Ron Johns missed out on 12 of the 15 minutes of fame Andy Warhol said we all get in our life times.
Johns doesn’t want the 12 minutes back. He’s content with the three he did get in the 1992 movie Hoffa starring Jack Nicholson and Danny DeVito.
The Millbury native, now 76, played a produce driver, however, he didn’t get the part because of his acting ability. He got it because he owned a 1927 Chevy one-ton pick-up truck. Twentieth Century Fox leased the truck to add authenticity to the time Hoffa organized the Detroit Produce Market in the 1930s.
|Top: Ron Johns with his 1927 Chevy truck, which appeared in the 1992
|Bottom: The truck after the tornado picked it up and blew it 1,500 to
2,000 feet away from the barn it was housed in.
Johns’ few minutes of fame came in a scene in which Jack Nicholson (Hoffa) pulled a crowbar from a toolbox mounted on the running board of the 1927 Chevy truck, which Ron was driving, and smashed a mirror on another truck.
Johns recalled his movie exploits as the second anniversary of the June 5th tornado that devastated parts of Lake Township and Ottawa County approached. The twister, which destroyed Lake High school and killed seven, leveled the Johns’ family home.
Ron remembers that Saturday night when he and his wife Jan sought refuge in their basement: “We heard the warnings. Jan started gathering up a few things to take to the basement and I went outside to watch. I could see the Sunoco station turn black all of a sudden and the power lines go down, fire flying off of them. In the basement the windows blew in like someone throwed in a couple of hand grenades. I did not see the storm. I did not hear it…Six chimney blocks fell off the chimney and hit her and me…Afterwards, she went upstairs and said, ‘You can’t believe it. No house. No barn. No nothing.’ And, we didn’t even hear a two-by-four break.”
Both Ron and Jan suffered minor injuries from the falling chimney block. The Collins Road residents are thankful they emerged from that basement with only scrapes and bruises. They stopped by the Press office a few weeks ago to let readers know the fate of the 1927 Chevy truck, which was featured in a Press story when the movie debuted.
Ron bought the truck in 1976 from his sister-in-law’s parents who only used it on the farm to haul grain back and forth to the elevators. It had only been driven for 24,164 miles when the twister hit and was nearly all original. Ron considered it the centerpiece of his extensive memorabilia collection which he housed in a 42 x 60-foot Morton building. Nearly every inch of floor and wall space was covered with restored tractors and cars, antique gas pumps and porcelain signs such as one promoting International Harvester.
Ron started collecting farm memorabilia in the 1950s, but that came to an abrupt end when the twister destroyed or flung his treasured pieces to parts unknown. The tangled frame of the 1927 Chevy was found in a neighbor’s farm field, 1,500 to 2,000 feet away from Ron’s private museum. Ironically, Ron had a commitment to sell the truck to a collector from Catawba for $12,000. He was supposed to meet with him two days after the tornado struck. He ended up selling it for $375 to a Perrysburg man who bought it for parts.
Press readers may also have seen the truck when Ron and Jan drove it in homecoming parades in Genoa, Millbury, Walbridge and Luckey. Both Ron and Jan are well-known in the Lake Township community. Ron spent a 30-year career working for the Lake Schools, retiring as supervisor of building and grounds. Jan spent 25 years at Lake working as a library assistant.
Ron also participated in national truck shows and was a member of the American Truck Historical Society. Hollywood discovered his truck when producers contacted the society. Twentieth Century Fox leased it for $1,500 and paid Ron to haul it back and forth to Detroit on a flat-bed truck as top speed was only 24 miles per hour. Ron was also paid for his role as an extra and he had the bonus of chatting with Nicholson and DeVito.
The movie company made two changes to the truck: a tarp was added and a sign that read Beacon Produce Shipping was painted on the doors.
Today, all that Ron has left of his three minutes of fame are a few photos and his memories. But, he’s not losing any sleep over what he lost in the tornado. Some of his neighbors lost more. He and Jan are just thankful they emerged from that basement with their health and each other.
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