Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

November 5, 2012

Belcher honored for military service, restoring antique autos

BLUEFIELD — Claude Belcher was restoring antique automobiles long before he joined with other automobile enthusiasts of the area in 1991 to establish the Bluestone Region Antique Automobile Club of America. On Sunday, several fellow club members, family and friends joined together to celebrate Belcher’s lifetime of dedication to preserving American automotive history.

Belcher, 88, was born in Capels, attended public school in McDowell and Wyoming counties, and had quit school to work in the coal mines before he graduated from high school. However, after only three or four months mining coal, “I got a letter from the President in 1943, asking me to serve in the military,” he said.

During his term in the U.S. Navy, the first two ships he served on — the USS Catoctin and the USS Colbert, were both torpedoed and sunk. When World War II ended, he was serving aboard the USS Yorktown.

“The Yorktown was my last ship,” he said. “By that time I was a Petty officer, third class. A lot of people who had more education than me didn’t do that well.”

Although Belcher spent most of his working career filling every imaginable position in the coal mines from miner and electrician to mechanic and more. In his spare time, he owned about 300 cars, restored several antique cars, owned dirt-racing cars and rode his Harley-Davidson motorcycle across country with his wife, Helen as his passenger.

“Me and the wife went up to Philadelphia one time, but back then, it wasn’t anything like it is now,” he said.

“I did a lot of racing back then, but I didn’t win very much,” he added.

“Through the years, he’s helped most of our members restore their cars,” Bob Bageant said of Belcher. “Claude’s a good mechanic, and his restorations are excellent.”

As part of their meeting at Belcher’s home in the Midway section of Bluefield, fellow members presented Belcher an American flag to honor his service during World War II.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com

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