Bill Gallentine Sr. spent nearly five decades working on the railroad, but he spent his lifetime working on cars.
His kids grew up hearing stories about him hot-rodding around in old Fords, Model As and Model Ts. “They were young and crazy,” said his son, Bill Jr. “They’d beat them until they didn’t run anymore and then they’d go get another one.”
Later, he and his friends discovered drag racing near Omaha, and they learned their way around an engine compartment. If they blew a transmission at the track, they’d just find a donor car for a transplant before the next race, and return it when they were done.
When Bill Jr. joined the Navy, he left behind his slightly battered 1969 Barracuda. “And when I came home from boot camp, that car was pristine. He (his dad) did that car, and it was sharp.”
Bill Sr. retired as a Burlington Northern conductor 18 years ago and became a regular on the car show circuit with his three cars: the '66 Ranchero that had belonged to his late brother-in-law, and the '66 Plymouth Fury convertible and the '61 Corvette he and his sons had spent years restoring.
He'd picked up the Corvette from another railroader, and it had been set up as a drag car, with a crude hole in the hood and an extra leaf spring on one side and a history of paint jobs. They took it all apart and put it back together.
“Dad sat out there in the driveway days on end whenever he had the spare time,” Bill Jr. said. “He stripped all of the paint off of it, red, yellow and red.”
Bill Sr. soon became a regular winner on the car show circuit, eventually collecting dozens of trophies. The annual Berean Car Show — scheduled for Saturday this year — was one of his favorites, often the first contest he’d enter every year. He cut back on shows as his health declined, but he kept returning to the Berean show, his son said.
After Bill Sr. died in December, family members made a request: They wanted any funeral memorials to benefit the Lincoln Berean Church’s Car Care Ministry.
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“We thought that’s what he’d want,” Bill Jr. said.
The program matches mechanically-minded church members with those who need car repairs but can’t afford them, said Beth Griess, Berean’s local outreach coordinator.
It began seven or eight years ago, with a group of church members who enjoy working on cars, she said. “They started getting together once a month in one of the guys’ garages, fixing up cars, helping out people in the church who have some needs.”
Now, 20 to 30 volunteers gather regularly to donate their labor to Berean members and others referred to the church by social service agencies. But the parts they need cost money, and donations such as Gallentine’s help the program help those in need.
Last year, the Car Care Ministry serviced and repaired about 150 cars.
The need for wheels is critical, Griess said. Without a car, it's difficult for someone to get to work, or to get a child to school.
“It’s hard to be successful without reliable transportation. Our goal is to empower people to meet their needs.”
Bill Sr.’s kids didn’t stop there. They plan to enter his Corvette in the show — if there’s no rain in the forecast; their father didn’t like his cars getting wet.
They also thought about all of the trophies the Corvette — and his other cars — had won. They approached the show organizers with a proposal: a special award, in their father’s name, for the best of show by participants under 21. They plan to give an auto parts store gift card to the winner.
And they plan to recycle one of their father’s trophies — a best of class from a past Berean show — with a new plaque, an award for someone else with a lifetime of cars in front of them.