BY MELANIE BUCK –
Tinkering on old cars has long been a hobby of Will Moon and, luckily for him, he has been able to take that hobby and turn it into a business that brings himself, and others, much joy. Vintage Tin Restorations and antique cars is not really where Moon got his beginnings because, as he said, “They weren’t antiques when I started. They were just a few years old.”
Growing up in Pennsylvania, Moon lived on a farm and knew what a hard days work was all about. When he was just 14 years old, he worked for his uncle and was cleaning out a hay barn for an Amish-Dutch man when he stumbled across something that would change his life. “We were rolling out loose hay to the baler and we came upon some mildewed hay. We were to clean it up and as I was walking out, I heard something cracking and it turned out to be an old car.” At first he thought it might’ve just been an old buggy because the Amish don’t have cars. However, it turned out to be a car and the owner of the property wanted rid of it. It belonged to the owner’s son and he told Moon to come back late at night, after 10 and clear out all the hay by 4 a.m. and get the car out. So Moon and two of his cousins showed up late that night, worked about 45 minutes, and the car was his. It was a 1931 Black Essex and to a 14-year old boy in 1956, that was a prize indeed. When new, the car was triple the value of a Model A, costing around $1,200 off the lot. It needed a wheel so they hooked up a team of horses to it and drug it home. That was the beginning of a love of cars that continues decades later.
“I had to raid junk yards for parts,” said Moon. That started him on repairing “anything that wasn’t nailed down.” Refrigerators, toasters, plow points, truck and farm equipment, and many other projects encouraged his interest to make old things new again. He laughed as he told the story of how he once built a radio so powerful that the FCC made him take it down.
Vintage Tin Restorations came in retirement for Will Moon and his wife, Carolyn. After earning college degrees in Mathematics and Physics, Moon settled into life and began working on speed equipment and such for racecars. He built chase car engines as a teen for Pennsylvania and Massachusetts and worked on many types of machinery. He really liked the area of specialty engines and race engines.
As an adult, he began working on antique cars as a hobby. He restored several for himself and would later sell them. Other car enthusiasts began seeking his top quality work, especially in the mechanics area. “The fun was in the doing, not so much in owning them and running them,” he explained. “For him, it’s the puzzle of it all,” said Carolyn.
“Starting in the 70’s, I began to keep some of them,” said Moon. And that is where his collection got its start. Moon still has the 1931 Essex that was dug out of a barn and it runs just like new. He has added a 1922 Moon Towncar that still runs on all original parts, along with several other rare antiques.
Wanting to pass down the art and love of restoring old cars, Moon hired Brandon White, out of a college in Kansas where he and his wife lived for many years. White took a degree program specifically for restoration work and took the chance at his dream job right away. White followed the Moon’s to Polk County and helped launch Vintage Tin Restorations. “I was originally from southern California and had an interest in cars. I had a passion for Hudson cars and I met Will through a Hudson car club,” explained White. “There were a lot of skills that Will knew that no one else did so I interned with Will.” “That’s the first time a kid has asked me to mentor them,” said Moon, who along with Carolyn tried to help many kids through being foster parents. They both have a passion for kids. “I used to give kids cars if they’d help me work on them. I wanted to teach those with the aptitude how to do something with themselves rather than play games and fool around. We need to get kids interested.”
White helped enlist the help of Cole Tuttle, a guy he knew from McPherson College, and he also moved to Polk County. Vintage Tin started in 2015 in a small shop on DeQueen Street in Mena but has now moved to a more spacious shop on South Mena Street where they can store and display cars, as well as work on them. “We wouldn’t have opened the shop without Brandon,” said Moon. “Inspire before you expire,” said Carolyn. “Will had all this knowledge and he needed to share it. He’s a mechanical genius with a 3D brain. He has a gift and he needed to pass it along,” she continued.
Professing that they don’t do ‘bling restorations,’ the team at Vintage Tin really focuses on making sure the cars run smoothly and safely. “I can do the body work, but that’s not where the fun is for me. I like the chassy work,” said Moon. “Brandon brought the modern knowledge of paints and body work.”
Although the trio generally works on cars that are pre-1942, they aren’t opposed to working on models up into the 70’s. And, they have no shortage of work. Being a member of the Hudson car club for decades, Moon has many enthusiasts waiting in line to get their prized cars into his shop. The crew says they have enough work to keep them busy for the next two years and still have a waiting list.
Not only does Polk County now have this specialty shop full of nostalgia, they also have four new citizens that have fallen in love with the area and its people. “I love Polk County because it’s almost exactly like home. It’s laid back and peaceful,” says Moon. “People are generally more personable here,” said White.