RandyW Posted August 27, 2007 Share Posted August 27, 2007 Doctors gave him six months to live on April Fool's Day. This was no bad joke. Lung cancer had spread throughout S.W. Bardwell's body. When he told his doctors he at least wanted to make it through Thanksgiving so he could enjoy one last family gathering, they shook their heads and offered no encouragement. But they did suggest he make out his will and plan his funeral. That was 1987. Before 33 rounds of radiation, five doses of chemotherapy and enough prayers from family and friends to fill up God's mailbox. Before he bought - and restored - a 1951 Ford F-1 pickup that had been left in a Rankin County pine thicket and had a 3-inch tree growing up through the truck's bed. "That truck," the 75-year-old Bardwell says, "is what gave me a reason to get out of bed. And right along with the prayers and the doctors and a good wife, that truck is probably the reason I'm still alive." But he not only is alive, he is living. Big difference. Bardwell, whose calender is marked by which antique vehicle he is working on, has restored nine cars and trucks over the past 17 years. One of them, a 1961 Oldsmobile Starfire that took nearly five years to finish, won the top award at the 2006 National Meet of the Oldsmobile Club of America in Dallas. "You don't win something like that unless you do excellent, top-of-the-line work," says Wayne Simpson, a retired Jackson police officer and a member of the Antique Vehicle Club of Mississippi. Bardwell's current project: A 1965 Ford Mustang. "I love taking something that nobody else wants, something that is a piece of junk and making something new out of it," Bardwell says. "It's filthy, nasty work. But I can't wait to get out to my shop every day." He was a 1951 graduate of Jackson's Central High School. Just before the end of his senior year, with the Korean War raging, he was drafted by the Army and spent nearly three years stateside, working and teaching in the area of communications. During that time, Bardwell bought his first car - a 1951 gray Chevrolet. "Paid $1,700 and it had 1,200 miles on it," he says. "That was back when hotels down in Florida provided a car to anyone who rented a room. They'd keep them a year or two, then sell them to used car dealers. That's how I got mine." He's owned several others that would be worth a fortune today, including the first new car he ever purchased - a 1953 Pontiac. "But I lost that car when I lost my job," he says. "I was working as a carpenter, installing cabinets in a new hospital out in Houston. When that job ran out, the company I worked for went under. I couldn't make my monthly note, so I took it back." The hospital Bardwell helped build was M.D. Anderson, one of the leading cancer centers in America. He eventually landed a position as an electronics technician with Western Electric in Houston, then later with AT&T and Lucent. Retirement in 1984 brought Bardwell and his wife, Marian, back to the Jackson area. They purchased some land outside Brandon, and Bardwell built their home with his own hands. "I did everything but the plumbing and brick work," he says. "And I got down in my back and couldn't do all the sheet rock. "I can tell you that it's a good feeling when you drive that last nail into your own home." They moved in April Fool's Day, 1985. "Everything seems to happen to me on April 1," he says with a chuckle. While Marian Bardwell took up golf - and still plays at the age of 85 - S.W. Bardwell hunted quail and pheasant with dogs he trained himself. He also fished for white perch. They were living their retirement dream until he began spitting up blood and doctors ruled cancer as the cause. "When I was taking treatments, there were days I didn't have the strength to get out of bed," Bardwell recalls. "My wife literally had to roll me out onto the floor ... that's where I started my day. And I'd eventually get going." Old vehicles, given up for dead and in need of someone to care, provided the perfect motivation. It's a bit strange that he picked this as a hobby. He was never a mechanic. "He still doesn't know the names of the some of the parts," Marian Bardwell says, laughing. "But somehow he can figure out what goes where." In his air-conditioned shop, which is 30-by-40 feet and always filled with the sounds of classic country music, Bardwell guts cars down to their frames, then puts them back together again. "I've read a few books," he says. "But the main thing is I'm good with my hands. I don't claim to have a very high IQ, but I can transfer what my brain says to my hands. I knew a boy in the service ... one of the smartest guys you'd ever meet. But he couldn't change a light bulb. Couldn't transfer his thoughts to his hands." He works slowly, meticulously. Simpson says he's never heard Bardwell brag about his work. "All he ever says when somebody asks him for help on some vehicle they're working on is 'I'll do the best I can,' " Simpson says. "He's a unique guy. Real high on integrity. Takes a lot of pride in his vehicles. "And he doesn't do it for money or he'd be making a lot more than he does." Bardwell says he's made money on only one vehicle - the national champ Oldsmobile. "I had about $20,000 in it, so I had to get my money back out of it," he says. He sold it to his son-in-law, Al Oetzel of Davenport, Iowa. And as he works on the '65 Mustang, Bardwell doesn't look past today. "Time means nothing to me," he says. "Doctors have told me the cancer will probably come back - either in my head or my bones. But so far, so good. "People say to live day to day, but I don't do that. I live car to car. Minute by minute. And when I'm working on one, I just hope to live long enough to see that one finished." -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- To comment on this story, call Billy Watkins at (601) 961-7282. Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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