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Gary’s Garage Mahal

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Written By: Tom Olsen

“I had one like it back in high school.” That’s a familiar theme among car guys, isn’t it? It fits me, I know, and several others car guys including Gary Schoenhard.

Gary grew up on a farm near Presho, SD. In his high school years, he owned a red and white ‘55 Chevy very similar to one he owns now. Gary loved that first car and spent a lot of time working on it; tuning, tinkering, and upgrading things as he could. That was back in the early 1960s and he has been hooked on cars ever since!

In business since 1972, Gary is the owner of Schoenhard’s Custom Cabinetry in Tea, SD. After his education at Southern State Teachers College in Springfield, SD, Gary interned at Jordan Millwork. Later, he lived in Minneapolis for five years while working at a cabinet shop. Now, Schoenhard’s Custom Cabinetry is a well-established local business employing 25 people.

Once in a position to do so, Gary got involved with cars again. His current ‘55 Chevy Bel Air 2-door hard top is the first car acquired in his collection. It is the same red and white color scheme as his first ‘55 Chevy, only this one is a “Candy Apple Red” instead of the stock Chevrolet color. Gary bought the car in Valley City, ND, in 1972. Some years after the initial purchase, he traded a set of laundry room cabinets for a paint job. A few years later he had the car repainted at the Montrose Body Shop. The ‘55 is powered by a Chevy small block 383 stroker engine with a TH350 transmission. It has been re-upholstered three times over the years, most recently in a red and gray leather by Jeff and Sue Meendering at J & S Upholstery in Inwood, IA. Gary is proud to tell me that each of his three daughters was driven away from the church on their wedding day in this car!

In 2002, Gary ventured into the world of street rods. He bought a 1936 Chevrolet Master Deluxe which was a complete, running, original car. He found the car near Worthington, MN, and is the third owner. After tearing the car completely apart, it went to the Renner Garage. Kevin Brende and Keith Peterson performed the complete transformation into a street rod. They did all the mechanical and body work, and “Rocky” shot the two-tone “Royal Plum Pearl” and Mauve paint. (Gary’s daughter graduated from Kansas State, so the Royal Plum was selected based on the school colors.) J & S Upholstery crafted the light gray and plum leather interior. The powertrain includes a mild 350 small block Chevy with a TH350 transmission. Gary tells me it’s “a good highway cruiser.”

In 2003, Gary added a silver blue 1964 Chevelle Malibu convertible to the collection. He found this car locally and was attracted to it since his wife, Paulette, graduated from high school in 1964. With the 283 engine and powerglide transmission, the Chevelle makes a nice summer cruiser. It had been painted prior to Gary buying it and has the stock, blue interior. You don’t see many Chevelles of this vintage on the road anymore, and it looks good with the top down and Cragar wheels.

After keeping the ’64 Chevelle as a tame top-down cruiser, in 2007 it was time for something a little wilder. Gary’s friends at the Renner Garage had a 1957 Chevy Bel Air 2-door sedan on hand that filled that need. The yellow and green 6-cylinder car was solid, but there was damage on the right side. The engine was pulled in favor of a 383 small block stroker engine with a wild cam and dual four-barrel carbs. The Renner Garage did all the mechanical work, and Affordable Body Shop in Salem, SD, did the body and paint work. The color is “Inferno Red Crystal,” a Chrysler color. J & S Upholstery created the light tan leather interior.

No sooner was the ’57 Bel Air finished, and Gary was ready for another build. This time it was a ‘56 Chevy Nomad. This would round out the “Tri-Five” (55-56-57) aspect of Gary’s collection, so why not? Gary bought the car out of California in 2009. When bought, the car had poor quality black and gray paint. No interior work had been done, but a 330 horsepower 350 crate motor was installed. Gary elected to finish the Nomad as somewhat of a twin to his ’57. He stripped the car and turned it over to the Renner Garage. They did the body and paint work, wiring, and mechanical aspects of the build. In creating a “twin” to his ’57 Chevy, the Nomad is painted the same “Inferno Red Crystal,” but with a contrasting “Cool Vanilla” color. It has the same light tan leather interior. The Nomad also runs on 17-inch American Racing Hopster wheels, as does the ’57.

One of Gary’s early favorite cars was a 1967 Chevelle SS396, which he bought new at Mertens Chevrolet in Kennebec, SD. Gary borrowed $2,400 from an uncle to buy the car when his dad wouldn’t loan him the money. (Apparently Dad felt the SS396 was a bit excessive for Gary’s needs.) After four years of ownership, thieves broke into the Chevelle and stole parts from it. After that, Gary traded it in on a station wagon.

Always regretting letting that first Chevelle go, in 2013 Gary found one like it in Charlotte, NC. He wanted a complete car this time as he didn’t want to go through the build process again. Gary flew to Charlotte, looked the car over at a body shop where it was consigned, bought it, and drove it home. This Chevelle is the same stock “Madeira Maroon” color as the original one, and is powered by a 325hp, 396ci engine, with a TH400 transmission. The car has the stock black bucket seat “SS” interior. Cragar SS wheels complete the vintage performance look.

This great collection of cars is kept in Gary’s Texaco themed garage, called “Garage Mahal” by his kids. He already had a gas pump, several signs, and memorabilia pieces, so the Texaco gas station theme was a natural. Being a cabinet maker by trade, Gary had the talent to do the work, and finished the area as a winter hobby. The garage continues to be a work in progress. Gary has also created a diner area, and is considering making a customer waiting area as was found in many vintage gas stations. Gary is semi-retired now, and these fun projects keep him occupied as he winds down from his business involvement.


All of Gary’s cars are driven. Kool Deadwood Nites is a favorite event; he and Paulette have attended every year since 2002. His other favorite is Back to the 50’s in St. Paul, MN. Gary is a committed car guy, with an assortment of cars he enjoys and a cool garage to keep them in. And that’s the way it should be, isn’t it?


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