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TV show vehicles rerun under police chief's care

December 27, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

MERCERSBURG, PA. - Having a love of classic automobiles is not unusual, but Mercersburg Police Chief Larry Thomas' collection comes with a cast of characters from the classic television sitcoms that inspired them.

His 1964 Ford, for example, is a replica of the police cruiser on "The Andy Griffith Show," complete with Barney Fife behind the wheel and town drunk Otis Campbell for good measure.

Thomas' 1929 Chevy truck, inspired by "The Beverly Hillbillies," can be seen on special occasions with an ersatz Clampett clan - Jed, Jethro, Elly May and a shotgun-toting Granny. The actual Clampett truck was a 1921 Oldsmobile, according to several Web sites.

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He began his collection of television-inspired vehicles with a 1952 Ford truck he purchased about five years ago and transformed into the truck from "Sanford & Son."

"I thought it would be nice to have something like that for parades to put a smile on people's faces," Thomas, 62, said Sunday. The vehicle was a "total disaster," but because it was to be a replica of a junkyard truck, the restoration is intentionally less than perfect, he said.

A friend tipped him off to a Ford sedan being auctioned over the Internet that became the Mayberry patrol car. He got it in New York, where it had been left to rust in the woods with squirrels living inside.

The black-and-white cruiser now looks almost as if it sprang from the screen of a black-and-white TV show. Even more so with Barney and Otis standing alongside.

"He usually comes out of the crowd acting all drunked up and Barney tries to arrest him," Thomas said of Harold Lynch, who plays Mayberry's lush at parades and special events. Jamie Cordell plays Fife, complete with uniform and the single bullet the deputy carried in his shirt pocket.

"I haven't had to use it yet," Cordell said, pulling it from his pocket. His wife, Christina, plays Elly May Clampett when the 1929 Chevy truck is used in parades. Jo Fox plays the irascible Granny, sitting in a rocker in the truck's bed.

Thomas said other people portray cast members from each of the shows when the vehicles roll down Mercersburg's streets during the annual Halloween parade.

Thomas saw the old Chevy for sale as he was driving through Moyk, N.C., a few years ago. He left his cell phone number on the sign and later got a call.

"What would you want an old truck like that for?" the owner asked. Thomas said the man was happy to sell it to him at a reduced price when he found out his reason.

Thomas has also been a frequent visitor to Griffith's hometown of Mount Airy, N.C., which has made something of a cottage industry out of re-creating the fictitious landmarks of Mayberry, from its courthouse and Floyd's Barbershop to the filling station where Gomer and Goober worked.

"I learned a lot by watching, particularly Andy, the way he handled people," Thomas said of the show. "Did Andy always go by the book? No. He went by his heart."

It is a philosophy Thomas said he tries to follow as chief of police in a small town.

Thomas said restoring vehicles was therapeutic following the death of his 19-year-old son, Jason, in a 1992 car accident. A couple of weeks after his death, another son, Larry Jr., urged him to buy a ragged 1957 Chevy and son Barry joined in on the project.

"I worked on that car day and night," he said. "It wasn't a cure. Far from it, but it was a sedative. It helped take my mind off it sometimes."

His latest project has no connection with a television show, but is a labor of love. He is restoring a 1978 Buick LeSabre that once belonged to his parents, now deceased.

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