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Ron Ludford’s passion for restoring makes him ‘King of the Hill’

Community Portrait
By: Story and photo Michael Kirby
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What you want to do in retirement varies from person to person. Every working person has a different dream for the years of life that do not require steady 40-hour workweeks. For Auburn’s Ron Ludford, his retirement in 1997 has allowed him to have fun with old engines and vintage cars. Ludford came to Auburn in 1959 and started working for Don Robinson Sand and Gravel right after he graduated from Placer High School. “I started at the bottom like everyone, loading and delivering coal and firewood in the winter months,” Ludford said. He worked his way up the ladder and spent most of his career at Robinson’s driving dump and water trucks, and ended up moving large construction equipment in a truck with a nine-axle low bed trailer for many years. Ludford worked on many local projects like the Auburn Dam, moving equipment at the dam site. He then went to work on the Sugar Pine Dam project in 1977. He also worked on the Foresthill Bridge, driving a water truck below the bridge on freshly cut construction roads. In his 34-year career he has moved all types of equipment all over the country. In retirement Ludford’s passions have run from restoring late 19th century hit-and-miss antique four-stroke engines to rebuilding Model A cars. Looking around his home in Auburn, his interests are not hard to spot. There’s an old Fordson tractor and miscellaneous pieces of rusting mining equipment included in the landscaping of his front and backyards. “When I was working I’d be on people’s ranches with the low-bed and I’d see old motors and mining equipment. I was always interested in old machines,” he said. At a vintage engine swap with his son, he purchased a three-horsepower Fairbanks-Morse motor that needed a little bit of work and that got Ludford interested in restoring turn-of-the-century gas engines. He has built and displayed many of his vintage engines at the Gold Country Fair and at other vintage engine meets. Ludford soon got into old tractors originally built in the 1920s and 1930s, and he found a Doodlebug and restored it to working order. Doodlebugs are tractors made from old cars by farmers during World War II when factory tractors were in short supply. Dabbling with old tractors led Ludford to working on Model A Fords. Ludford also met his partner, Dianna Hudson, at a local vintage car show. Together they own two Ford AA trucks, the Doodlebug, a roadster, a pick-up, a speedster and a sedan, all made in the late 1920s and early 1930s. They have been restored, but two have been left in original but mechanically sound condition. One car Ludford found five years ago had been parked in a chicken barn since 1951. “Most people are pack rats and thank God for that because we have been able to preserve history and our heritage,” Ludford said. Currently, Ludford’s pride and joy is a 1929 Model A Ford that he has customized into a Speedster racecar. Ludford is a member of F.A.S.T., a national organization that is dedicated to improving the performance of Model A automobiles. Club members rebuild these four-cylinder cars under strict guidelines into racecars with approved modifications and race them in sanctioned F.A.S.T. races. Ludford competed with his car in a F.A.S.T.-sponsored hill climb race this past May in Auburn near the old dam site at the end of Maidu Drive. Ludford was the overall winner, covering the one-eighth-mile uphill straightway in 8.97 seconds with a top speed of 63.41 mph and was crowned “King of the Hill.” Ludford lives in Auburn with his partner, Dianna Hudson. He spends most days tinkering with cars and motors, looking for his next interesting project.