The trend in street rods has changed from the days when the most desirable cars to rebuild were Ford coupes and sedans from the late 1920s into the 1950s. Those were the years when everything you needed to rebuild or customize those old cars could be found in auto salvage yards.
Those days have been replaced with a new generation of muscle cars of the '60s and newer. A great example of today's street rod is Raymond Kelley's beautiful 1972 Chevrolet Chevelle. Kelley's generation has no recollection of those old junk yards because anything they need to rebuild a car can be ordered online and delivered to their front door.
Kelley was born in Huntington's Cabell County Hospital in 1969; he has an older brother whose interest in cars is limited to getting from one place to another - nothing more. If it didn't deal with wrestling, football or church, Kelley's older brother, Richard, shows little interest in it.
"We were raised by our mother," said Kelley. "Mom worked as a nurse, and she worked long hours. I tried sports but unlike Richard, nothing clicked with me in the world of sports. We had a church baseball league, and the coach made sure all the kids got to play. That was the only reason I got playing time."
Kelley's best Christmas present was not a Lionel train or a BB gun but a Green Machine Big Wheel painted like the Incredible Hulk. But he has better memories of a cat called Cardigan that was half evil and one-half genius.
"That cat could open the front door without any help," said Kelley. "If a dog came on our property, Cardigan was on the attack and it didn't matter how big the dog was. Even birds in the tree were attacked."
Just before grade school started, they moved to Anderson, Indiana, where Mom found a better paying position in a local medical facility. The kids went off to school a mile away and even as late as the mid-1970s Kelley never remembers a snow day in Indiana. Junior high was followed by Madison Heights High School where Kelley found something he was good at - the choir.
"I never caused my mother much grief," said Kelley. "My grades were in the C to B-minus range. Never got into any serious trouble and never was involved with drugs. Biggest thing I remember was the cross-town basketball rival with Anderson High School, who beat us most of the time because of their bigger enrollment."
Before Kelley started his senior year of high school, he dropped out to join the Army so he could send money home to his mother. It was a decision that began with some bizarre assignments.
"I enlisted in 1987 and attended boot camp at Fort Bliss, Texas," said Kelley. "After that I was sent to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, for training as a forward observer to direct air attacks on enemy targets from the ground. After that was a short layover at Fort Knox, Kentucky, on my way to Nuremberg, Germany. This was a mistake because my orders were for Bamberg, Germany. I explained this to the sergeant in charge, who told me they were busy shipping out and I would have to get to Nuremberg on my own, which was about 40 miles away."
Kelley eventually found a taxi driver who delivered him to the front gate at Bamberg where he was welcomed with the news of a morning flight to participate in Desert Storm. After paying for the taxi ride and hearing about flying to the Mideast, he began wondering if there wasn't a better way to have helped his mother.
"For nearly eight months, I was involved in patrols, guard duty and sporadic small-arms fire during maneuvers," said Kelley. "After my time with the sand fleas and living in tents, it was back to Bamberg for an additional seven months until we were notified of being shipped back to the States, and I wanted to stay."
For a few days Kelley began a campaign trying to sell his expertise to a few other outfits in Germany, and it worked. He was transferred to a unit in Nuremberg for an additional year before being shipped back to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where he became an instructor teaching newly assigned recruits about Army safety in the desert.
"I was discharged in 1995 and returned to Indiana," said Kelley. "When I left for the Army, there were three GM factories in town where I planned on finding work, but they were closed. I found a position doing contractor work installing computer systems in Arizona for a couple of years. Between jobs I came to Huntington to help family take care of my aunt who eventually lost her fight to cancer. One thing I believe; if you want to work and you're willing to travel, jobs are out there."
Kelley's love of cars began with a 1991 VW Fox that he modified to resemble an Audi 80. He kept the car for three years and sold it. Then came a 1992 Isuzu pickup; this was followed by a Grand Prix, Cadillac, Jaguar, Mercedes and a Toyota. Then he found a car that had just the right style that gripped his attention - a 1972 Chevelle.
"I bought the car the day I found it," said Kelley. "The original engine had 454 cubic inches with a four-barrel carburetor. Two engine changes later it's now powered by a generation four 5.3-liter fuel injected engine. Transmission was upgraded to a synchronized 4L65E with a complete updated suspension package and bigger tires for better handling. Instrumentation has been updated and the seats were replaced as well. The car looks old but handles and drives like any newer car today. The exterior has been painted along with several minor modifications that all make this car a pleasure to drive. Every update to this vehicle was drawn up and planned out, making sure of fit and finish before installing."
Kelley stays active walking in Ritter Park and helping purchase supplies for his wife's beauty salon. He's also opinionated on his thoughts about America.
"America is now more divided than it has ever been," he said. "People are more tied to a particular party rather than doing what's best for America."
He also believes the U.S. Army still owes him for the cost of a cab ride in Germany.