WOOD LAKE - Steve Pottratz lovingly restores classic pickup trucks in his garage in Wood Lake. He takes five to six years on each one, with help from his mother Dorothy - which isn't bad considering he has been blind for the past 25 years.
"I do it by feel and memory," Pottratz said. "I used to be a truck driver and mechanic."
Pottratz started losing his sight as a result of diabetes in his mid-30s.
Steve Pottratz restores classic pickup trucks by feel and memory — with a little help from his mother, Dorothy.
"I've been messing around with cars since I was 15, but I never got into restoring them until I lost my sight," he said.
After he lost his sight, Dorothy was reading him the ads in the Hy-Vee Trader and found a Chevy 3/4 ton pickup for sale. It was, according to Steve Pottratz, in really bad shape and should have been sent to the junkyard.
Instead, he got it running and then started to restore the body, almost giving up several times throughout the process.
"We sold it at Austin to a woman who drove it all the way to the Twin Cities," Dorothy Pottratz said. "She's always wanted a 1950 pickup."
That got him started restoring old pickups and recently a tractor for a neighbor. His mother helps by handing him tools, sometimes climbing inside the engine compartment to help. She also drives the truck and trailer to haul the restored vehicles to car shows.
"We go all over to car shows in Ghent, Marshall, Brookings and Tracy," Dorothy Pottratz said. "This Saturday we're going to Old Sod Days in Belview."
These days, Dorothy, who is 74, is slowed by a cast on her foot but only a little.
"Skydiving," Dorothy Pottratz said. "I jumped in a tandem harness with the instructor. He told me to draw my legs up as we approached the ground, but I stretched them out instinctively, and he landed on my ankle."
Lately, Steve Pottratz has taken on a new hobby that shows quicker results than restoring old pickups and tractors: restoring old pedal-powered toy cars and tractors. He currently has four pedal tractors and 11 cars, some of which he'll take to Belview.
"Most are already in good condition, and I don't have to work on them much," Steve Pottratz said.
Steve and Dorothy Pottratz also make cloth dolls over wood frames to be passengers in the vehicles.
"Most are from Rochester, farm sales and such." Dorothy Pottratz said. "Steve has to go up there once a year for a physical, and this collector lives just a few miles away. We'll go up again in mid-October."