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A man with a plan

Sacred Heart man goes back to school to learn how to restore car he bought in 1970

Donald Korstad of Sacred Heart works on his 1928 Chevrolet National AB five-passenger coach in the Auto Body class at Ridgewater College in Willmar. Korstad bought the vehicles more than 45 years ago with the thought he would restore it in his retirement. Photo by Scott Thoma

Donald Korstad of Sacred Heart works on his 1928 Chevrolet National AB five-passenger coach in the Auto Body class at Ridgewater College in Willmar. Korstad bought the vehicles more than 45 years ago with the thought he would restore it in his retirement. Photo by Scott Thoma

While students in the Auto Body class at Ridgewater College in Willmar were busy working to repair dents, scrapes and rust on various vehicles, Donald Korstad of Sacred Heart was stationed at the far end of the shop quietly working on restoring his 4-cylinder 1928 Chevrolet National AB five-passenger coach.

“I don’t normally allow my students to bring in classic cars because our program only has a 3-4 week course on restoration,” said instructor Joe Wambeke. “Repairing old vehicles is only a small part of our business. But Don’s only reason for taking the program was to restore his vehicle.”

And Korstad isn’t your typical Auto Body student. At 67 years old, he is nearly five decades older than the other students.

“The instructors have been very helpful and the younger students have simply accepted me as another classmate,” said Korstad. “They seem to think the old car is neat.”

Korstad grew up in Boyd, a small town in the southwestern part of the state. Shortly after he graduated from high school in 1967, Korstad enlisted in the U.S. Army and had a 26-month tour of duty in Vietnam. He returned home in 1970.

“It was during the summer of 1970 that my Dad and I were driving through Renville when we saw the old Chevy in the front yard of a place along Highway 212,” said Korstad. “The yard was full of many old items, including the car.”

The owner of the place, an elderly man, happened to be outside at the time so Korstad and his father stopped to inquire about the availability of the old car.

“The car was beat up pretty bad,” said Korstad. “It looked like someone had taken a pipe and pounded on the fenders, and broke off the lights and the windows.”

Although Korstad does not recall the elderly man’s name, Korstad does recall the man telling him that the vehicle had been stored in his barn and some kids had partied out there and destroyed the car.

“I know there was white paint smeared on the passenger door and ‘1968’ or ‘1969’ was scratched into the paint,” Korstad recalls. “If I remember correctly, I was told that for $200, I could have the car.”

Korstad agreed to that price and wrote the elderly man a check on the spot.

“I told my Dad that I would restore the car when I retired,” laughed Korstad. “Now I wonder if he thought that would ever happen.”

Korstad retired two years ago and held true to his word. He’s been slowly learning about auto body and restoring the car for three years now.

“This is my last year in school,” he remarked. “I’ll probably finish the rest of (the restoration) at home.”

Wambeke is equally impressed by Korstad’s dedication and perseverance of setting a goal many years ago and now proving true to the words he spoke to his father the day he purchased the car.

“Don has only missed school for a couple of personal reasons,” said Wambeke. “I think learning at that age is a little more difficult and his intentions were not to do framework or wheel alignment. But he still participated in those classes. Overall, I believe he gained a lot of auto body knowledge and was able to accomplish his very large project.”

The process of restoring a car is slow and tedious as Korstad must learn how and why each part to the vehicle is assembled or repaired.

“In 1928, Chevrolet made 12 models of cars and two models of trucks,” Korstad said, “which made it a little tricky when it came time to look for parts. I have had good luck finding parts though, thanks to the internet. Ebay Motors was very useful. I also belong to the Chevy Club, which has put me in touch with other sources for parts.”

Donald Korstad with his 1928 Chevrolet National AB five-passenger coach. Korstad is restoring the car as a retirement project.

Donald Korstad with his 1928 Chevrolet National AB five-passenger coach. Korstad is restoring the car as a retirement project.

Korstad is attempting to restore the car as much as possible to the original way it was built, even down to the color of the paint.

“I originally thought the car was blue, but after removing that coat of paint I found out that someone had repainted the car and that it was originally a dark green with black fenders and a black top,” he remarked. “I have come as close to the original color as I could when I repainted it.”

After Korstad purchased the car and made the futuristic restoration promise to his father and himself, he attended college at Moorhead State University (now the University of Minnesota, Moorhead). He graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1976 with a double major in History and Political Science.

“While attending school, I found that the G.I. bill did not cover all my school and living expenses,” said Korstad. “So I joined the National Guard.”

While a member of the National Guard, he was activated for Iraqi Freedom 2 from September of 2003 until February of 2005. He eventually retired from the National Guard in 2008 as a Chief Warrant Officer 3.

Upon graduating from Moorhead State, Korstad spent the majority of his career in the employment and training field.

“I started out as an Employment Counselor/Veterans Employment Representative in Rolla, ND,” he said. “When I relocated back to Minnesota, I worked with welfare clients to get them back into the job market.”

After a brief period with that job, Korstad went on to work for Green Thumb, Inc., assisting low income senior citizens with finding employment. He also worked as a Program Director at Service Enterprises in Redwood Falls, as well as an HR Director for Prairie’s Edge Casino in Granite Falls.

“Neither my work experience, nor my educational background prepared me for restoring an old car,” Korstad said with a laugh.

Korstad and his wife, Margaret, have seven children, including his four stepchildren.

“She’s been really good about me going back to school and restoring the car,” said Korstad.

Korstad graduated from the two-year Auto Body Collision Course at Ridgewater in 2014, but then enrolled in the Auto Body Specialty Course that he is currently involved in.

“I started (at Ridgewater) as soon as I retired,” he said. “During the first year, it was mainly classes. And I was able to do some repair work on our 1996 Dodge truck.

During the second year, Korstad began working on his 1928 Chevy, removing dents from the fenders and the hood before eventually painting them.

In the Specialty Course, Korstad began taking the car apart.

“The engine and transmission were taken to Dale Luepke of Granite Falls to be restored,” said Korstad. “I epoxied all the sheet metal and painted the cowl, the dash, as well as many fasteners metal fasteners for the body.”

The original car was made with wood framing so Korstad had to place orders to obtain the framing he needed.

“I did not get the wood in time for spring semester,” Korstad said. “So I had to drop out of school until the following fall.”

During the summer of 2015, Luepke put the engine and transmission back on the chassis and repaired the brakes on Korstad’s Chevy.

“I varnished and assembled the wood framework of the car during the fall semester in 2015,” he said. “And this current spring semester, I finished attaching the sheet metal to the frame, painted and buffed the car, and am now assembling again.”

Korstad still has plenty of work yet to be done on the car, and has set another goal for completion.

“I still have to assemble all of the components and I still have to put the top on the car, as well as redoing the front seats and interior walls, doors and ceiling. My goal is to be able to drive it when I am age 70.”

The 1928 Chevy that Korstad is restoring cost around $600 when it was new.

“I expect that when I am through with the car, I will have a little over $20,000 in it if you count my time as worth nothing,” he said.

Once the vehicle is completed, Korstad plans to drive it in some parades and would also like to go on one of the annual Chevy 4-Cylinder Tours.

And, just like the car he is restoring, Korstad feels like he has gone back in time.

“The experience of doing this and of being back in school has been fun,” said Korstad.

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