Out of necessity, the personalized licence plate on the latest addition to Paulette Hyshka's classic car collection is missing a few vowels, but the heartfelt message still rings loud and clear: BLT4MOM.
During the week, Hyshka is best known in St. Albert as the driver of a silver catering truck, supplying hungry commercial and industrial workers with coffee, muffins and snacks.
But on weekends she's not far from the steering wheel, working to build and maintain three classic cars out of her northeast Edmonton garage. The latest addition, a sparkling blue 1968 Buick Skylark custom convertible, means more to her and her family than the others.
As the licence plate suggests, Hyshka built the car as a tribute to her late mother Ina, and she was rushing this past week to put the finishing touches on it to have it ready for its big debut at Rock'n August in St. Albert.
"It's got a lot of sentimental value and it's a memento of Mom," she said. "I know she's watching us and she's loving it."
Ina passed away around Christmas 2004 and the Skylark was the car she drove many, many times after the family bought it more than 30 years ago.
"Mom was the biggest car lover that ever lived," Hyshka said, noting she was such a big NASCAR fan that the family inscribed late driver Dale Earnhardt's No. 3 on her headstone. "They bought it in 1977. I remember the day they brought it home. We'd go to A&W every Friday. It was yellow when they bought it."
Ina held down a government job for just shy of 40 years and Hyshka said she's looking forward to having many of her mother's former co-workers come down and look at the car.
"The people from her work, they'll remember this car," she said. "When it's done, I'm taking it down to the government [buildings] and they won't believe it."
Hyshka had plenty of turns behind the wheel herself throughout the years.
"I was the only kid in Grade 9 driving a Buick Skylark convertible," she said with a laugh. "I was 14, I had a learner's permit and Dad would let me drive that car to school every day. He'd pick me up and I got to drive it, so that was pretty cool."
Restoring the car has been a long and sometimes frustrating project for Hyshka and her father, Alvin. They have been working on it for more than eight years now — starting even before Ina passed away — and the journey has been fraught with setbacks, minor problems that turned into major headaches and even a few shady businessmen.
"[One assembler] quoted me $8,000 to assemble the whole car, but I realized there's always problems and nothing ever goes right, so I agreed we could go up to $10,000. The bill was at $10,000, and we got a car that was half done," she said. "I was not too happy. It left us with a car with no chrome trim, no upholstery, no glass, no brakes."
Genuine parts in good or even salvageable condition for older cars are extremely hard to come by and the reproduction parts that are more readily available aren't always the best fit.
But with the help of companies like Red Line Custom Autobody in St. Albert, LM's Polish and Detail in Edmonton and R&I Upholstery in Ardrossan — who have put in more than 500 hours of work combined — the Skylark is just about in show and shine shape.
"We never spared anything on this car," Hyshka said. "Everything was bought new and done right the very first time."
This isn't the first time the Skylark has been restored. Around 1981, it was redone at a cost of $10,000, but Ina didn't have great luck with the car.
"She'd rear-end somebody and no sooner would it be fixed than she'd do it again," Hyshka laughed. "After the last time, we just took it off the road and it just sat around."
Even a week away from Rock'n August's showcase event, the Saturday afternoon show and shine in Lions Park, Hyshka and her dad were scrambling to fix problems with the exhaust —which was mounted too close to the rear tires — and the passenger's door before getting it safety inspected and insured in time.
"We're having to redo a lot of [the assembler's] work," she said, noting the family had originally hoped to have the car ready to show by the annual Powerama show in Edmonton in April.
"It will definitely all be worth it," she said. "When it's inspected, registered and insured, it will all be worth it. It's one beautiful car. It's been a long, stressful process, but it'll be worth it in the long run."
And having her father by her side to work on such a special project has made it that much more meaningful.
"Sometimes we don't always get along. We have to have a lot of patience; sometimes, within five minutes, we're arguing, so we put everything away, go back in the house and that's it for the day," she said with a laugh. "But it means the world to have my dad here. I couldn't do this without my dad."
Hyshka has been showing off her classic cars for almost 25 years now, starting with a 1967 Chevrolet Camaro R/S SS convertible.
"We bought that from a farmer's field in Viking, Alberta. My dad bought that when I was 14," she said. "They made a tow bar, put wheels on it and towed it home. It was basically a graduation present, if I graduated. But I had put so much money into it by the time I graduated that it was my car."
She's also got a 1933 Ford roadster purchased from Edmonton hot rod builder Randy Semaka that she calls "the best car I own."
Classic car circles are typically dominated by men, so when Hyshka started out, she said she was a bit of an anomaly. But she has been able to fit in very well and has even started to see more women coming out to take part.
"They treat me just like everyone else," she said. "When I started showing my Camaro 26 years ago, I was the only woman out there showing cars and that Camaro was probably the first one in Alberta that was customized the way we did it. But the guys treat me like everyone else; they're cool.
"I find nowadays there are a lot more girls getting involved in showing. I'm not the only one out there anymore. There are usually a couple of us, at least."
The road ahead
While Hyshka hasn't been showing her cars at Rock'n August for too many years — she admits she used to only show indoors for fear of unpredictable weather — she said those who attend the St. Albert show are a little more knowledgeable than the onlookers at the average car show.
"For Rock'n August, we'd like to have all three [cars] there, but I'm not sure we're going to have the drivers or the help," she said.
But the oohs and ahhs of onlookers are not limited to formal car shows — there are plenty of times her neighbours have stopped by to check on the vehicle's progress.
Hyshka said seeing those reactions is priceless, no matter where it happens.
"It's very overwhelming," she said. "It makes you feel really good inside."
And she hopes to keep that feeling going by purchasing another hot rod from Semaka in the future. But she insists that the Skylark will be the last car she builds herself.
"This will be the last one I build as long as I live. My heart can't take the stress," she said.