When a guy can make a living doing what he likes best, that's a good thing. When the same guy can start a business, then employ a bunch of folks to do what they like to do best, that's a real good thing. The pages of Custom Classic Trucks are filled with advertisers from all over the country that specialize in manufacturing and distributing products made to improve all phases of a classic truck's performance. Anytime the staff of CCT is out on the road attending classic truck events, we like to set aside a little extra time and pay a visit to some of the better-known manufacturers in the area and shoot a shop tour.
Last May, at the invitation of F-100 Supernationals promoter Pat Ford, it was suggested I fly a few days early into Charlotte, North Carolina, instead of directly to Knoxville, Tennessee, and take in some of the classic truck-related sights in the Charlotte area. The first stop had me touring the campus of Dennis Carpenter Reproductions (Custom Classic Trucks, August 2008) and then later in the day I was scheduled to tour with Brent VanDervort at his shop: Fatman Fabrications in Mint Hill, North Carolina, a Mayberry-style suburb of Charlotte.
It was a little after 1 p.m. when Brent rolled up to Dennis Carpenter's in one of his daily drivers-a fiberglass-bodied '34 Ford Tudor mounted on one of Fatman's production chassis. Brent's '34 is just plain cool. One ride in it and the next thing a guy knows, he wants to build one just like it (me included). Beyond the pure expediency of constructing the '34 in about a month's time, Brent proved for the umpteenth time that a Fatman chassis is capable of pulling down the long miles without a lot of constant tinkering. Shortly after Brent built the '34 with his Vintage IFS, he and a friend rolled out to Southern California for the L.A. Roadster show. By the time they had zigzagged their way back across the U.S., the little '34 had racked up nearly 10,000 trouble-free miles.
It was 1982 when Brent left his native state of New York and set out for North Carolina. By August 1, 1985 he had opened the doors to Fatman Fabrication's existing Mint Hill location. The early days saw Fatman Fabrication sharing a sole building that faced the highway. It wasn't too long before Brent's business of building affordable street rods and related parts grew to the point that he was in need of larger facilities. With the help of a local banker who proved to be a good friend, Brent was able to buy the six-acre site his original shop was on. One by one, additional shop buildings were constructed on the property as needed. Today, Fatman Fabrications is housed in four large buildings that consume over 22,000 square feet of floor space. Getting back to the subject of people being able to do what they like for a living brings us full circle to mentioning that Fatman Fabrication has employed up to 44 folks at one time. When I was there, Brent had 30 people working who've been with him for some time now.
Every moment I spent in Charlotte and Knoxville was really great, but I think my favorite time was when Brent and I hit the road from Charlotte to the Supernationals in Knoxville driving his custom '67 F-100 shop truck with Mike tagging along in the '34. More than just a pretty truck with a Fatman frontend under it, the '67 made the Knoxville run towing a tandem car trailer loaded with a rolling Fatman chassis (suited for a '53-56 F-100) like it wasn't there. When we arrived in Knoxville, Brent tossed me the keys for the '67 and I had three days to find out for myself firsthand that it didn't matter whether it was on the interstate in the pouring rain, or burning donuts off-road in the mud (just kidding about the last part), Fatman's IFS conversion for Ford Twin I-beams turns a "Slick" or a "Bumpside" into a modern truck.
In next month's "Classic Life" our Knoxville adventure will continue with a rain-soaked visit in Fatman's Bumpside to Lokar Performance Products.