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Merle Gallant - a life-long passion for all things Ford

If it has a motor and wheels and can be fabricated, Merle Gallant has probably built it or can figure out how. When Gallant was 12 years old, his father bought a 1929 Model A Ford. The Ford eventually became Gallant's first car and he drove it to...

Gallant stands by his 1927 T Roadster two-passenger street rod that he and his wife use as their “ice cream” car in the summer. In the background is his first street rod, a 1929 Model A Ford bought by his father when Gallant was 12 years old and the 1928 Ford Phaeton that was restored for his parents by himself and his brother Norm. (Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls) Video and Gallery
Gallant stands by his 1927 T Roadster two-passenger street rod that he and his wife use as their “ice cream” car in the summer. In the background is his first street rod, a 1929 Model A Ford bought by his father when Gallant was 12 years old and the 1928 Ford Phaeton that was restored for his parents by himself and his brother Norm. (Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls) Video and Gallery

If it has a motor and wheels and can be fabricated, Merle Gallant has probably built it or can figure out how.

When Gallant was 12 years old, his father bought a 1929 Model A Ford. The Ford eventually became Gallant's first car and he drove it to high school.

Gallant went to school to become a machinist and began to race cars at North Central Speedway south of Brainerd. The life of building and racing and creating parts with no form or die is common to the mechanic, Gallant said.

During this time, Gallant was working as a machinist at the Burlington Northern Shops in Brainerd. Any spare moment he had he fed his desire to create "everything Ford."

The 1929 Model A Ford that was once his first car was re-powered with a 302-cubic-inch engine and his street rodding days began. Merle calls it his "everyday street rod" that he uses to this day.

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Gallant's father and grandfather were car men with the railroad, but his uncles - Stanley, Garner and Dean - were a big influence on Gallant and started Gallant's Garage on Brook Street. Dirt track racing soon faded away because of money and family obligations, and car building became his passion.

After retiring in 2005, Gallant devoted more time to car shows and traveling across the country in one of his car creations with his wife, Mickey.

Gallant has only sold, reluctantly, two of his creations - a 1925 Model T and a 1940 Ford Sedan. His regret is noticeable, but he said it was what he had to do to collect enough money to build the next car.

What is Gallant going to work on next? Well, when his daughter Kim turned 16 in 1986, Merle bought a 1968 Mustang Fastback. She is now 40 years old, and Gallant feels the need to get going on the project after building a 1947 Ford Coupe for their son Tim.

Gallant has been very active in the 25,000-member Minnesota Street Rod Association. He prides himself on being Number 113, joining in 1969.

After building all these cars, what does Merle really want?

'"A 1957 Thunderbird or a Shelby Cobra," Gallant said. "I will have to settle with a reproduction of the Cobra because they are selling for $1 million."

Hopefully he will start with more than a rusty piece of metal, like when he bought the beginnings of his 1927 T Roadster. The Roadster is a two-passenger vehicle with a 1950 Mercury flathead V8 engine.

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"It's our ice cream car," Gallant said. "Mickey and I go uptown at night to get ice cream in the Roadster on warm evenings."

Gallant's highlight is his 1940 Ford pickup with a 1953 Mercury engine and four-speed overdrive, which won the 2013 Minnesota Street Rod Association Street Rod of the Year.

Remembering what his folks gave to him when he was 12, Gallant thought he would restore a car for his parents. He and his brother Norm restored for them an early 1928 Ford Phaeton, one of the first Model As.

The sun glints off the chrome, just like the mechanic's eyes sparkle every time he talks about the car.

I was raised on a farm in western Minnesota where I participated in 4-H, high school sports, and everything that farm kids do for fun after chores. Graduated from Ridgewater Community College with an AA degree and my first taste of newspapering. I worked a summer on the Ortonville Independent as a reporter and photographer.
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