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Antique cars, 1950s diner adorn county supervisor's farm
Demartini pic1
County Supervisor Jim DeMartini sits in one of his 12 classic cars outside his newly finished 1950's diner. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER / The Journal

About the only thing missing from the 1950’s diner set up in Jim DeMartini’s rural Ceres almond orchard is a crowd. But give the farmer and county supervisor enough time and crowds will come – probably with poodle skirts and men with greased back pompadours.

Construction on DeMartini’s 9,000-square-foot classic automobile warehouse on Jennings Road is finished and last-minute touches are being added on the diner portion. The stainless steeled diner entrance capped by the red neon-lighted letters announce to the visitor that it’s Jim’s Diner. Inside is nothing less than you’d find in a ‘50s diner in a big city, complete with red and white checkered floor tiles, 12 red and white booths, a six-stool soda counter, Rockola juke box, a wooden phone booth, Curtis gumball machine, and a politically incorrect cigarette vending machine. DeMartini was inspired to buy the machine after seeing one in a scene from the 1953 movie “Dragnet.” About the only things DeMartini needs to add are pinball and Coke vending machines.

DeMartini, 59, admits that his successes in farming have allowed him such extravagant personal collections of 16 rare and expensive cars, and the new diner.

“We’re actually going to use it for fundraisers,” said DeMartini, who is hosting a Jan. 29 fundraiser to benefit Court Appointed Special Advocates, (CASA), a non-profit organization that helps neglected and abused children. “We’ll do it for non-profits, for those who are interested.”

On the other side of the glass windows facing the interior of the warehouse are 12 classic and highly prized cars collected by DeMartini that are hardly limited to the 1950s. His rarest automobile is a 1909 Locomobile, one of only two left in the world, he said. On rare occasion he has driven the Locomobile, such as when Patterson celebrated its centennial in 2009.

“They went out of business in 1933 during the Depression,” said DeMartini. “They started out making steam engines.”

Next rarest is a 1921 DeMartini truck made in San Francisco. It’s only one of seven that exist today. George DeMartini manufactured the trucks from 1919 to 1934, turning out about 300 per year for farm use or as garbage collection trucks. Before he invented the first tilting bed garbage truck, the city of San Francisco was used horses and wagons for garbage hauling.

“It’s extremely rare. They all got melted down during the Second World War. This thing was a mess when I got it and I got it completely refurbished.”

The wood used in the bed of the truck is Honduran mahogany, the original wood used.

Even restoring the solid rubber wheels took an effort. DeMartini had the steel wheels shipped to Kansas where a company molded the rubber onto the rim itself. “They made the tire on the rim.”

The truck that bears his same name is a rough ride, he admits, but then again top speed is only 27 mph.

His 1929 Franklin truck, purchased in 1986, is one of 12 remaining. A member of the Horseless Carriage Club, DeMartini took it to an event in Mendocino. He is also in the process of restoring a 1934 Franklin and a 1969 GTO.

DeMartini also owns the rare version of the Ford Edsel, the 1958 Citation. It’s the only model sitting on a Mercury frame and equipped with a gas-guzzling Lincoln Continental 410 cubic-inch motor. The Edsel, named after one of Henry Ford’s sons, was a dismal failure – some say because it was so ugly – and it lost the Ford Motor Company $300 million.

“It is ugly,” admitted DeMartini. “Just look at the front end. It’s a very radical style. There was a recession back in ’58 and car sales were down and they just didn’t sell. I kind of like it.”

Half of the cars DeMartini purchased he fully restored himself, but he now concentrates on cars in tip top shape “because I don’t have the time any more to do it myself.”

Some of the cars in his collection were bought because they remind him of other cars he or relatives have owned. His 1969 Cougar Eliminator is similar to the 1967 he owned while in high school. The 1953 Buick Super which he found in Chicago, is like one his dad owned. His 1956 Packard is like one his future wife, Anne, had in her family.

A 1948 Cadillac Fleetwood with a flat-head V-8 engine, was acquired in an auction from a Carson City museum.

“I love cars,” said DeMartini in explaining his compulsion to collect. “As soon as I get one, I’m looking for another. It’s a disease.”

As busy as he is ranching and representing District 5 from Patterson to Ceres, how does DeMartini enjoy his collection? By occasionally driving one to the county office in downtown Modesto. That can be impractical when you’re talking his super charged 1941 Willey’s 700 pickup which gets six miles per gallon.

“This is all engine. When I go in it sets off about 20 of the car alarms inside the parking garage. The sound of the engine just vibrates the whole building. It’s kind of an out-of-place car.”

His 2008 Dodge Viper – which cost him a cool $90,000 – sees little road action too. The 10-cylinder engine with stainless steel headers only has 5,000 miles on it.

“This is supposed to be a 200 mph car.”

Anne DeMartini lays claim to the 1974 Jaguar XKE, but then again there is also a Mazarati and Rolls that she routinely drives.

Another rare car, a 1970 Plymouth Superbird, came from Wisconsin. It’s actually a race car that requires a rear spoiler to stabilize it.

The warehouse also includes two theme rooms, one filled with a 1910-eras room filled with old furniture, crank phone and a wheelchair. The other room is filled with household appliances, like the antique gas engine clothes washer once belonging to Jerry Clark of Ceres.

“I’m just trying to recreate an office of about a hundred years ago,” said DeMartini.