Who doesn’t love super cool hot rods?
You know, those souped-up, tricked-out cars of the past that make our roads come alive with their badassery each summer.
For long-time customer Ken Stites, a master mechanic at Ace Radiator located in Sheridan, Wyoming, hot rods have been a life-long passion. And recently, his admiration for Mesabi radiators crossed paths with his passion for hot rods when he installed a Mesabi radiator in his latest work, restoring a Chevy S-10 pick-up that he fondly calls, the Rat Rod.
By day, Stites repairs radiators on large agriculture equipment, semi-trucks, heavy-duty construction equipment and mining equipment, which means he is no stranger to powerful engines. Since 1978, he’s worked at Ace Radiator, a go-to repair shop for the area’s nearby mines, trucking firms, and farms. Ace Radiator was founded by Gail and Rose Hill in 1959. Today, the firm is owned and run by their son Mark Hill. Rose still handles the books, though, and Stites’ wife, Vicki, who also is a mechanic at Ace Radiator. Together, the four have a combined 195 years of experience.
But, by night and over the weekends, Stites spends his free time around cars. Before he got into hot rods, for many years, Stites raced stock cars in local races under No. 38.
As he got older, Stites’ passion for cars turned to hot rods, which is a community in of itself. Stites and his wife Vicki are active members of KARZ, a club of X hot rod enthusiasts in the Sheridan area.
“I remember fixing up my first car, a 1955 green Dodge pick-up. I bought it in 1974 when I was 14 years old in high school and drove it for years,” said Stites. In 2010, Stites and his wife Vicki, to whom he’s been married more than 40 years, decided to rebuild that ol’ truck and turn it into a badass hot rod.
During the two-year rebuild process, Stites struggled to find a radiator to adequately cool the modern engine that he used to replace stock six-cylinder engine.
“Having worked at Ace Radiator the past 44 years I decided to build one from scratch,” said Stites. “Since I have many years of experience working with L&M radiators, I decided to build a Mesabi radiator to fit the Dodge. Because the tubes are considerably larger than a typical automotive radiator, we decided to make it a triple pass to get better flow thru each tube. We put four rows of tubes 26 wide to fill the hole in the radiator support. On a 100-plus degree day the truck will idle with the air conditioner on at a constant 180 degrees.”
“We have won many car shows with that truck and the unique radiator is always a conversation piece,” added Stites.
Stites learned a lot in transforming that old Dodge pickup into a hot rod. When the pandemic hit, Stites realized that he needed another challenge to keep him busy. So he and Vicki acquired a Chevy S10 pickup that was headed to the salvage yard.
The couple stripped it down to the frame and decided to make a rat rod out of what they had.
Now, before we go further, we should explain a few terms: The term “hot rod” emerged during the 1940s and is used to describe a car that has been customized for performance. A “street rod” is a hot rod, but it’s built to actually be driven on streets and highways. A “rat rod” describes a car that has been built on the cheap using parts from other cars to create a street rod.
“It took Vicki and I five weeks to build our rat rod,” said Stites. “It has a 1935 Ford cab, headlights from a 1963 Chrysler Imperial sedan, a cut-down Dodge pickup box, a modern 350 hp Chevy truck engine, and a 16-gallon keg fuel tank.”
One of the highlights of the Rat Rod is its homemade Mesabi radiator. “With this radiator, we made a triple pass because of the big tube size,” said Stites. “We ran a 180-degree thermostat and the temperature has never went over that mark.”
“The Rat Rod is really fun to drive,” added Stites. “You can go down the highway at 80 miles an hour just steady as can be.”
As for his next project, Stites is working on souping up a motorcycle.
“It’s just a little hobby.”