Recovering and restoring a family heirloom

Deborah Mansfield is not restoring the truck body to pristine condition, rather to allow it to keep it's aged look to maintain the integrity of the brand.
Staff Writer

Different things mean family to different people. Things that make you recall your youth and the time you spent growing up are always special. Joey Michel had a piece of his youth returned to him and is having it restored to keep at his farm.

Michel grew up working at Michel's Packing Company in Meridian. It was a small operation, with three route delivery trucks and about 20 employees.

"My grandparents came from Germany, after World War I, "Michel said. "My grandfather was a sausage maker there and started a small meat packing plant in Meridian in 1937."

Michel's family were hard-working people and as the first grandson, Michel's face became part of the brand for the company. The ham and bacon products became Joey's Brand.

"My face was on the ham and bacon products," Michel said. "And it was on the delivery trucks. We would show up for work at 4 a.m. and not go home until the job was done. That might be 6 p.m. or later. We were closed on Sunday, but we would still go to the plant and check the refrigeration units. So we worked 6 1/2 days a week."

The company was sold in 1970, Michel was offered a job at Bryan Foods. He didn't want to return to meat packing at first.

"Neese Griffin called me and offered me a position," Michel said. "I wasn't interested. I thought all meat packers worked from 4 a.m. until, and I had had enough. When he told me the hours and the vacation time and the pay, I was ready to work for Bryan Foods."

But Michel had not forgotten about where he came from. While attending his uncle's funeral, a friend told him he knew where one of the old delivery truck bodies could be found.

"I wanted it, after riding by to see it, I called the tractor dealership where it was the next day," Michele said. "It took two years for the people to call me to come get it, the next day. I had had foot surgery, I wasn't able to walk, but I got in touch with some friends in Meridian who brought it out to my farm the next day."

Michel said he was thrilled to get the call to come and pick up the truck body.

"It was emotional for me to see it again," Michel said. "I was so happy to have it. We called Deborah Mansfield to ask her to repaint the original branding that was on the truck. I didn't want it to look brand-new. i wanted it to look like it was old and weather-beaten. She thought it would be an interesting project and agreed to bring it back to life."

Mansfield has been working on the truck body since Saturday. Michel had a small tent erected to give Mansfield some shade to work in.

"This is such a great project," Mansfield said. "I'm so glad they asked me to paint this old truck body. I've never done one of these before. It is a lot harder to paint something to look old than to make it look new. I'm looking forward to finishing it."

Progress on the Michel's Packing Company delivery truck body will be in future editions of the Daily Times Leader.