, MO; also visited Darryl Starbird's National Rod & Custom Hall of Fame car museum in Afton, OK