Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Icons of Speed and Style: Ray Fahrner's Boot Hill Express

During the early golden years of Big Daddy Roth and custom show cars, Kansas City customizer, Ray Fahrner, created the ‘Boot Hill Express’. Based on the 1850s funeral coach that reportedly carried James Gang member Bob Younger to his grave, it has been the subject of numerous scale models and is certainly one of the wildest and most iconic custom creations to come from the show rod era of the 1960s. Mr. Fahrner passed away in 2005, but Ray and his creations are fondly remembered to this day.
Ray Fahrner's Boot Hill Express death

Here are two entries from the guest book that accompanies his obituary on the Kansas City Star website:

June 05, 2009

RIP Ray. Your work made a lot of people happy. I still remember being a kid and building a boot hill express model for my dad's 40th b'day cake. You're a permanent & welcome part of Americana.

~T S


October 26, 2005

I grew up near his shop in Raytown and we would ride our bikes up there to look at his cool projects. He never chased us off but instead invited us in to ask questions. I remember sitting in the seat of the Boot Hill Express!! Stuff like that you never forget!! I've been a Hot Rod junkie ever since. Many years later my son played football with his grandkids and we got to talk about the old days and I really enjoyed that! RIP Ray.

~T M


Hot rods are probably not the first thing we picture when we think of funerals, but last year I had the privilege of leading a number of these incredible cars to the cemetery for the service of a very well loved man with a passion for custom cars. I only wish I had been able to include a fitting hearse for the procession.

Now I might have my chance, though I doubt I can afford it. Along with other period hot rods and custom show cars, the ‘Boothill Express’ is going up for auction this September. This one-day auction event, billed as Icons of Speed & Style is set for September 26, 2009, at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, California.

Approximately 80 vehicles and several lots of period hot rod and ‘kustom kulture’ memorabilia will be offered. “Each of these cars on offer are cultural icons of the roads and race tracks of America because they encompass every aspect of American engineering, racing ingenuity and cutting edge customization”, said Ian Kelleher, President and COO of RM Auctions.


Ray Fahrner's Boot Hill Express funral
Box cover art from the original 1967 model kit from Monogram

Ray Fahrner's Boot Hill Express memorial

Boot Hill Express Model built by Tommy Kortman using Revell/Monogram’s 1994 Re-release of the original 1967 Monogram kit. (above and below)

Ray Fahrner's Boot Hill Express memorial

The idea of a custom hot rod hearse may not appeal to a wide audience, but I think it is emblematic of the way Baby Boomers are changing the funeral traditions in our culture. Custom cars are an expression of individuality. A large part of their value comes from being unique, from not appealing to everyone. The Boot Hill Express is a perfect example of selectively drawing inspiration from the old as well as the new. While I am very skeptical of the claim that the actual prairie hearse used to carry Bob Younger is incorporated in this vehicle, I have to admire the way that all the disparate parts come together as a whole.


Ray Fahrner's Boot Hill Express memorial

The idea of customization has taken a long time to travel from the Hot Rodder’s garage to the funeral parlor, but it is the same idea. A vehicle and a funeral should be as unique as the person they are crafted for.

In the Baby Boomer funeral service, old traditions and new ones are combined with expressions of the personality, interests and values of the deceased. Just like a hot rod, though, a skilled crafts person is needed to bring all these aspects together into a unified whole. This is the challenge for funeral directors today, and we can all learn from the vision, craftsmanship, and attention to detail displayed in Ray Fahrner’s work.

Auction Catalogue and information

Thanks to the blog Boing Boing , for their post on the auction!

2 comments:

Lenette said...

Pat, this was a fun post, loved the link to the featured vehicles coming up for auction.

I can think of several boomers (myself included) that would love a final ride on the Boot Hill Express.

Smoke the tires, please.

new york limo said...

Why wait until I kick the bucket? I'd take that out for a spin everyday if I could get my hands on it.

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