Seniors & Aging

Bellingham man spent about five years restoring a ’41 Ford woodie

Norm Chamberlin of Bellingham spent about five years restoring a 1941 Ford woodie. The main parts came from two vehicles, one in California and one in Georgia.
Norm Chamberlin of Bellingham spent about five years restoring a 1941 Ford woodie. The main parts came from two vehicles, one in California and one in Georgia. For The Bellingham Herald

Norm Chamberlin of Bellingham didn’t restore his 1941 Ford woodie just to keep it sitting in a garage.

Chamberlin, 69, spent about five years planning, gathering parts and getting his hands dirty rebuilding the four-door paneled wagon so he could cruise the streets of Bellingham in style.

“One of the things about working on a woodie,” Chamberlin says, “it’s a process. It takes some time to do it.”

Because a woodie incorporates both metal and wood in its design, Chamberlin had to search across the country to find the right parts. A car from California provided the metal frame, while another car from Georgia provided the wood.

Each of the boards had to be removed from the old car and sanded, bleached and refinished, Chamberlin says. From there, he added a few modern luxuries, including a new stereo and Bluetooth receiver.

“For some guys, the real heartburn is to do the project. They get done with a project and then they want to move on to another one,” Chamberlin says. “The car, and everything, at some level, are just tools to generate relationships.”

Chamberlin and his wife, Karen, 68, prefer using the cars they own. Whether it’s driving around town or attending an occasional car show, Chamberlin says life isn’t about just having nice toys. It’s the people he meets while on trips, the ones on the streets who wave as he drives by, and the time he gets to spend with friends and family that makes the car worth it to Chamberlin.

“We’re relational people who like to be involved with other people,” he says. “A lot of that stems from my belief that most of this life is not about things but it’s about relationships you have with other people.”

Chamberlin’s lifelong love of woodworking began as boy watching his grandfather carve elephants in his Lynden workshop. From there, woodshop classes in school matured into building the kitchen cabinets in his first home.

But it wasn’t until much later that Chamberlin was able to practice woodworking professionally. Early on, he sold furniture, worked as a fire inspector for Bellingham Fire Department and was a staff sergeant for an Army Reserve unit during the Vietnam War.

While he enjoyed those jobs, Chamberlin always preferred to be outside working with his hands. Then, in 1977, he started Cornerstone Construction and finally had his chance to pursue his passion as a contractor and a property manager.

“I did a lot of remodeling for people, and one of goals was to do a remodel that created a new space for people but looked like it was the original,” he says.

While Chamberlin no longer takes on large remodeling projects, he still enjoys cultivating the relationships he has made with tenants over the years.

He also works on woodworking and automotive projects for fun. The shell of a 1921 Ford Speedster currently sits in his workshop. He hopes to have it restored by this summer.

Even with all of his projects, Chamberlin knows that material possessions aren’t everything.

“Nobody is going to end up in heaven because they have a woodie,” he says.

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