Sometimes known as "Mr. El Camino," Luvern "Ike" Eickhoff, seems to live up to the nickname when he stands next to his vintage Chevrolet El Caminos parked outside his home on Lake Beltrami in Bemidji.
With nine of the cars, Eickhoff and his wife Avis are getting ready for the Paul Bunyan Vintage Auto Club's 26th annual Car Show Sunday, July 19. The 1965 cherry red El Camino will likely be one of the cars he'll bring to the show this year, said Eickhoff.
"I have a rule: If we lose a car by accident, you've got to replace it with an El Camino," he said.
Around 200 vintage cars will be entered into the stationary show under 14 different classes, which takes place at the Bemidji High School from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Spectator admission to the show is $5. The show is open to the community. The classes for cars are based on the year of car production and whether the car has been modified or has been built to stock reproduction.
"In my case, I'm kind of a purist for restoration," Eickhoff said. "I keep them to manufacture specifications. I'm not a street rodder."
From the overhauled engines down to the color of paint and fabric in cars, Eickhoff uses only original parts for to-date reproduction. With expert knowledge on several makes and models of vintage cars, Eickhoff is also a technical advisor for the Vintage Chevrolet Club of America.
"Not only do you have the technical knowledge but you have the materials to work on the cars," he said. "If you get a call, you look for the info in one of their publications. When you don't know it you search it and find out."
Eickhoff's parts manuals from General Motors for the vintage cars are worth close to $300 each - that is if you can find one, Eickhoff said.
The cars glinted in the sun as Eickhoff and Avis pointed out details about each car. Restored to their original colors, lemon yellows, reds, brown and an emerald green lined the driveway and garage.
"The only way I know the cars are by color," Avis said. She helped Eickhoff with restoration on one vehicle, but said the work is mostly up to him.
"She is my greatest supporter," Eickhoff said.
Most of the cars were fixed up in Grand Forks, N.D., before they moved to Bemidji 19 years ago.
"Usually I take stuff and work on it in someone's garage with the equipment," he said.
Two of Eickhoff's cars have factory air conditioning, and the nine cars have either an automatic shift, a three-speed shift on the column, or a four-speed floor consol shift.
Among his other vehicles, Eickhoff noted the 1955 Chevy Impala parked in the garage equipped with a 396 cubic inch engine. His other cars carry a 283 V8 engine model, common in most cars manufactured by Chevrolet.
Eickhoff can store nine cars in his storage space and can keep six more at the house with a daily driver. The couple stays in Arizona in the winter, but the cars haven't made the cross-country trek just yet.
"I've haven't done that, he said. "Thought about it, but haven't don't it. It's a matter of hauling them instead of driving. In Arizona, they get to keep their cars out all year long. We have to put ours away."
The collecting for Eickhoff doesn't stop with cars. More than 100 vintage model cars and dozens of vintage car radios cover the shelves of the detached garage.
"It's kind of like wall paper," he said of the model-filled shelves.
Old-time car radios and wires are piled on top of each other in the side garage.
"Vintage radios were my thing," Eickhoff said.
Avis chipped in and said, "Actually, I would say hubcaps were." ]
Eickhoff's collection of hubcaps starts from 1936 and includes every year since, which he said helps with the technical car advising too.
"And photo albums filled with cars," Avis said. "I always said, 'I wish you would have collected stamps, because they would take up less room!'"
Eickhoff said he wasn't planning on buying any more cars in the near future, but it could change if the right opportunity came along.
"Through the cars, you meet a lot of people, which become good friends," he said. "You'd never know if it wasn't through the vehicle. It's just fun to drive in these. Go out on a night or a Sunday afternoon and see the countryside. If it's hot you take one with the AC. If it's a warm beautiful day you take one with the top down, or if it's cool, you take one with the heater."