Jackie Rhodes

Jackie Rhodes, Regional Sales Manager, Aflac; Bristol, Tennessee:

I’ve been into cars since I was really young, and quite a bit more as I’ve gotten older, and part of that’s because my father always liked them. As I get older I realize that these are classics that are much older than I am, they’ve been around a long time, and these cars will outlive a lot of us humans. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten a little more appreciation for the old cars. You always hear people say they don’t make them like they did before. My first car was an ’86 Ford Ranger with no power steering, no power brakes, no air conditioner and roll-up windows, so I remember what it’s like to drive a car on a hot day like today. I guess it takes you back. Plus, today’s cars… you can’t tell the difference in a car today, one versus another. But these old cars, they changed the body every year and it was something big when they unveiled the new one. Everybody would come down to the dealership to look at the new car, because it looked different, different lines.

I like to be able to spend time with my dad and talk about cars. He remembers these cars from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s… it’s a way for me to be able to spend time with him doing something we both enjoy. I think a lot of people who are younger may be a little scared off because they see the Barrett-Jackson Auction and Mecum auction prices on TV… 65, 85, 95 thousand dollars and the average person who is younger looks at that and says I can’t afford to get in (The hobby). They don’t realize that you can buy a nice, old car for 7,000, 8,000, 10,000, dollars. I think a lot of times maybe getting younger people in here would be just educating the average consumer that your car, in order to go into a car show, doesn’t have to be perfect. I have learned a lot by buying that ’67 Mustang that I have. I didn’t know much about cars, but…. I learned about spark plugs and points, rebuilding motors and installing new steering units.

For me, it’s about a learning process. And that’s something I told my dad not that long ago. I said, you know, most of the people who have these old cars are older than I am. What’s going to happen when they’re gone? 

I don’t think we’ll have classic cars from this era 30, 40 or 50 years from now. Cars now are run by computers so it’s not like…there are a lot of cars here that could sit in a garage or barn for 20, 25, 30 years, and you could go out with some carburetor cleaner and some fresh gas and fire it up. You can’t just let cars set. They’ve got their running clocks, satellite TVs, air conditioners…they’re all computer-controlled…you can’t just open the hood and start tinkering on a new car. For me, I just don’t see it. 

I’ve heard there’s more computer technology in a smart phone and an iPhone than what NASA had for the Apollo missions. That’s amazing. And part of what draws me to all these cars old out here is that they are beautiful. They’re nice, but they’re simple. Keep it simple stupid…that went away.

I’ve lived here since I was seven years old. I think mountain folk, you know, we grow up around cars. We grow up with our dads working on cars, we grew up with our uncles and grandpas working on cars, so I think a lot of that may have to do with some of the economic conditions that we were living. We couldn’t just go out and buy a new car every two years. If something went wrong on an old car, we had to fix it. You’ll hear people all the time say ‘I worked on cars because my dad used to do it. There’s a father-son tandem here that’s a friend of mine and he’s involved with cars because his dad is, and his dad learned to work on cars from his dad. It’s like stories…it’s something passed down from family to family and I think that’s probably why mountain people are fascinated with cars. It goes back to being simple. And there are a lot of people who know how to work on cars, but can’t do anything with the new ones. 

You look at the history of NASCAR, you’ve got Junior Johnson who was a big ‘Shine runner. NASCAR grew because you had people who would take these old cars and figure some things out. They’d soup them up and hop them up to run from the law, and that’s something that appeals to the younger people. People would say, you know, I’d like to be able to soup my car up. You look at the money, not just here in the Appalachian area, but look at the money nationwide that’s spent on after-market parts to make cars faster. It’s a huge ordeal.

Motor vehicles have always been a big thing in Appalachia. I don’t think it will ever go away, either. At least I hope not. I enjoy fast cars, and I like having them.

Obviously, this is home. I grew up here, went to school here, went to college here, and started my career here in the insurance industry. I got a promotion and moved about 150 miles north to Roanoke, Virginia, which is still in the Appalachians, and the difference in people just moving 150 miles north was the difference between night and day. That’s why I’m back here. I moved back home. This is home. This is where I want to raise my children. Here we are on a Saturday, with everyone just relaxing and it’s not hustle and bustle like a big city. People are nice…they say thank you and yes ma’am and yes sir. I just had lunch with my ten-year-old daughter, and we had this same conversation. This is home, this is where people want to raise their kids, it’s a little bit of a slower lifestyle and I like it…I prefer it. Big cities just aren’t for me. You can always tell when someone is not from the area, because they mispronounce, ‘Appalachia.’

This area of the country is cliquish and we say yes sir, and yes ma’am and no sir and no ma’am. The way we say words is a little bit different, but education-wise, a lot of times you hear someone talk about “toothless hillbillies” and those types of things and it makes me laugh. Mountain people are mountain people. We’re no different than anyone else. We talk a little different and we are nicer to people, I would say. We appreciate old cars, and we appreciate certain types of music. For outsiders, maybe they should spend a little time, come sit at events like this and talk to people and they’ll realize we aren’t a bunch of uneducated idiots, we’re just regular old people just like they are. I went to college at Milligan College in Elizabethton. It’s a liberal arts college, a private school. Most of the students who go there are from Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Illinois and they would always make a comment about certain things you would say. They would say, you talk weird, and I would say, you’re the one who came to school in Appalachia…you talk weird. I talk normal.