Late last summer, I was driving home on a Sunday afternoon when I saw a massive cloud of black smoke over the hill in front of me. It was headed my way… fast. All I could make out was something chopped, wide, rusted, and engulfed in smoke. And then we were gone in our separate directions, But about a mile up the road, I see another similar rat parked at a bar. I pulled in to get some photos… and to feel-out if the owner was gonna be approachable.
Turns out Sean & his wife Julie, were as friendly as the car was mean.
The cool thing about rats is that no two are ever the same, so Sean & Julie walked me through their car.
The body on this one is a ’32 Chevy truck that’s been cut & extended to better fit passengers. It has a 383 stroker putting out a whopping 500 horsepower. The interior is polished copper. And to my surprise, this thing rolled on a set of 35-inch mud-terrains mounted to 22” Dropstar off-road wheels.
Eventually, the conversation drifted to the other rat I had just seen bellowing down the road.
Julie said that was their friend, Buford… and they knew where he was headed: his shop.
They gave me directions, so I hopped back in my car and headed toward the shop. When I got there, I spoke to one of the employees who said he was actually next door… at another bar. So I slid into to my 2nd biker bar of the day, and sure enough, the car was sitting around back. I pulled out my camera and started taking some photos of this wild-looking machine.
A woman approaches, and asked if she could help me…
I said I was told Buford would be here. She relaxed, smiled, and introduced herself as Barb… Buford’s wife. And then she took me inside to meet him. If there ever were a time where the person matched their car… this was it. Buford was playing billiards with one hand & drinking beer with the other. A totally wild dude.
Buford greeted me, shook my hand, and offered me a drink.
And we get to talking about his rod (*lol): A 12-valve Cummins engine mated to an Allison transmission. And like Sean’s, it had a set of off-road wheels & tires, but this one was a dually. That’s why it seemed so disproportionately wide running down the road in smoke. The tires are 37-inch Nitto Trail Grapplers mounted to a set of 20” XD Series by KMC. What started life as a 1929 Ford Model A had been completely transformed into this beast of a machine. Chopped, channeled, cut, sectioned – you name it. After learning more about the basics of it, I had to run home for the evening, but we all exchanged contact info and kept in touch for a full photoshoot later on.
For this shoot, Buford invited me to his property on top of Graysville Mountain in Tennessee.
When I arrived, the 2 cars were already posed side-by-side in his front yard. The first thing Buford says to me is, “I’m gonna light some leaves on fire for the photos!”
And then he proceeds to do exactly that… without hesitation. Definitely my first photoshoot involving fire.
As the fire died out, we took the 2 rat rods to his field for some more photos.
Conveniently, both rats are fitted with air suspension, making for easy travel through the field.
Then Buford mentions there’s a bluff just down the road that overlooks the Tennessee Valley.
Buford leads the way, and in just a couple miles, we arrived at the bluff and got both cars situated. It was golden hour, so the sun was about to set behind the mountains, making for some excellent lighting for the photos. From this point, you could see mountains that were more than 50 miles away.
I’ve travelled a lot of roads in Tennessee…
But can say for sure that I’d never been close to where we were now. We maybe saw 2 cars pass by on that road in the 30 minutes we were there, which gave me an idea… rollers!
I got everyone together beside the cars & quickly explained the concept of ‘rollers’ in hopes that we could get some successfully before the sun went down. I hopped in the bed of Julie’s truck & she led the way down the road. No cops, no cars, no nobody – we had the roads to ourselves. The few people that we DID pass were giving us thumbs up and waving from their respective porches as smoke poured from Buford’s stack and Sean’s open-header 383 was screaming. Gotta love Tennessee. After about 10-15 minutes of rollers, the sun had completely set over the horizon, and the cold air began to roll in. We headed back to Buford’s to park the cars.
As we got back to the house, Buford hopped out of his Ford and said, “Barb, go grab the rooster!”
Sure enough, Barb comes around the corner with a rooster, that was blind, and placed him on the roof of Buford’s Model A. Buford had rescued him from the side of the road, and kept him ever since.
Buford pulled his dually into the garage for the night, through a garage door that coincidentally is 1/4” wider than the car.
No exaggeration. Buford nailed the parking job first try though… just barely scuffing the garage door seal with his left rear tire. Then we finished-off the evening with Buford treating us to dinner down at the foot of the mountain. As we sat down to eat, it seemed like everyone knew one another. What was only a few hours together, made me feel like I had known this crazy group of folks for my whole life. Thank you Buford, Sean, Barb, & Julie for all of the fun and hospitality. And for keeping car-culture ratty.
Text & Photography by Ben Battles
This feature is from Issue 57 of S3 Magazine /// Subscribe to the print mag, and get a free t-shirt!