By John Baeke

Contributing Writer

Valley residents might be more accustomed to seeing Deputy Sheriff Michael Hollon chasing down villains on the streets of Santa Ynez, but all is not as it appears.

Bad Boy Michael Hollon with his pinup Breann and their Rat Rod.

Seems when Hollon is out of uniform, he has a darker side. My informants revealed that the deputy recently succumbed to the Rat Rod movement. What would cause one of our finest to have such a fall from grace?

Which prompts the question, “Whatsa Rat Rod?” I was determined to find out.

On my quest I quickly discovered that no manmade contraption is so polarizing as a Rat Rod. You either love them or hate them. Seeing one drive down the street can stir emotions ranging from whimsy to intimidation. Mothers have been known to cover their children’s eyes.

Rat Rods tend to be a hodge-podge of parts, making many impossible for even the DMV to identify. Some have enough power for speed runs on the lakebeds; others have the torque of a tractor. Certainly, no two are ever alike.

You can’t say they evoke memories from days gone by, as nothing resembling these bizarre creations ever existed during our youth — unless you recall Jed Clampett and the Beverly Hillbillies’ monstrosity (Filmways Television), a truck of sorts made from a 1921 Oldsmobile touring car.

So, as I still did not know what a Rat Rod is, I decided to ask some friends who are widely known to have automotive expertise.

Overhead fan, steering wheel spinner, torn leather seats — it all lends character.

Who better to first ask than Sandra Button, chairman of the Pebble Beach Concours d’ Elegance? Said Sandra, “Rat Rods? Not exactly my cup of tea! But these cars do indeed emerge from true car guy passion and skills and serve as both historic tribute and modern vision.”

From Jay Leno, famed Burbank car guy: “A pretty ratty looking car, until you open the hood.”

I turned to Scott George, director of the Miles Collier Revs Institute (Naples, Florida): “A Rat Rod is functional, creative, unique and an acquired taste based on an earlier trend.”

Next I asked Dana Mecum (Walworth, Wisconsin), founder of the world’s largest collector car auction. “Rat Rods are today’s artistic form of flattery of early hot rods. They are put together with whatever they could on a shoestring budget.”

Finally to Leslie Kendall, chief historian of the famed Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles: “Whether built in period or newly constructed, Rat Rods are assembled from improbable collections of disparate parts, distinguished by their untidy, well-worn appearance that gives them a kind of folk art appeal and belies their technical sophistication and performance potential.”

So if I put all this together, what my five automotive aficionados describe is a car which is historic yet ratty looking; technically sophisticated yet built on a shoestring budget; and artistic but requiring an acquired taste

Still confused, I took a deep breath and called Deputy Hollon, and he invited me to experience his beastly Rat Rod. Here is what I can report.

From expert Hollon: “A Rat Rod is a Frankenstein type of vehicle. It is made to tear up and down the roads. It’s not shiny. It has rust, discolored paint and made out of different makes and types of vehicles. It is what the builder wants it to be; no right or wrong.”

Now I’m getting it. In Hollon’s case, his “Frankenstein” began as a 1949 Ford F6 used as a boom-truck in the Bakersfield oil fields. It was created by Rat Rodder Larry Mason, and Hollon had been secretly admiring this rusty conglomeration from afar. But it was Hollon’s beautiful wife, Breann, who pushed him to buy it.

Which brings up the next curiosity of this Rat Rod (dare I say) cult. These odd, often bizarre cars and trucks of the bad boys, seem to attract young, attractive women, eager to take a walk on the wild side.

At undisclosed locations where Rat Rodders will gather, and protected by their “don’t tread on me” men, you will find women. Their personalities seem to be reflected by their attire: Rockabilly, Steam Punk and (my personal favorite) Pinup.

Said Rat Rodder Hollon, “Owning a Rat Rod is a thrill, exciting and even a tiny bit terrifying, but also relaxing and peaceful. It’s a lifestyle.”

I am not sure I will ever completely understand just exactly what a Rat Rod is, but I am beginning to discover that few others completely comprehend it either.

Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart (1958-81) famously said about pornography, “I shall not attempt to define it … but I know it when I see.”

My guess is that Stewart might have applied that same philosophy toward Rat Rods.