Haute Profiles: Patrick Dunham

By: Keri Yousif

Patrick Dunham is a few years from retirement, but nothing about his life says he will quit working. His passion? Engines:  “I learned how to repair cars when I was a kid. I’d go up the street to a neighbor’s house, and he taught me everything, how to build and repair engines.”

Engine is a good word for Mr. Dunham. In his 60s, he is his own engine of sorts, a locomotive of physical and mental activity, restoring and rebuilding old pick-up trucks. And then there are the vintage bicycles, the custom trailers, and the motorcycles.

“I had to give up the motorcycles. With everyone on their phones, texting, I just had too many close calls.” For the moment, it’s just pick-up trucks. He restored a 1963 GMC for his son, and he is working on a 1955 Chevy, which was a gift from his father.

The inside has been restored, and the front frame is covered in a layer of matte primer. Under the hood is the new engine:  intricate, pristine, built by hand, and the inside of the hood has been painted a deep burnt orange, a teaser for what is to come.

“I got it from my dad when I was 18 years old,” Mr. Dunham explained. “It’s been in the garage for so long. I’ve been working on it for the past 15 years. You know, when I was raising my two boys, there never seemed to be time for me.” A small tabby, Miss Kitty, patrols the garage while we talk, weaving in and out of the frames.

Dunham’s maternal family emigrated from Hungary to the United States. His mother moved from Buffalo, NY to Evansville, IN during WWII to work in the Evansville Shipyard, which made Landing Ship Tanks. There, his mother met his father, who was in the U.S. Navy.

His father worked in steel mills, drove trucks, and was self-taught as a cutler: “My mother was homesick for New York, so they moved out to Buffalo for a few years, and my dad worked in the steel mills for a while.” Mr. Dunham said his family used to visit Buffalo every couple of years, taking the train from Terre Haute to Buffalo and later making the drive.

These days, Dunham is focused on the 55’ Chevy, and the custom trailer in progress behind it:  “I go to car shows, show the truck. I’m thinking of restoring an old teardrop trailer. Then when I go, you know like to Evansville and it’s a three-day event, I’ll just crawl in the back and sleep.”

Mr. Dunham has lots of projects on his list:  maybe an addition to the garage, fixing up a slot car racing track, the teardrop trailer, but as he gets closer to retirement he said he might just “kick back a bit, sit on my feet, and let my dog run around.”



2 responses to “Haute Profiles: Patrick Dunham”

  1. Really appreciate stories like this about interesting local people! I’m not even a “car person,” but I enjoyed reading about Mr. Dunham and his passion for all things related to engines.


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