Washington column for June 25

Stephen Bailey’s Majic makeover

The Ford 1715 after the fire in Culpeper . . .  Stephen Bailey
The Ford 1715 after the fire in Culpeper . . .

I have a story to tell about Stephen Bailey, who grew up in Rappahannock, attended Rappahannock County High School and was the Washington fire chief in 1974, helping back then to build the new firehouse. Now living in Strasburg, Bailey is a retired master electrician of 42 years (Local #26, IBEW, in Washington, D.C.) and his hobby is working on restorations.

Where the Country Cafe and the post office are today was Merrill Motor Company, a Ford dealership and garage owned by Leslie Von Bulow Merrill — Bailey’s grandfather, who ran the place on the corner for 50 years, winning an award from Ford for having a business operated under the same ownership all that time.

. . . and after Stephen Bailey got through with it in November 2014. Stephen Bailey
. . . and after Stephen Bailey got through with it in November 2014.

Starting at age 7 or so, Bailey remembers spending untold hours at his grandfather’s garage, soaking up mechanical skills “like a sponge” — and then, as an adult, he worked evenings and weekends for 22 years on vehicles for his grandfather. The garage closed its doors for good in 1979, which is when Bailey moved north.

In December 2013, a fire consumed the Culpeper workshop of Bailey’s boyhood friend, John Greenway. Among the wreckage, which included vehicles that John and Stephen had restored together, was a 28-horsepower Ford 1715, a tractor model made from 1993 to 1997.

Bailey went over there with his loader and was helping to clean up the mess, and John told him to push the tractor into the big dumpster. The insurance company had deemed it a total loss and John was going to sell it for scrap. According to Bailey, he had other plans. “Well, I told him that I’d like to have [the tractor],” Bailey said, “to see if I could get it to run, and he said, ‘If you want it, you can have it.’ ”

So he took home a damaged tractor that most others most likely would have junked, with plans to return it to its original state at some point.

In November 2014, Bailey’s wife, Trina, noticed Majic Paints’ “Paint Your Tractor” contest in Tractor Supply’s Out Here magazine, and suggested he enter. Bailey read the contest criteria and decided to renovate the damaged tractor for the contest. He had only three weeks to finish the tractor, knowing he had to push the pedal to the floor, to get things going.

The contest ended Nov. 30, 2014 and all entries had to be in before midnight. He finished the work on Nov. 24 — even though he had to make many of his own replacement parts because many parts factories in Japan were hit by the March earthquake and tsunami — and sent in his before-and-after pictures by registered mail on Nov. 27.

Stephen Bailey
Stephen Bailey

“I couldn’t replace anything, and I couldn’t buy any parts, so I either had to make parts or use what I had,” he says.

So the burned-up tractor bound for the scrap heap got the most extreme makeover of all to take top honors in Majic’s “Paint Your Tractor” contest, which was a nationwide contest. (Bailey was hoping since the ad was so small in the back of the magazine that maybe not too many people would notice it.)

He got a phone call one morning from the Majic Paint Co. in Ohio, and the lady said that she was calling to tell him that he won the first prize of $2,000.

For Stephen Bailey, someone’s junk turned out to be a treasure indeed. He says he is still using the tractor to mow on his farm, and all that he soaked up “like a sponge” at his grandfather’s garage has served him well. Repairing and restoring, he says, is in his blood.

His grandfather had started his business by renting the building where the Inn at Little Washington is today, moving into the new building he put up across the corner. I sometimes wonder if the Ford dealer was still here in Little Washington today, whether it could survive. The buildings still bring back fond memories and stories my father told me about the garage. Dad always spoke highly of Leslie Von Bulow Merrill, who was a good man.

And his legacy lives on through his award-winning grandson, Stephen.


Condolences go out to the family of James L. “Slick” Settle, 78, who passed away on June 12 in Rappahannock County. He was retired as a heavy equipment operator and was a 39-year member of Massanova Pentecostal Church. A funeral service was held on June 19 at the church in Castleton, conducted by Rev. L.D. Savage. Burial followed in Flint Hill Cemetery. Thoughts and prayers are with the family.

Free Clinic

Rappahannock Free Clinic is open at the Rappahannock County Health Department on Main Street in Washington next Wednesday, July 1. Registration is 5 to 6 p.m. For more information, call the Fauquier Free Clinic at 540-347-0394.

Stay cool and have a wonderful week!

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