I was even more stunned by the "fleet" - a 1950-something Vespa Ape, a 1950-something Saab 93, a bulbous little sedan with a 3-cylinder 2-stroke engine. I had heard of these, but had never seen one in the flesh; they were known in their day as the "corn popper" Saabs, and while very smooth under way, when idling they did indeed sound like a movie-theatre popcorn maker gone psycho. The Saab was his "big car" - there were two other members of the fleet! One was the Subaru 360 sedan I had seen him driving to work, and a matching Subaru 360 van, the tiniest van I have ever seen.
All of these vehicles were, of course, clean, polished, waxed, and well serviced. The model designation 360 did not come about by accident; they both had 360cc 2-stroke, 2-cylinder engines, making about 25 hp. Thomas said the 0-60 time on any of them was "probly measured in hours, if it will even do 60". Oh, and there was a 2-stroke Craftsman lawn mower which lived behind the Saab.
The house itself was similarly surprising. Walking on the floor in the house was like walking on a slab; it was that solid. I later saw that in the crawlspace under the house were a couple dozen 3" concrete pavers, each supporting a house jack, each supporting a strategic place on the subfloor, keeping the house level and sturdy. The interior walls had no drywall or plaster, but 1/2"X6" boards as wall covering. Thomas had removed all of this from the exterior walls, insulated them with fiberglass insulation, replaced the boards, and painted it all. While the wall boards were off, he had upgraded the wiring and plumbing. He had insulated the ceiling. Added a window-unit air conditioner. (the place was heated by a gas floor furnace) He said that very little money was spent, relatively; it was mostly just elbow grease. I admired him for his initiative.
A couple of his coworkers at the metal yard had some interesting vehicles, also. One was an Allstate car, a rebranded Kaiser Henry J, sold by Sears for only two years, 1952 and 1953. The other was a 1950-something Checker Marathon, the old NYC taxi type thing, only his was a kind of British-racing-green color, also in fine condition.
I lost track of Thomas when I moved away from Bessemer, and don’t even know if he is still around, as he would be close to 70 by now. I know that his little house is not; I was in Bessemer a few years ago, and thought to just check on it, and drove by, but his old little neighborhood is all garden homes now. Shame.