Keeping Cars is Baer Family Tradition
By Jeff Barnes
An inability to part with family cars has given the Baer family of Malvern, Iowa, a fascinating sampling of Chrysler car history.
Starting with their grandfather’s ’37 Plymouth that he bought in 1938, the Baers always bought new and kept a 1954 Dodge Coronet, a 1966 Dodge Monaco station wagon, a 1965 Dodge pickup, and a 1970 Dodge pickup. It’s only because their father bought the Malvern Ford dealership in 1973 that the Baers didn’t keep buying a Chrysler brand.
Tom Baer, one of four brothers in the family, said their longevity with the cars was typical to many families in “going with what you know.” Baer – along with brothers Bill Jr., Linn, and Bob, their sister Sue Lawson, and mother Donna – all reunited in Malvern recently for the town’s sesquicentennial and to drive the cars in the town parade.
“My grandpa was a veterinarian,” said Baer, himself an MD. “He bought the ’37 Plymouth in 1938 from a guy in Randolph and drove it all over Mills County.”
The ’54 Coronet was his grandmother’s car that she drove until her death in 1969; his brother Bill Jr. inherited the car at that point, driving it to high school and his first years of college.
The ’66 Dodge wagon was the Baer family, but Bill Jr. eventually replaced the ’54 with it, driving it to community college and then the University of Iowa while earning his pharmacy degree. Tom then used the car to drive to Morningside College in Sioux City and then Iowa City for his medical degree from Iowa. “My dad used to joke that this was the most educated car in southwest Iowa,” Baer said. The car still has eight years of college parking stickers on the side window.
The Baers bought the ’65 Dodge pickup to host a camper that became the home on wheels for the family; it was traded in for a ’70 Dodge pickup which still has the camper. Bill Sr. then bought the Ford dealership in ’73 and the family has bought only Fords since then.
In 1993, Bill Jr. and Tom decided to restore the ’37 for their father. The car was rusting away in storage and in pretty sad shape, but a successful restoration made it the senior Baer’s pride and joy. “It’s the cream of the crop of all our cars,” says Bill Jr. “Dad would never let us drive it while he was alive (Bill Sr. passed four years ago). He took it took it to several national shows and won several top awards.”
Naturally, once the first family car was restored, the others got the treatment. The pickup was finished in the early 2000s, the station wagon around 2013, and the ’54 was just restored. “We have yet to do the 4-door pickup, and it only has 40,000 miles on it,” Tom said.
The brothers are quick to point out that they don’t do the restorations themselves (“I just write the checks,” Tom jokes). But all four brothers say their love of cars is a direct gift from their father.
“Dad was a car fanatic and we grew up with that heritage,” said Bill Jr. “Lots of guys have memories of fishing with their dad; mine are of being under a car with him, holding a flashlight and handing him tools.”
Originally published in the Omaha World-Herald, July 13, 2019