Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Lois E. Johnson
Moose Lake Star Gazette 

Losing it all opened up new life for Phil Perrine


Amy Perrine

Phil Perrine and his 1951 Willys Overland that he had restored.

Life seemed pretty bleak for Phil Perrine after he suffered a traumatic brain injury during an on-duty accident when he was working as an accident reconstruction investigator near Vail, Colorado. He was let go from his job because it was felt that his cognitive abilities had suffered from the injury.

"I was a certified reconstructionist and I lost it all," said Phil in a recent interview. "I had a forced retirement. But I still had a two-year-old daughter so I decided to move to Minnesota to be close to her. My wife and I had divorced and she had moved and taken our daughter to Sturgeon Lake."

To help him rebuild his life, a doctor suggested that Phil go to the veterans center in Duluth.

"I didn't think that I had anything in common with veterans," he said. "But my doctor said that he thought that I would be best served by that group. Now they are some of my best friends."

Phil was a veteran, having served in the navy on a submarine in the Pacific that conducted special operations off the coasts of Japan and Vietnam during the war.

"The submarine that I was on was a guppy sub," Phil explained. "It was obsolete, and it was decommissioned after the Vietnam War was over. The navy was going to discharge me; there was no place for me."

Phil wasn't ready to leave his military service and chose to join the air force.

"At the time, the air force had openings for security police," he said. "I joined, and I was stationed at the Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs. I was in the military reserve during Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and I was recalled back to active duty for 10 or 11 months before I was released to civilian status."

Phil said that he didn't actually go overseas with his unit, he was kept back because he was an accident investigator for the air force.

"Anytime a government vehicle was involved in an accident, I would investigate it," he said. "I also worked for the army out of Fort Carson. They said that I could be more productive in that capacity."

After he left the military, Phil jointed the police force in Vail, Colorado, as an accident reconstruction investigator.

But that career ended after the accident where he suffered the traumatic brain injury.

Life began again when Phil met other veterans who shared experiences similar to his.

And then mutual friends introduced Phil to Amy.

"That turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me," he said.

The couple married in 1999.

Phil still had to find something else to fill his life. One day the couple was driving past Ray and Marge's on the shore of Sturgeon Lake, and Amy spotted an unusual truck in the field.

"That's a Willys truck," she told Phil.

"How do you know that?" he asked.

"I don't know," she replied, "I just know that it is a Willys."

The couple stopped, looked at the truck and Amy bought it. It was a 1951 Willys Overland, a rare truck. She thought that Phil could restore it so she could use it to haul hay to her horses.

However, once Phil started restoring the truck, she never got it back. It was just the kind of project that Phil needed to cope with traumas in his life, losing close friends in the military and the police department and with his own continuous battle with PTSD.

They purchased the truck in 2004, and it was just sold at an auction in Chicago last October.

Phil had no prior interest in restoring vehicles nor any knowledge of mechanical or body work. But he studied and learned.

"I learned by watching TV, reading and going online," he said. "And there were a lot of great people that I met along the way that showed me things and helped me. They gave me a lot of wonderful ideas and leads to follow."

And Phil found professionals in the area who he enlisted to do the difficult portions of the project.

"There is so much professionalism in the Moose Lake - Sturgeon Lake - Willow River area," he said. "I don't think people realize."

Phil listed the local people that worked on the truck: Jim Radel at Riverside Metal, Dave at Dave's Machine Shop, Curt Wilson at the Sturgeon Lake Garage, Dale, Doug and Alan Alberg at Alberg's Auto Body, and Cass Nawrocki of Nawrocki Fabricating.

Dave's an awesome guy," said Phil. "Curt built the motor and a complete drive train. The Albergs did all of the metal work and painting. Cass rebuilt and restored the front fenders and made a custom sun visor, including mounting brackets and hardware.

"That's what sold the truck. People realized that the craftsmanship that went into the truck was very professional. The paint was perfect."

Amy was quick to point out that Phil also invested sweat equity in the truck.

"He coordinated the project, and he designed the way that he wanted it to look," she said. "He polished it and shined it. It had to be right. It came out absolutely stunning."

Phil had another reason why he invested so much of his time to make the truck perfect.

"I built the truck in memory of my fallen friends," he said. "I had Scott Brosick from the Twin Cities airbrush a mural of an eagle and flags in the bed of the truck. He did it just for me. I told him what I wanted to do, and he created the artwork in memory of the fallen military and police that I had known. The work is breathtaking, stunning."

Phil said that he has the names of his fallen friends on a plaque.

"One of the chiefs didn't come home, he died on the ship during a special operations run in the western Pacific," said Phil. "Another one was a childhood friend. He was six months older and he graduated a year prior to me. He was a Marine who was killed in Vietnam. He was killed on Christmas Eve 1966. I think about him this time of year.

"One was my favorite partner on the police force and my best friend. He was a hockey coach for my oldeest daughter and son. The night he was killed, I was skating with my kids in my uniform. I went to work later and found out that he was killed at work that night in Colorado Springs in the line of duty.

"There were quite a few others."

Phil thought about those fallen friends as he worked on the truck.

"My goal was to build this truck in the memory of my fallen friends, to keep their spirit alive and to honor their service to this great country," he explained. "Building this truck was my path to accomplish this goal."

One of Phil's favorite TV shows is the Macum auctions. Amy had seen that a Macum auction was going to be held in Chicago at the Schaumburg Convention Center, located near O'Hare airport, in October, and the couple decided that that was where they wanted to take the truck to sell.

The auction was set for three days, Phil explained.

The truck was shipped to Chicago with Reliable Carriers, and Dave, the driver, was one of the first to congratulate the couple when the truck was sold.

"The truck was displayed a week before the sale," said Phil. "It was in the Star classification and one of the Top Ten out of 985 vehicles sold.

"The auction started on Thursday, with the entry level and collector vehicles. The intermediate collector vehicles were sold on Friday. The Star cars are sold on Saturday. Ours was sold at prime time at 2 p.m."

Phil and Amy watched the bids rise while their truck was on the auction block. The price continued to rise, and when the hammer came down to mark it sold, they couldn't believe the final price.

They did not wish to disclose the price publically but the final bid had exceeded their expectations.

"It was so exciting," said Amy. "People were swarming around the truck."

"I had kept detailed records," added Phil. "That helped the sale value. It was an amazing experience. It happened so fast that I was stunned!

"The family was excited too. They and the other bidders sent us emails."

"We had friends that were trying to bid on the truck but it went too high," added Amy.

The truck was purchased by a doctor in Chicago, and he plans to keep the truck in his personal collection.

"He told us that they truck will have a good home," said Phil. "He invited us to come back some time and see what he has done to it. He had some ideas of how to improve it. He said that he loved the truck, and that it going to be taken care of."

The truck and its sale was also featured in the November 2013 edition of the Macum Monthly, a magazine about the vehicles sold at the auction and other noteworthy vehicles that are going to be sold at future auctions.

Phil and Amy were still feeling the excitement two months later when they told their story. But Phil is turning his thoughts to another project, a 1955 Willys truck that he bought from Scott Sandberg.

"I plan to restore that truck to its original condition and turn it back into a Goodyear service truck. There won't be a bolt that hasn't been touched," he said.

As Phil looked back at the new direction that his life took after he thought that it was over, he finds it hard to believe how his life has turned around.

"Meeting Amy is one of the best things that ever happened to me," he said. "The other thing was to work on this truck. I want to give all the credit to the people that helped me restore the truck. Ninety percent was built by those people."


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