Work in the garage pays off at Early Iron

ALAMOSA — It’s no surprise why Ken Kolkman and his wife Lori Sharp of Alamosa placed in the top 15 out of hundreds of Early Iron Festival entries last year.

Their 1971 Chevy Custom 10 Deluxe short-box pickup is a work of art. It features a rare 402 big block engine, 700R4 transmission, vintage air conditioning, all leather interior, custom door panels and more.

“This was completely off the frame when we did it,” Ken explained on Thursday as he prepared for the 37th Early Iron Festival in Alamosa this weekend. “We put it all back together, did it right here.”

In fact he reworked it all twice — “did the whole thing over again, minus the paint.” 

Likewise, his prized 1957 Pontiac Star Chief was just a shell when he and his wife began restoring it in their garage just east of Alamosa. They bought it from a seller in Trinidad. It was just a shell with a locked-up motor, frozen pistons and time worn components.

“Everything was taken off the car and chromed,” Ken said. Although he performs much of the work on his vehicles himself, he sends some chrome work to El Paso, Texas.

Ken’s Star Chief was one of the few models with metal emblems in the backseat, Ken said. These were only made for a couple of months before complaints from backseat passengers who emerged with the emblem seared in their backs halted the ornamentation.

“This old car drives like a dream,” Ken said, “and the truck dives like a new truck.”

The maintenance of the family vehicles is almost a full-time job, but Ken is not complaining, and Lori is right there with him.

“I am a grease monkey,” she joked.

“A lot of girls won’t get their hands greasy, not this one,” Ken said.

They have been married for nearly three decades and have four sons between them. Ken, 69, was born in Alamosa and served in the military for nearly 11 years. He worked in the computer industry in the Denver area, but he and Lori got tired of the city and decided to move back to Alamosa in 1989. Ken worked in auto parts stores before retiring and picked up valuable information about where to find parts.

Lori is originally from Torrington, Wyoming and met Ken while he was on his way through to the motorcycle rally in Sturgis. Ken doesn’t ride anymore, but Lori still takes her bike out.

The couple do not attend that many car shows other than Early Iron, which they enter pretty much every year, but they enjoy working on cars together.

“We have a lot of fun,” Lori said.

They estimated they have worked on at least 30 Mustangs and 15 trucks alone.

“Lori names them all,” Ken said.

There’s Gypsy, Mustard Truck …

“I always buy them and build them and then something else comes along and I will sell them,” Ken said. “I never make any money when I do.”

He doesn’t do it as a business but enjoys every minute of his hobby.

He sometimes wishes he still had the two-door hard top 1957 Ford Fairlane that was his first car at age 16.

“Today that’s worth a lot of money,” he said.

“I have always had cars,” he added.

Ken was into Mustangs for a number of years and was proud of his second-place award with a 1966 Mustang Fastback in the Tri State Auto Exhibition in Denver.

“It was beautiful,” he recalled. “It beat out all the Camaros.”

One of their works of art, a 1956 model, was featured in the New Mexico Rods and Rides magazine with its new owner who spotted it an Early Iron show and had to have it to go with her poodle skirt. Another vehicle made it onto a 2013 calendar.

Lori doesn’t need to wear a poodle skirt to turn heads with her 1952 F1 pickup with much of the original features right down to the sun visor, “all except for the paint,” Ken said.

She wants to retain the vintage look of it.

They’re not sure what their next project will be. They had an Oldsmobile Ken planned to work on, but he doesn’t think he has the time, so he’s placed it in front of their house on East Highway 160 where it might catch the eye of some Early Iron attendee who wants a project.

The vehicle they are entering in the Early Iron show this year is a 1965 Chevelle Malibu SS.

And it’s a beauty.

Caption: Ken Kolkman and Lori Sharp display from left the 1965 Chevelle Malibu SS they will be entering in this year’s Early Iron Festival, the 1971 Chevy pickup that ranked in the top 15 at Early Iron last year and a 1957 Pontiac Star Chief that was just a shell when they bought it and subsequently restored it. Courier photo by Ruth Heide