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Owners Of Lottsville Milling Have Plenty To Keep Busy

Wanda Johnson is ready to race in the 1939 Plymouth drag car that was built by herself, her husband and son. Submitted photo

Todd and Wanda Johnson spend a good share of their workday together as owners of Lottsville Milling Inc., located 17 minutes from Jamestown, in Lottsville, Pa.

Wanda does the book work, waits on customers, places orders and stocks the store and gift shop. She has put a lot time and thought into the product lines and displaying 106 vendors’ goods.

“I love detail,” she said from behind the antique brass cash register. “I’m always thinking — ideas flow.”

The expected tools, work clothes and boots are offered in the country mill store. Then there’s the unexpected such as jewelry, gifts, seasonal decor, drinkable yogurt, ice cream and even racing oil. It is also a NAPA store, possibly the only one with custom-made cabinetry with antique drawer pulls, a library ladder and fancy doors from a church. She brags that she can beat other stores prices on LaCrosse boots and has had customers return after pricing them at other businesses.

Behind the retail area, the 1908 mill manufactures bagged and bulk animal grains. The original beams support 450 tons of grain stored overhead. The 113-year-old line shaft with leather belts and pulleys, is used every day to move the feed. Below, molasses is stored in a tank car from the 1800s.

Work at the mill comes natural for Todd, since he has been doing it for 42 years, starting as a weekend employee while attending school. He began full-time after graduation and purchased the operation in 1996. He is assisted by three employees.

“He does it all,” his wife said. “He helps with everything and does all of the trucking and truck maintenance. He has painted and restored the entire fleet.”

She can be found in the seat next to him in the Freightliner, which hauls 24 tons, or in their small bulk truck if he has an afterhours run to Springville, N.Y for feed. This time of year, they may be spreading lime at neighboring farms, sometimes by the headlights of an impressive 1982 Mack Superliner.

On most weeknights, whether they have a project at the mill or not, dinner is prepared in an Instapot and eaten before they drive the 4 miles to their Bear Lake home. Rarely is there an evening when the two don’t have a project going in their 120-foot by 40-foot garage. Todd has set up the space with a coffee pot and many comforts of home. The walls of the unique two-room garage have many of Mrs. Johnson’s nostalgic finds displayed. She has put thought into the placement of each piece, in an attempt to keep it uncluttered. Therefore, each piece can be seen and appreciated.

On the back wall of one of the rooms, a red lighted Texaco sign hangs above a Chevy bowtie, the emblem found on Chevy cars and dealerships for more than 100 years. A Wayne Feeds sign that hung on the shed at the mill for many years, is on an adjacent wall. A late-1920s, early ’30s Coca-Cola sign hangs nearby. Three hanging lights from a Johnny’s Hot Dogs franchise in Cranberry, Pa., hang above one of the workbenches. Wood flooring from a bowling alley serves as the top for the benches. Two large red, white and black Johnny’s Hot Dogs signs, one vertical and the other horizontal, fill spaces on two walls. A confessional from a Catholic church, which she has converted into a fully automated rest room, is located near the opening between the two large rooms.

The restroom, like the rest of the building, is not the grimy, oily area you would expect to find in a garage where almost daily mechanical work is done, but then the worker doesn’t need to touch the light switch or the handles on the sink.

The main two rooms of the large building is home to many vehicles. Some the Johnson’s use on a regular basis, but most are either future projects, drag racers or the couple’s “babies.”

The condition of the garage is misleading, as much activity goes on in this space. A mechanical job, a body work project or both are usually in progress. To a visitor it appears that Mr. Johnson can fix anything that concerns cars and trucks. He is a self-taught body man.

The couple shares many interests. Among them is their passion for drag racing. Mr. Johnson’s customized 1978 two-door Chevy Malibu wagon was built 26 years ago. The car had four doors and no motor when it was given to him. It underwent many modifications, including the addition of a hood scoop. In 2011-12, the couple, assisted by their son, worked from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. every night for 5 1/2 months to build Mrs. Johnson’s 1939 Plymouth drag car. The car has a 540 cubic inch big block Chevy motor.

“I wanted it to be different,” says the owner. “It’s a girl’s car. I wanted it to be unique.”

As with everything she does, the female drag racer put a lot of thought into the selection of the paint and the design for her car. She decided on Hyundai Beige for the upper part and White Diamond Pearl, a Cadillac color, for the lower section. The two colors are divided by a flowing ribbon painted in House of Color’s Pink Kandy. She appropriately named the racecar “Tickled Pink.” Photos taken of every step of the build were made into a picture book. Later, the Johnson’s used the same colors and design when they painted the golf cart they use at the track for the cars’ tow vehicle.

The lady racer has competed for 11 years and her husband has raced for 13 years.

“I cheerleaded for two years,” she says with a grin.

She runs a quarter mile in an index class at 140 mph and does some nostalgia races, which includes 1972 cars and older. She went up against Steve Miller of The Steve Miller Band in Beaver Springs, Pa.

“Reaction time is important,” she said. “A lot of it is won or lost at the starting line.”

She usually races 10 to 15 weekends each year and her husband 10 weekends in New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio. They have raced when there were 50,000-60,000 fans in the stands and when there were just a few. Their cars are tuned according to the weather conditions.

Mrs. Johnson has a second ’39 Plymouth that she found through the internet which she named Eddy. The couple are the third owners of Eddy, which has 31,000 original miles. Eddy has an interesting patina from many years of being left in a field before he was adopted.

For their everyday transportation, the couple drives a 1981 and a 1984 Mercedes. They keep a 1983 Mercedes for a parts car. Off the top of her head, Mrs. Johnson rattled off a list of the other vehicles they owned, including a 1939 and ’41 Buick, ’40 GMC truck, ’62 Impala, ’70 Nova, ’67 GTO convertible, ’63 Pontiac LeMans, ’55 Chevy and a ’69 Karmann Ghia.

In the near future, the ambitious couple plans to convert a portion of a 1959 Cadillac into a sofa. In their spare time, they do appraisals for people wishing to sell their vehicles.

When asked where they get the motivation and energy, Mrs. Johnson replied, “If you have drive and goals and a vision, you work for it.”

Todd has lived his entire life on the property, buying it from his parents many years ago. Not only have the Johnson’s built new buildings, they have made many alterations to the house. They are in the process of readying a building which they will use for vehicle painting. The four-acre rural property, which they spend three hours mowing each week, came with a view. On a clear day they can see the Valley View Cheese Factory in Conewango, NY and can also watch the fireworks that take place around Chautauqua Lake.

Their son, Tyler, a casting die engineer for Honda in Russells Point, Ohio, followed in his parents’ footsteps. Not only has he helped with some of their projects, he has had a few of his own. He started a five year restoration project on a ’67 Chevelle when he was 12 years old. Several years ago, he modified the body of a 1990s John Deere 200 tractor in order to add a 1937 Ford flat head V-8 engine which would allow it to get up to a speed of 100 mph. His 1995 International 4700 truck project is his pride and joy. The little big truck has a 1978 Chevy dually box. The gas tanks with custom steps came from a school bus that was found in a junkyard.

“Every day of ours lives has been good and it’s gotten better every day,” the wife and mother said.

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