By Kendal Groner
Mike McIntosh has been around Model A cars his entire life. His passion for restoring these antique and classic cars landed him an episode in Matt Kinman’s documentary series known as “Backroads of America.”
On Feb. 28 and 29, Kinman, along with the film crew 3B Filmz Inc., solely owned and operated by Zachary Burnop, came to Unicoi County to interview McIntosh at his car shop – Model A Mac’s.
“I’m going all over the United States filming people that are doing things that have been passed down for generations,” Kinman said. “It’s the stuff you don’t see every day.”
Aside from his other documentary series “Back Porch of America,” Kinman is a successful musician and original member of the band Old Crow Medicine Show. He has also performed with groups such as the Roan Mountain Hillbillies, Hackensaw Boys, Leroy Troy, and Marty Stewart, along with artists Emmylou Harris and Faye Dunaway – to name a few. Not only does Kinman sing, but he also plays the guitar, banjo, mandolin, and fiddle.
“I grew up playing for my dad. … but I guess by about 14 or 15, somebody asked me to go do a show with them,” Kinman said. “Well, I had never done any shows for any money … but by God I had a good time, and then I just kept getting asked to play different things for different people.”
Originally from Tuscan, Arizona, Kinman currently lives in Beech Mountain. Prior to his music career taking off, he had previously worked in construction and as an industrial plumber for over 15 years.
“I kinda got mad at the boss man, and I got real sick (at work), and I almost died from it,” Kinman told The Erwin Record. “I thought well I’m not gonna do this no more, and I’m gonna go play music. That was over 40-something years ago, and I’ve never had to go back.”
While you wouldn’t know it now, Kinsman said he did get stage fright a bit at first, but after tricking himself into pretending he was just playing on his front porch, he said the nervousness has subsided.
Kinsman recalls the first time he played with Old Crow Medicine Show at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville where he did a Grand Ole Opry Show. He said that after the show, the other band members were ready to go home, but he wanted to linger around for a bit.
“I lingered around, and a guy came up out of the audience and said ‘I have enjoyed your show immensely. I want to take you out to eat’,” Kinsman recalled.
It turns out, the man happened to be Don Helms, a steel guitar player for Hank Williams. Kinsman said that he and Helms remained friends until he passed away in 2008.
“I’ve gotten to meet a lot of old time, great country music singers and musicians of the 1950s and 1960s … it was really amazing,” Kinsman said. “It was just like hanging out with Mike (McIntosh). It’s common people that’ve done amazing things and they’re just glad to talk to you and have someone that’s interested in them and what they do.”
Kinsman performed at the Down Home in Johnson City with the Old Time Country Road Show, alongside his friend Luke Bell on March 3. Bell, originally from Cody, Wyoming, is a singer and guitarist with traditional country music, ballad, and folk influences. Bell has been featured in Rolling Stone magazine and has played alongside headliners such as Willie Nelson, Hank Williams Jr., and Alan Jackson.
“I got interested in playing music when I was younger, and my folks had me in piano lessons, and I started playing some guitar and whatnot,” Bell said.
Bell left Wyoming and attended college for a short time before traveling to Austin, Texas, where he worked various jobs such as a horseshoeing apprenticeship, construction, and door-to-door sales. After that he traveled to New Orleans, Louisiana, where he crossed paths with Kinman.
“We were both bumming around and playing music,” Bell said. “We moved up to Nashville, and made some records up there and then I’ve just gotten further back in the mountains over here and I’ve been spending time in North Carolina.”
Bell has travelled across country five times just in the last year, and even played at a rodeo in Southern France last year.
“I think playing for a crowd of folks, you have no idea what kind of day they’ve had,” Bell said. “If you can get everyone smiling and having a good time, that’s great. The individuals especially, like Matt meeting Don Helm, you never know who will come up to see a show. … you can be playing in a bar with only two people, but one of them may just love it and then you make friends you may have the rest of your life.”
Both Kinman and Bell have a love for traveling, and both have hopes to branch out all over the United States with their music and documentary filming. Kinman was actually nicknamed “Little Hobo” after he started riding freight trains as young as 15 years old. He once traveled by train from Chattanooga all the way to Seattle, Washington.
“I’ve just been doing this a long time, and through writing my music and bumming around the country I’ve gotten to meet a lot of interesting folks,” Kinman said. “That’s the reason I started this program (Backroads of America) because I see so much of American History disappearing.”
Aside from his passion for music and travelling the country, Kinman has an interest in Model A cars, and joined a Model A club several years ago. Kinman said he is currently trying to get two Model A cars running, and likes to get his parts from McIntosh.
Knowing the rarity in finding someone as knowledgeable and experienced with antique and classic cars as McIntosh, Kinman wanted to highlight his work in the upcoming series.
“I consider Mike (McIntosh) to be a friend of mine, and we really enjoy each other’s company regardless of whether we are working on a car or not,” said Kinman.
McIntosh’s father moved to Unicoi County from North Carolina in 1947, and after his parents married they bought a piece of property where his father would later open a shop to work on Model A cars.
“My dad learned to drive on a Model A car … he worked on Model A cars my entire life,” McIntosh said.
McIntosh worked as a tool and die maker for over 15 years. But after his father suffered from a heart attack, he followed after his father and has now been working on classic and antique cars full time for over 30 years.
McIntosh is a member of the East TN Model A Restorers Club that began in 1958, a branch off of the national Model A Ford Club that began in 1956. Model A cars are made from 1928 to 1931, while Model T Fords are made from 1909 to 1927.
“Those are what I specialize in, but I work on anything antique wise,” said McIntosh.
McIntosh said he gained his knowledge of classic and antique cars by watching his father, as well as learning from local friends in the area.
“I’ve shipped parts from the states of Washington to California to Maine to Florida, and all parts in between,” McIntosh said.
One of the most memorable projects McIntosh has worked on has been an antique car that was previously owned by Henry Hathaway. Hathaway was an American film director and producer, producing 70 to 80 major movies in his time, mostly Westerns featuring actors such as John Wayne. Hathaway bought the Model A car as an engagement present for his girlfriend in 1931.
“He even had it painted green to match her eyes,” McIntosh said. “She thought about it for two weeks. … but she turned him down,”
Hathaway’s son, Perry Chapman, later inherited the car and began trying to restore it in Hollywood, California. After retirement, Chapman and his wife decided they wanted to leave California and relocated to Bristol, Virginia.
“When he moved, he heard about me and my dad, and he wanted me to finish the car and show it in honor of his mother,” McIntosh said.
After finishing the car, McIntosh said it won national awards at car shows and was featured in popular magazines.
As Chapman aged he began thinking about who would later own the car. He had two children, but neither of which had much interest in the car.
“The phone rung one day, and I couldn’t believe it,” said McIntosh. “My jaw dropped. “They wanted to sell the car, and they wanted me to have it and I have that car now.”
Aside from filming McIntosh in Unicoi County, Kinman has filmed in California, Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina.
“We’re not going to cities, we’re going to rural America because when interstates come through it cut off the rest of America,” Kinman said. “This allows us to bring a little commerce back in these towns.”
Kinman’s documentary series will focus on historical traditions and trades across rural America, or as Kinman calls it “plain living.” He compared the topics of his series to those that could be found in the Foxfire literary series that chronicle old fashioned ways of life.
“You go to rural America … you got an old tractor or old piece of equipment, well there’s still got to be someone around that knows how to work on it and knows how to fix it,” Kinman explained.
Preserving these traditional ways of life for future generations is a major motivating factor for Kinman’s documentary series.
“It’s living history is what it is … but if we don’t document and get it, it will be gone,” Kinman said. “It’s the sort of things that makes us different from anywhere else. We’re American people and we’re proud to be an American. Now we’re showcasing our American people.
For additional information or services on classic or antique cars, contact Mike McIntosh at Model A Mac’s at 743-5085. The shop is located at 2701 Zane Whitson Drive in Unicoi.