People Around Us

Belfast resident talks life, love of car restoration

By Ben Holbrook | Aug 08, 2012
Photo by: Ben Holbrook Phil Crosby

Belfast — Belfast resident Phil Crosby has worn many hats over the course of his life, from city councilor to school superintendent to car salesman, but some of his fondest memories come from restoring old cars.

Crosby has spent the majority of his 81 years in Belfast, with the exception of the seven years he spent away at school and serving in the Army. Although much has changed in the city of his youth, Crosby can’t envision himself living anywhere else.

“Belfast is a beautiful city. It’s not the blue-collar working community that it was, but we’re very fortunate to have the job opportunities that developed in recent years,” he said.

Over the years, Crosby has been deeply involved with city operations, serving as the chairman of the Planning Board and as a city councilor. However, one of the more challenging jobs he held was as the superintendent/principal of a small school district in Harmony.

What made the job challenging –– in a good way –– was the fact that Crosby handled multiple aspects of running a school district.

“You did everything,” he said. “You did custodial work, buses and hot lunch, in addition to planning the curriculum.”

His multi-faceted job wasn’t a common practice for many school districts –– he estimated there might have been a dozen people who held similar positions to his at the time –– but it was an experience he appreciated.

Education may have been the area where Crosby chose to spend much of his career, but one of his greatest passions was ignited years earlier while he was working at the family car dealership, Crosby Dodge. The dealership occupied what is now the police station and during that time, Crosby had the opportunity to work on a number of vehicles.

“I grew up in the car business, and back then cars rusted out and you had to do a lot of body work,” he said.

Those experiences lead Crosby to restoring a number of vehicles over the next several decades –– including a couple of Volkswagens and a handful of Ford Model T’s.

Of all the vehicles he has restored, Crosby said the Model T and the Volkswagens were the easiest, because he didn’t have to hunt around for parts. He said all of the parts he needed could be ordered from a catalog.

“You can almost order a full car from a catalog,” he said.

Even after having completed multiple restorations, there is still one vehicle that stands out to Crosby –– a modified 1926 Ford Model T affectionately named Leapin’ Lena.

Crosby began working on the vehicle in the 1950s to be showcased in the Belfast Broiler Festival. Every year the dealership would design a float, but Crosby decided he wanted to build something that would last more than a year. After getting permission from his father, he began the task of creating the iconic vehicle.

“What was surprising about the car was that at first it was older people who enjoyed it, because they drove the Ford Model T,” he said. “But then the younger kids liked it because it was somewhat comical –– it would leap up into the air.”

The vehicle continues to make appearances in parades, and the excitement and enjoyment the vehicle brings is something Crosby never stops appreciating.

“For 60 years that car has been a great draw in any parade it’s been in,” he said. “I just love the enjoyment it brings.”

Republican Journal reporter Ben Holbrook can be reached at 338-3333 or at bholbrook@courierpublicationsll.com.

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