Several local auto shop owners and volunteers came together Saturday, Aug. 21 to rebuild and upgrade Kaleb Duckworth’s truck in honor of the 19-year-old who tragically lost his life in July following a fight at the Dawson County Applebee’s restaurant.
Brad Ash, owner of Forsyth County-based Moonlight Performance and Auto, said that he’d seen several posts on social media about Duckworth. Ash, who does a lot of performance upgrades and repairs on Chevrolet trucks, had never met Duckworth or his family members but learned through social media how much the teenager had loved his truck, so he reached out to Duckworth’s father, Tommy, with an offer.
“I just kept seeing it pop around on the internet when all of this was happening,” Ash said. “I saw the truck meet they had and Tommy and Amanda were in Kaleb’s truck and I said ‘OK, he’s got a Chevrolet,’ so I wrote Tommy that ‘Hey, if there’s anything needing done to the truck, I’d like to do it.’ He said that would be great because that’s something Kaleb had always wanted.”
While Ash did not know what specific repairs and additions Duckworth would have wanted, he had spent enough time with trucks that he knew what someone Duckworth’s age liked most. So he told Tommy Duckworth that he would love to donate the labor and parts to fix up the truck his son had loved so much.
Tommy Duckworth and his wife, Amanda, were touched by the offer and readily agreed. As word about Ash’s idea spread in the car community, several other local auto shop owners offered to donate time, parts and labor to pitch in too.
“Word kind of got out and a couple more shops pitched in and bought parts here and there,” Ash said. “Basically, we rebuilt the whole motor, brand new transmission, new seats, everything all in a day. There was me, Expert Auto Care, Gerald’s Automotive, and John Tessier donated the transmission. Then, Silver City Tire came in after the fact and donated a full set of tires for the truck.”
Ash and the other volunteers spent all day on Saturday working on the car. Ash said that they worked on every part of the truck except the rear, which Duckworth replaced right before he passed away.
They even personalized the new seats they installed, embroidered “In memory of Kaleb Duckworth.” While they were not sure at first whether or not they could finish it in a day, Ash said that they managed to pull it off through a lot of teamwork.
“About three of us got over here about 7 or 8 Saturday morning, and there were zero flaws — everybody pitched in, everybody did their part and it was just flawless,” Ash said. “It was honestly just meant to be the way I see it.”
Tommy and Amanda Duckworth, along with two of Kaleb’s best friends, stayed and watched for the day while the project was underway. According to Amanda, seeing so many people she had never met working to restore and upgrade her son’s truck touched her and her husband deeply.
“We didn’t even know anybody; we showed up and it was that many people who loved him even though they didn’t even know him,” Amanda said. “Just to know that many people understand what the truck meant to him and wanted to help fix it up — there was so much love at that place they made us feel just like family when we were there.”
Throughout the day of working on the truck, the Duckworth family got to know each of the volunteers there, and Amanda said that by the time they left, it felt like they were family. Ash said that he feels like he got to know not only the Duckworth family, but Kaleb himself, through the stories his family told.
“Probably the best part of this whole thing was hearing all the stories about Kaleb; he just seemed like a pretty cool kid,” Ash said. “I wish I could’ve met him.”
Ash said the biggest reason for him personally to put time and effort into the truck project was that he understands deeply what the family is going through. Ash’s 3-year-old daughter was tragically killed in a car wreck in 2010, so he said that reaching out and comforting a family who is going through what he went through more than a decade ago was incredibly important to him.
“When my daughter passed away, Facebook wasn’t a big thing ... and I had my family and help for sure, but probably one of the best parts of this was everybody when they caught wind of it they just all pitched in and I didn’t have to ask anybody for anything,” Ash said. “So I know exactly what they’re going through, but if this was just a day of peace in their chaos it was worth it for me.”
Both Ash and Amanda Duckworth said that the best part of the project was when the truck was finally finished and they cranked it up for the first time.
“We cried; when kids are big into their motors and stuff like that the sound is what they look for,” Amanda said. “We know what Kaleb likes with the trucks — the louder the better — so that was the highlight of the day.”
Amanda Duckworth said that she knows her son would have loved the finished truck, and that repairing and upgrading it is a great way to honor his memory. The group of mechanics even went so far as to “commit a sin” for the auto world to honor what Kaleb had wanted.
“It’s a Chevrolet truck and our son had a Ford muffler in the bed that his grandpa had given him, and he was trying to save enough money to pay to get it put on there,” Amanda Duckworth said. “The mechanic said ‘you know this is a sin to put a Ford muffler on a Chevrolet right?’ But then he said ‘if that’s what Kaleb wants we’ll do it’ so it’s got a Ford muffler on it.”
Amanda said that having the truck fixed up like it is and driving it around is a way that she and her husband can feel close to their son.
“Being in that truck feels like Kaleb; he loved that truck so much it’s just like an extension of him, so being able to fix his truck up the way he wanted it is so good,” Amanda Duckworth said. “Some people go to the graveyard to be with their loved ones and we do that too, but this is like having a piece of him — you get in there and it smells like him, and you can just feel him there with you.”