Car buffs have banded together to help man as he faces illness

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Monday, October 10, 2011
— A Janesville man is one of dozens of car buffs from around the world who have banded together to restore a 1957 Chevrolet.

That might not sound so remarkable, given the nearly universal love for the iconic '57 Chevy.

But this story is less about cars and more about human hearts.

The restorers know each other through the message boards of Trifive.com, where they trade parts and discuss the restoration of classic Chevys.

Last April, the site administrator, who goes by "Otis," posted a note about a prominent, helpful member of the site, Rick Brown of Green Lane, Pa.

"As most of you know, Rick has terminal cancer in several parts of his body," Otis wrote. "The doctors just give him a few months to maybe a year to live. Rick wants to finish his Gasser 57 Chevy before his time is up. Rick's job will not let him work while he is under treatments, so the money he saved to buy parts for his gasser is now being used to buy food and pay bills.

"What I am suggesting is that we at Trifive try as best we can to donate the parts needed to Rick to finish up his gasser, so he can enjoy it a little while. …"

Members, including Mark "Fuzzy" Sommerfeldt of Janesville, thought that was a great idea.

Cash and parts streamed in from around the country and other countries, such as Sweden, Canada and Australia. A graphic designer in California designed a logo that Sommerfeldt airbrushed onto the car. It's the Chevy logo with two words on it: No Charge.

Brown responded online: "I've been out in the garage all morning, scraping undercoating off my firewall, and didn't even have a clue as to what was happening till Otis called me. I ran in the house and got cleaned up to go to the hospital for treatment and turned on my computer only to see all this good will coming toward me. I am beside myself. … I've been trying to hold everything together here myself, and I was getting worried that I might be fighting a losing battle. You all have given me a new beginning. I can't say 'thank you' enough."

Sommerfeldt paints cars for a living, and he's an artist with an airbrush, so a site member from Green Bay transported the car from Pennsylvania to Janesville.

Sommerfeldt painted Brown's car a gleaming, electric blue with a silver top and even added the cobweb highlights Brown wanted.

Another member, from New Jersey, was scheduled to haul it back today.

Sommerfeldt spent the past two weeks on the job, and he doesn't regret a second of it.

"I already lost four friends in the last year to cancer, and I want to see you get it done, buddy," Sommerfeldt told Brown.

Sommerfeldt has another reason for helping. It involves another '57 Chevy that Gazette readers might remember. Sommerfeldt helped his daughter, Storm, restore one in 2009. Sommerfeldt's wife, Kim, had lost her job, so Trifive members donated parts for Storm's car.

Brown was one of those donors.

Brown's car still needs work, including installation of the engine, interior and trim.

"Everybody wants to see that car done," Sommerfeldt said Sunday. "They kind of put themselves in the same shoes—what if this was happening to me?"

Another site member wrote online: "I want you to go down and do a burnout in front of the police station. I'll pay for the ticket."

"Imagine if the rest of the world worked together like these guys," Sommerfeldt said. "It would be a much better place."

Last updated: 6:45 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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