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I don't really know what I'm doing

The story of me taking on a vehicle restoration project

By D-DonohoePublished 10 months ago 5 min read
Top Story - February 2023
The 1942 Ford Jailbar project

Up until last week, there were two things I didn’t know (ok, there are probably a few million more than two, but there were two specific things that I learned last week).

I didn’t know how hard it was to remove the bushings for a lower control arm and I didn’t know how hard it was going to be to install the new lower control arm bushings and the new lower control arms.

Back to the start

But, before we get into that, let’s go back a step or two. I’ve worked on cars in the past. As a teenager, I owned a couple of old cars, as did my friends. We would work on each other’s cars and fix up things here and there – we had no money so had no choice.

My Dad taught me a lot about engines and transmissions, he serviced our cars until they got too complicated. In later years I regretted not spending more time working on cars with him and soaking up more of his knowledge, although he wasn’t much of a talker so often it just meant I was standing there holding the torch for him.

As I started to earn my own more money and had less spare time, I started paying mechanics to do the work on my cars. I had always wanted to buy a project car for Dad and me to work on together.

A Jailbar

Then in 2016 (Do you remember 2016? There was no global pandemic, and you could buy parts for cars easily) my dad found a 1942 Ford ½ Tonne pickup, colloquially known as a Jailbar because of the distinctive vertical bars on the grille. It was rough, had no motor or transmission, had lots of rust, and was missing a lot of parts. But it was cheap and finally, we had a project.

How the Jailbar arrived

Dad drove three days to pick it up, and when he got home, I rang to ask how the trip was. He replied, “Terrible”. I thought something must have happened, only to discover that what made it so bad was that every time he stopped, someone would want to talk to him about the truck. As I said, he was an introvert, and he just didn’t know how to respond when people wanted to talk to him.

Now I was living on one side of Australia and Dad was on the other. This meant I had to convince my wife that all family holidays should be spent visiting my folks so that more time could be spent helping Dad. It was slow going, but Dad had a lot of mates that were useful and were helping him with different jobs. It was also fun having the tables reversed where Dad would contact me for money to pay for something new on the Jailbar. One time after asking me for $2500 for a new differential I responded, “Do you think I’m made of money?” Dad didn’t see the funny side to that.

At this point, the diff is the fanciest part of the car

Challenges - Easy and Hard

The 1942-46 Ford trucks were wartime trucks which meant that there weren’t as many of them around. Soon enough, we discovered that this meant that finding parts, especially in Australia was going to be challenging. Even in the United States parts weren’t as plentiful as I would have liked, so we had to rework parts we had or make new ones.

Dad kept plodding along on the project between working on his motorbikes and other tasks that Mum would assign him. Then the pandemic hit and that meant so much, including that I couldn’t get there to help him out. You try project managing a 75-year-old man from 3500 miles away, it was the greatest challenge of my life.

Then a year ago, I got a call from Mum on a Sunday afternoon telling me that Dad had died in a motorcycle accident. My world collapsed. I flew home as soon as I could to be with Mum and deal with all of this.

I walked into Dad’s shed and started to laugh. The last thing he’d been planning to do was strip the Toyota Hilux chassis we had bought to put the cab on and get it sandblasted. Well, the chassis was stripped, and parts were everywhere. Nothing was labeled and there were no photos to show me where things had come from. I joked that dad knew I liked Lego, so his ultimate gift was a 2 million piece set without any instructions.

What I found when I walked into Dad's shed

Talking with one of Dad’s friends, he told me that a week or two earlier he’d been there helping Dad and asked where the radiator supports were. Dad thought for a few minutes and then pointed to a box in the corner. Sure enough, the radiator support was in there, but the box was labeled headlights. Dad’s friend told me that he had no idea where things were, or how they were organized.

How to make progress

Getting through the shock of losing Dad was rough and I didn’t really know what to do. Then I just decided that I need to keep moving and try to finish it. I’m blessed with having some amazing friends in my life, one is a top welder who offered to do some work on the cab to get it ready for paint, and another is a mechanic who gave me a hand figuring out what I need to do and in what order.

I took the stripped frame to a sandblaster and got it painted, I ordered suspension parts and started to get things together. Then I realized those lower control arm bushings needed replacing and that was two days of work drilling, sawing, hitting, swearing, and then finally getting them out. Then I had to look on YouTube how to put the new ones in and discovered I needed a new tool to fit them. Off I went and bought a bushing press tool and inspired by a video telling me how easy it was I installed the new bushings.

A painted chassis and an almost re-assembled front end.

Along the way, I kept finding new parts I had to buy and new skills I had to learn. But with the internet and service manuals, I’ve picked up a lot. If I get stuck, I ask people for advice or help, but I have progress again. The truck isn’t done, it’s a lot of time and money away from being finished but now I’ve got the drive back to continue the project that Dad and I were doing together.


Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed this story please like, comment, subscribe or even if you are really generous please leave a tip (restoring an old car is not cheap).


About the Creator


Amateur storyteller, LEGO fanatic, leader, ex-Detective and human. All sorts of stories: some funny, some sad, some a little risqué all of them told from the heart.

Thank you all for your support.

Reader insights


Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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  1. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

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    The story invoked strong personal emotions

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    Well-structured & engaging content

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    Writing reflected the title & theme

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Comments (14)

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  • Carol Townend12 days ago

    I don't envy you, but good luck! I am sorry to hear about your dad.

  • Dave Wettlaufer3 months ago

    Sorry about your Dad, but other than that sad part, a fun story. After saying that, I belong to a car club in Canada and I’m a overhaulen dude myself. People forget that a frame-off restoration is a big job to tackle and sorry to say, money should not be an issue, 'you have to do it right,' That is the only advice I could share now that you've started. So good luck with your project bud … it will be totally gratifying when it’s done. Point of interest; We are looking for members, it's too bad your 10,000 miles away. 😀👅

  • Loryne Andawey10 months ago

    I know what it's like losing a Dad, and believe me, I wish I had more quality time with him. Your Dad left you with a wonderful gift to remember him by. If it's not too much, I would love to read an update every now and then. Thank you for sharing this. ❤'d and subscribed.

  • Alex H Mittelman 10 months ago

    Very well written! I’d love to restore a car too! 😀

  • J. Jay10 months ago

    Thank you for sharing this story. I learned so much about cars reading it. I wish you luck in finishing it.

  • Atomic Historian10 months ago

    I love it!! Can't wait for updates, or to see it finished

  • Heather Hubler10 months ago

    Congratulations on Top Story!!

  • This is so original! Good job 👍

  • JBaz10 months ago

    What a wonderful tribute to a man you clearly adored.

  • Congratulations on your Top Story

  • Wizard10 months ago

    Nice Work

  • Cathy holmes10 months ago

    Firstly, sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing this piece with us. Congrats on the Top Story

  • Quincy.V10 months ago

    Your Blog is very nice. Wish to see much more like this.

  • Heather Hubler10 months ago

    So glad to have you back on the platform! You were missed. And I'm so very sorry to hear of the tragic loss of your father. Thank you for sharing this heartwarming piece. I'm happy for you that you've gotten back into restoring the car that meant so much to you both :)

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