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Ron Ashley is known for refurbishing old things in wood, metal, machinery, and engines. He has renovated tractors and cars and trucks, and most of them are still running and on the road

RAMONA MCCALLISTER - Ron Ashley stands by his feed cutter, which was used to run corn stocks through to cut into better pieces for animals, so they could eat all the corn.

Many folks find hobbies that they enjoy, and some find hobbies that last a lifetime and bring them a great deal of joy.

At 91 years old, Ron Ashley can be found most days in his large shop off of Lynn Boulevard, working on an engine, piece of machinery or any number of mechanical projects. He enjoys bringing old things back to life and researching mysterious antiques.

On a crisp November morning, JD Grinnell waits with anticipation as he is poised to cross the street on Lynn Boulevard between his property and Ashley's spread. A 22-year neighbor and a retired graphic artist, Grinnell shared his fascination with Ashley's talent for mechanical things and the secret to longevity.

"I guess I admire him, because he is a few years older than me, but he is at least as active as I am and probably more," expressed Grinnell. "I also really admire the restorations that he has done. He is capable of doing so many things in wood, metal, machinery and engines. He has renovated tractors and cars and trucks, and most of them are still running and on the road."

Ron Ashley moved his family to his home in Prineville off of Lynn Boulevard in 1964, upon his employment to Ochoco Lumber Company. His daughter, Donna, also worked at Ochoco Lumber Company, in the office, and retired from there. His son, Dave Ashley, currently works at Erickson's meat department in Prineville, and his youngest son, Bill Ashley, recently retired from Les Schwab in Albany, Oregon.

"My youngest son is retired for crying out loud," he said.

Not only is Ron known for his mechanical abilities, he is also very project-oriented and task-oriented. His work ethic and tenacity are also traits that his children have carried on and admired from his example. His children all agreed that their dad gets up every morning and gets out and works in his shop every day.

"He gets up every morning and he goes out to the shop just like a job. I think that is what keeps him so sharp," noted Donna.

Dave shared a memory of his early childhood in 1964, when they had a Christmas flood. He pointed out that it resonates how much of a can-do attitude his father has always demonstrated — both then and now.

"Our basement flooded, and it was clear up to the main level of the house," recalled Dave. "By the end of that day, Dad had all the water pumped out and all the mud pumped out. The water pump and the furnace were both in the basement. By the end of the day, he had water back on and he had the furnace running again — all in one day. Even when I was a little kid, I thought that was pretty impressive."

He added, "Dad is not a builder, but he has built several buildings. He is not a mechanic, but he has torn those trucks and pickups down and those tractors and rebuilt them. He has rebuilt old radios — he is never idle and on the go all the time."

Donna pointed out that Ron has always had a great engineering mind. If something didn't work quite right, he would engineer it to work better. Ron was always known in their family and circle of friends as the guy who could fix anything.

Ron elaborated that he acquired many of his projects from family and friends. He has found many mechanical oddities at estate sales, yard sales and swap meets. He added that his late wife, Shirley, was supportive of his hobbies and would find new projects for him to work on. They would go to many of the sales and explore together. He got a catch in his throat as he noted the year, March 2020, that he lost his wife of 65 years.

Bill fondly reminisced that his mother loved playing games, cards and being in touch with friends and family. He noted that the siblings had bought her an iPad for her to follow family and friends and to play games.

"I remember bringing it into the house, and Dad looked at it like it was an alien — he wanted nothing to do with this thing," Bill laughed.

He went on to say that although Shirley used it, it wasn't until Ron's granddaughter, Courtney, showed him how to access YouTube that Ron became fond of the technology. He loved to watch how-to videos and eventually expanded his music selection and tastes — including indie pop music from Portland.

"That is pretty incredible for a throwback guy that Dad is, to be able to evolve using a laptop to watching YouTube — to listening to indie pop groups in Portland because he liked the music. He just likes all realms of music," added Bill.

Ron also has eight grandkids and 15 great-grandkids, whom he is extremely proud of. His family members often bring a new project to his shop that they have found for him to work on.

"This hobby evolved over the years. I have always done stuff like this — even when I was a kid. I would try of course, not very good, but I would try," said Ron.

As he pointed to his projects in his garage, Ron stated, "A lot of these projects kind of followed me home."

One special pride and joy is his 1939 Dodge pickup, which Ron has completely refurbished. He not only did the body and mechanical work, he also painted the truck himself. He enjoyed going into NAPA in Prineville and working with Dale McCallister as he picked out just the right paint. He purchased the truck in 1976, and he finished it in 1981. He found it in Prairie City, Oregon.

The truck has a special meaning, since his father had a 1937 Dodge, and Ron once owned a 1936 Dodge. He was familiar with every part of them, as he grew up on a farm, and working on their own equipment was imperative. The 1939 Dodge was his first attempt at a paint job, and the paint still looks quite pristine at 42 years.

At 91, Ron is still taking on projects, and he still enjoys his hobby more than ever. Although he does not do larger ones, he is busy working on something new most of the time. He demonstrated his most recent project, a box sheller. As he put in some dried Indian corn, he quickly removed the kernels from the cob and into a container. He explained that he was able to date it back to pre-World War II.

"At my age I am slowing down, and I am doing smaller stuff now. I don't tackle any bigger jobs."

In addition to the box sheller, he also pointed to some other equipment that could be found on a farm in 1904 — including a hammer mill, used to grind grain for animal feed. Another project he is very proud of is his feed cutter, which he also dated back to 1904. It cuts corn stocks into better pieces, so the cows could eat all of the corn. Both of these pieces of machinery were refurbished and cleaned up, back to a useable state. When he completes a project, he puts an identifying brass tag on the machinery or engine.

Ron explained that he finds joy in "cleaning it up and bringing things back to life. I am no expert at anything, I am no mechanic."

His humbleness is an overarching theme as he proudly shows his "what's its," which Ron fondly refers to tools, machines or other stately hardware that he brought home to discover and refurbish.

"I like to get out the 'what's its' for people. Who knows what it is — it took a lot of research, but I know what it is," he grinned.

On one wall, there are tools hanging in an orderly fashion. Included are handsaws and other tools. He pointed to one unusual tool made from iron that had a long handle and a large double-fork on the end.

"That took a lot of research to find what that was," he exclaimed.

It turned out that during the early days of the railroad, they had to break the ice out of the switches where the track slides over. On the old refrigerator cars, where they filled ice bins on top, if the chunks were too big, the tool was used to break it up to go down the hole.

"Who would think? I like railroad stuff, logging stuff and farming stuff. It was a find, but it was a fierce battle to find out what that was," he said.

In addition to the engines, cars and machinery, Ron also has worked on old tube radios. He still has a collection in his barn. He found the former more interesting, although he was good enough at repairing radios that he was once offered a job doing just that. He already had a full-time job at that time however, which he retired from in 1994.

He picked up an object that looked like a small potbelly stove with a handle. He acquired it from a family member and couldn't quite figure out what it was used for, as the top didn't match up with any chimney pipes that he could find. It turned out to be a tinner's furnace —used for heating old soldering irons.

Ron grinned as he showed his new find.

"Another 'what's it.'"


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