An Afternoon With The Masons
A little while ago, we told you about Earl & Carol’s annual car show. They were kind enough to invite me over to their home and share their story with me.
It was on a sunny, summer afternoon in Tennessee that this story was told – sitting on the porch swing of their log cabin, big black dog panting on its haunches, waiting for you to scratch behind his ears.
Earl has been a car lover all of his life. He started with bicycles, started piddling with his daddy’s tractor, and moved on up to a ’47 Ford panel truck, a gift from his father. He traded it in for a ’54 Ford and kept on building Mustangs for awhile. If you asked him now which car has been his favorite, he would tell you “whichever car you take me for a ride in.”
Carol handled other “heavy machinery” as she was growing up, namely Angus cattle. Her father was dubbed “Mr. Angus”, and from 7-18 years old, she earned ribbon after ribbon showing the prized beauties.
Earl reminisces, “Two years before we ever talked, my friend and I saw Carol at the fair showing Angus in her white blue-jeans. Well, we followed her around for a bit that day.”
They finally talked for the first time on a double date. There was a bit of a mix-up about who Carol’s date was, but as fate would have it, it ended up being Earl.
“Well, when the car pulled up and there was another girl in the front seat with my date, I just shrugged my shoulders and got in the backseat with Earl. We’d never talked but we started talking that night,” Carol recalls.
After dating for a period of time, they decided to get married. Carol was eighteen, Earl was nineteen. When they first got married, they had a combined income of $80 a month, but they made it work. They packed their lunches everyday and lived a thrifty life to prevent going into debt.
“I was so in love I disassembled a car and sold off the parts for furniture for our house,” said Earl.
In 1968, a year into their marriage, Earl was drafted into the military and sent to Vietnam. He kept a few dollars and sent most of his money home to Carol, who squirreled it away and paid off their house with Earl’s earnings. ’69 came and Earl was badly wounded and sent home to be with his wife.
It was during this time that they purchased a ’33 Ford five-window coupe from a man named Eugene Bilbrey.
“It was a drag strip car from Georgia. It was just a hull when we first got it,” says Earl.
They worked on it for about ten years, finishing it up in ’79. Earl had opened a tool and die shop by then to support his growing family and machined and welded pieces and parts on the car himself.
Over the years, it has been various colors (including burgundy and gold) but it’s been black with yellow flames for a long time. The hood is stretched 8 ½ inches, and there are details like suicide doors, cowl lights, and door handles machined by Earl.
The motor is a 289, taken from a ’69 Ford. “Lots of the Fords back then had a Chevy motor. But I’ve always thought a Ford motor should go in a Ford car,” says Earl.
Include a C4 transmission, cast iron intake, and Hooker headers and a full, rumbling hot rod sound can be heard when you turn the key in the ignition. Inside there are bright red mustang seats and a hexagonal steering wheel with steering column machined by Earl.
The car is set on a ’33 Ford frame, and a Mustang II front end was added in ’89. It gets around on Chevy wheels with Ford caps (also adjusted by Earl to fit) and Coker tires.
As you can see, there are many cars in their impressive collection:
…but this is a car that will never be priced to sell.
“We used to take this car to Pigeon Forge when the kids were young. They would sit in the rumble seat in the back with suitcases and a bunch of other stuff sticking this a-way and that a-way. It’s been with us forever and there are lots of memories. It’s just like a family member,” Earl shares.
There is something about Earl that you would not know if you were not told. The long term effects of Agent Orange, a chemical herbicide and defoliant used as herbicidal warfare during the Vietnam War, have caused Earl’s eyes to lose their sight.
It was a slow process, from 1994 – 2001. During that period, Earl trained himself to largely maintain his independence. Today, he moves gracefully and swiftly around his home and garage. He continues to work on vehicles and move them around their property. According to Carol, he is a pretty good cook.
“You take what God gives you and make something better,” Earl states simply.
Earl and Carol Mason have been married for 49 years, through good and bad, thick and thin, sickness and health. Their kindness, positivity, and generosity pour into the community, and in turn many are drawn to them.
They sit together often on their front porch, where they can always feel the breeze and Earl can listen to the cars go by. “My favorite time on the porch is in the morning,” he says, “that’s when I can hear God waking up the world.”
Earl does not have sight in his eyes but he is not blind. He has vision to see the deeper things, the better things, the things that will not fade away. And, he is always seen: by his wife, his family, his friends, his community, and most of all, by the God who wakes up the world every morning.