Michael Stach's doctors called him a wonder. By all accounts, he should have been a vegetable, relying on a nurse to help him perform his daily activities. The brain tumor that doctors diagnosed him with in 2004 was inoperable.
"I practice walking faster every time before I see the doctor," he confided. "To show them I'm not doing too bad."
Some said that Stach, of Wappingers Falls, New York, wouldn't be able to finish the restoration of his `50 Crosley Super station wagon that he had started two years before. Perhaps, though, that's what kept him on his feet. He denied it, claiming rather that he just needed to finish the projects he started.
This car came into his life in 2002. He had retired early from his position as a senior electrical engineer at IBM around 1991, but remained active, running a small computer repair and remanufacturing business he started and volunteering for local charities.
The supplemental income from that small business helped support his Volkswagen hobby, until one day he came across a 1946 Crosley CD sedan near Boston that had been caught in a barn collapse. He had owned another Crosley earlier in life, shortly after he married his wife Joan nearly 50 years before, one that he bought for $50 and pulled home strapped nose-to-tail to the rear bumper of his car - but he sold that one when he realized its brakes couldn't safely ferry his budding family. Then he saw an ad for the 1950 station wagon in Pine Plains, New York.
The 1950 wagon's owner needed space in his garage for his business installing wheelchair lifts in vans, but didn't want the Crosley to go to someone who would "run it in a field and ruin it," Stach said.
Some previous owner had repainted part of the wagon yellow, and the owner had kept his grandchildren occupied by allowing them to paint the side panels, but surface rust had started to reclaim the body. The floors had rotted away, the rear interior panels had gone missing and, though it still had all four hubcaps, they all had different dimensions. Otherwise, the wagon--one of 4,205 that Crosley produced that year--remained straight and mostly intact. Stach bought it for $800, then had a truck driver down the street haul it the 35 or so miles to his home.
"He said he could do it for $100," Stach said. "But when he dropped it off, he said to me that he had the best time bringing that car down everybody was honking and waving--so he charged me $50. I still gave him $75."
Stach said he liked the style of the wagon better than the sedan. "I call the sedan a lump," he said. "Because of all the roundness to it." For that reason, he decided to restore the wagon first.
The Crosley engine refused to run right. "It wanted to run, but wouldn't stay running," Stach said. "No matter what I did, I couldn't get it going. I really think the cam is off by a tooth on that engine." Rather than spend too much time trying to get that engine running, Stach decided to replace it. First, he needed to remove it. Though he bought an engine stand to work on the four, he didn't own a hoist, so he decided to make one out of two-by-four-inch boards of wood that stood about 10 feet tall. "I don't change engines often enough," Stach said. "And the engine weighs only 200 pounds--it's not heavy, it's just awkward in there. I took the hoist apart when I was done with it and put it in the rafters." In went another Crosley engine, produced around 1953 for a generator system. Stach said the stationary engine, which was designed to run at a consistent speed for long periods of time, used different main bearings and a magneto, so he swapped in automotive main bearings and a distributor with electronic ignition instead of the stock points, simply to make the car more reliable.
He also installed the one-barrel Tillotson carburetor after two attempts at having it rebuilt: "I just don't think the rebuilder expected something that old." He reused the intake manifold, exhaust manifold and accessories from the original engine and decided to keep the stationary generator stand to use for testing other Crosley engines.
The transmission and rear axle required simply a cleaning and regreasing, but the bolts that hold the ring gear in the rear axle can loosen and break, so he replaced them with Grade 6 bolts and thread-locking compound while he had the axle out and apart.
Stach located a pair of floor pans and aprons that fit between the bumpers and the body and sent the wagon and the floor pans to Louis Marion (in Staatsburg, New York, at the time) for body and paintwork. Marion cut out the rusted-through sections of floor and welded in the new floor pans, then painted the wagon in a light Palmolive green that Stach had him color-match in PPG paints from a color chart for 1950 Crosleys.
"But I didn't want a solid color, so I had him paint the white there," Stach said. "Originally, Crosley had a decal for that part--in a basketweave pattern--and to be honest, it looked like hell."
However while the Crosley was at Marion's shop, Staatsburg had a problem with Marion running a business in a residentially-zoned area, so Marion soon left the shop, returning only the Crosley's body, hood and front doors; the rear delivery door was missing, and most Crosley wagons came with a two-piece tailgate-style rear opening, making the delivery door fairly hard to come by. "I tried to sue him for it, but we never got anywhere with that," Stach said.
So Stach located one off a salvaged car, but rust had eaten away its lower edge, so he sent it out for repair and paint to Highland Automotive in Highland, New York, and without Marion's cooperation, he had to send along other painted pieces to Highland so they could also custom-mix that shade of green for the rear door.
Gabe DelGiudice, who performed the work at Highland, said he had to fabricate patch panels for the rear door from 20-gauge sheetmetal for the outer skin and 16-gauge for the inner structure, then MIG-weld the pieces in. He then straightened out some areas where sandblasting had damaged the outer skin. Paint started with a PPG DP40 epoxy primer on the bare metal, then continued with a K35 urethane filling primer. DelGiudice block-sanded the primer, then primed it again and wet-sanded that coat with 500-grade paper before shooting three coats of a single-stage PPG Concept urethane paint for each color, wet-sanded between each coat. "We then lightly sanded (with 2000-grade paper) and buffed it," DelGiudice said. "We didn't want an absolute smooth finish. And about all I can tell from the other painted pieces I saw was that they were done in urethane."
The interior that came with the car remained in fair condition. Stach said he just took a scrub brush to the red door panels and seats, being careful not to cause them to lose any more stitching than they already had. The headliner, though, required both a wash and restitching, which Stach said he did by hand over a few nights in front of the television. "One day, I will take those seats out and restitch them, the same with the door panels," he said. "But for now, they're okay."
From there, Stach reassembled the remaining components himself. He reused the original glass and he sourced a set of 4.60x12-inch bias-ply tires. He then cleaned and polished the four low-dome hubcaps he found. Unfortunately, as it often does, the chrome came in late and above the quoted price, and by then doctors had discovered the tumor.
"Things take me longer now," he said. "I'm not as efficient as I used to be. My head is working good, but I sometimes don't remember how to get something apart or back together. I have to sort of re-learn again. I like that I can do everything on these cars except for paint. It's simple, with no frills on it."
In all, including the purchase price of the Crosley, Stach said he spent $9,375. The largest expense, the repair and painting of the back door, cost slightly more than what he paid for paint for the entire body. He has been able to take the car to a handful of shows since getting it mostly complete, though he hadn't been able to put more than 30 miles on it in 2005 as the state suspended his driver's license during medical treatment.
But Stach said he didn't restore the Crosley to win any prizes. "I did it for me," he said. "I'm not trying to make it perfect, but I do try to make it right."
Michael F. Stach of the Town of Wappinger entered into rest on Tuesday, December 20, 2005 at home surrounded by his family. He was 70.
The son of the late Michael J. and Julia D. Drab Stach, he married the love of his life, Grace Joan Quigley, on January 25, 1958 at St. Joseph's Church in Spring Valley, and they remained happily married for nearly 50 years.
Michael graduated from Nyack High School in 1954 and Long Island Agricultural and Technical School in 1956. He then went on to work as an engineer for IBM in Poughkeepsie for 35 years, until his retirement in 1992. After retirement, he opened MIMIC, a computer consulting firm which he owned and operated for many years.
Mr. Stach was very involved in his community, and he participated in various volunteer programs, especially Dutchess Outreach. He was also a member of the Mid-Hudson Investors.
Besides his loving wife at home, he is survived by his son, Robert Stach and his wife, Stephanie of New Windsor; his daughters, Michele Lacoste and her husband Paul of Milton, and Lisa Stach-Fraitag and her husband Lee of Hyde Park; his daughter-in-law, Lucille Stach of Marlboro; his grandchildren, Jeanette, MaryGrace and Nicolas Lacoste, Antonia and Francesca Stach, and Zachary Stach; and several nieces and nephews.
He is predeceased by his son Michael J. Stach, who passed in 1995, and his brother, Alexander Stach.
The family received their friends from 2-4 and 7-9 p.m. on Thursday, December 22 at the Straub Funeral Home at 55 East Main Street in Wappingers Falls, New York.
A Mass of Christian Burial was offered on Friday, December 23rd at St. Mary's Church on, Clinton Street in Wappingers Falls. Interment followed at Fishkill Rural Cemetery, Fishkill.
Memorial donations may be made in Michael's name to Dutchess Outreach, 29 North Hamilton Street, Poughkeepsie, New York 12601, or Hospice of Dutchess County, 374 Violet Avenue, Poughkeepsie 12601.
To send a personal condolence to the family, please visit www.straubfuneralhome.com.
(We have photos of Michael and his 1950 CD Station Wagon in our Members page. Parts of this story originally appeared in the December, 2005 issue of Hemmings Classic Car.)