Sometimes you just have to believe in miracles

I’ve been absent from blog space for a while, but as many of you may know, my house was destroyed by fire on December 23. My mother actually passed away on that same day. So Mrs. Lincoln…other than that, how’d you like the play?

My Classic Car

I was 400 miles away with my mom at the time of the fire, but imagine being at her bedside and getting a call at 3:00 am telling me that my house was ablaze and my wife and son were not accounted for. I’ll certainly never forget it. Fortunately about 10 minutes later as I was frantically gathering my stuff to leave, I got another call saying that Ellen & Sam were OK and at a neighbor’s house. That was probably the longest 10 minutes of my life.

I didn’t want to leave my mom, but she had slipped into a coma earlier that day and passed away peacefully about 6 hours after I left. I had been with her constantly for five days prior to this, but now I needed to attend to my family. She would have been the first to tell me to get the hell out of there! Mom was never one to mince words.

We have great next door neighbors, and that’s where I found El & Sam when I finally got back to Evansville. Our two daughters were scheduled to be home the next day, Christmas Eve, and I wasn’t sure where to tell them to come. Fortunately, another one of our neighbors spend their winters in Florida, so they just gave us their house to use until we found a place.

Christmas certainly was different, but not really bad. You can get to a point where you are largely just going thru the motions when it comes to holiday family gatherings. This brought our focus back to what it means to be a family and in a somewhat twisted way, this was one of the best Christmases we’ve ever had.

In early Feb they demolished what was left of our house. As you can tell from the picture, it was pretty much a total loss. I was out there with the demo crew anyway to try to recover anything I could. They were great to work with and let me direct their efforts. I was there for four days; much of it on my knees, sometimes in rain, digging thru the rubble with my hands while the bucket of a massive excavator hovered over my head. I have never worked so hard in my entire life, and I’m a hard workin’ man.

My Classic Car

I knew exactly where everything in that house was, and I knew that there were three areas where there might be family photos. To my amazement, each of those areas yielded some valuable family history; some in pretty good shape, some not so much. Regardless tho, I found things that I thought had been lost forever.

The family albums were in one area and because they were so densely packed, they weren’t completely consumed. Probably 30% of the photos can be recovered. In an area of the basement, I found the plastic storage bin that contained the vast majority of the negatives of all the pictures we had ever taken back in the film camera days. Everything had melted around this bin so as to preserve it. These were probably 80% intact!

The most unbelievable thing tho was that because of the way the house had collapsed, El’s antique desk had fallen thru the floor into the basement and then was buried in a mountain of rubble.

Once I got down to it, I found that although the desk itself was destroyed, its contents were almost completely untouched. That desk contained our wedding albums; all perfect. It also contained each of the kid’s baby books that chronicled their first five years. There was a bag of framed pictures which turned out to be all the pictures we had given to my mom & dad over the years and that had subsequently returned to us when they had either passed away or downsized. All of these were unharmed too.

There were three 5×7 frames that held each of the kid’s 8th grade school picture, but when I removed them from the frames, I found they also contained every previous year’s picture too, all the way back to Kindergarten. There was my hand-colorized 8×10 one-year-old photo from 1954 as well as my 8×10 high school senior class picture. El’s photo album from her youth up thru about ’78 was there as well as all of our diplomas. There was even an old album of mine with pictures from the 60’s and 70’s. Pretty much everything El & I had from our early years, we still have. Unbelievable!

Virtually everything else in the house was incinerated, but these pictures were all I cared about anyway. I have a long road ahead of me to clean and restore the damaged ones, but that’s time I’m more than willing to put in. Plus, I now know how I’ll be spending my retirement (assuming I ever have one). I never really wanted to take up golf anyway.

I went out and purchased a negative scanner and have done a little preliminary experimentation. I have been amazed with the results! This is a pic scanned from one of the negatives from when the kids were little.

My Classic Car

For perspective, Little Sammy is now 21 and 6’2”.

The fire was unfortunate, but everybody’s OK and that’s all that really matters. And the recovery of so many family photos is nothing short of a miracle! We’ve launched into building a new house, and in many ways we’re stronger than ever. I certainly have learned a lot thru the process and if I were to give any advice, it would be to make sure you have adequate coverage in your home owner’s insurance! The emotional component of this is tough enough. The last thing you want to have to deal with on top of that is financial ruin. This can happen to anyone. Trust me. I know.

Happy Motoring,

March 17, 2011
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  1. Tim Painter says:

    Dennis-Wow! What an experience for you and your family to go through. Your upbeat attitude toward life, which is very evident on your TV show, also comes through in your blog. More of us need to look at the bright side even when times are the darkest. My condolences on your mom’s passing. I lost both my parents in a two year period several years ago and know that you can never really be completely prepared for it even though you know it is coming. Best wishes for not only completion of your new home but for the completion of your family pictures restoration project. Sounds every bit as challenging as some of us have gone through with our cars. If you are interested, check out our one-of-a-kind custom ’53 Stude at
    This car was originally customized by my wife’s dad and uncle in the late 50′s in South Dakota. At least 17 cars contributed parts to it.

  2. Karen Dzyak says:

    Great perspective, Denny. In many ways, you all were very lucky, even though this was a most unfortunate incident. That picture of the kids reminds me so much of when I used to babysit them in Cincinnati. Give my best to all of them (and Ellen, too, of course).

  3. Jeff Rowray says:


    I had now idea you had lost your house and more importantly your Mother. I am very sorry. At least the family is OK. I’ll check on my insurance. Thanks. Looking forward to next season.


  4. Lyndon Akins says:


    I am sorry to learn of the loss of your house and mother. You must have had a few moments that you felt like “Job” from the Bible. He encountered one difficulty after the other. But in faith and over time he recovered and was greatly blessed.

    It is interesting that we spend so much time acquiring “things”, but our hands and knees challenges are rewarded with photographs! What a blessing that you were able to recover so many captured memories.

    You are a classy guy and I try to watch your show as often as possible. I pray God’s blessings on your family and new home. I also look forward to more episodes of “My Classic Car and the certified car nut.”

  5. Joel says:

    Dennis my friend you certainly know how to look on good side of life. You are so right that what mattered most, your family and memories, were safe. Let Cindy and I know if there is anything we can do. Best to Ellen.


  6. Jim Barber says:


    I was aware of the house fire through the “SEMA chain”, however I was not aware of your mothers passing. MY condolences for your loss.

    You always remain incredibily upbeat and I envy that quality. Your words above are very inspiring.

    Thanks for sharing.


  7. willy vinton says:

    Dennis, great write up on a tragic affair, truly sorry to hear of the loss of your mother and your home. you have a very good perspective on life and like a lot of us, know what is really important in life. keep up the good work and keep smiling. come see us again for a nice vacation, and bring your family, we have lots of room.
    take care
    willy vinton
    fairbanks, alaska

  8. Fred Phillips says:

    You are an amazing guy.
    From such trying circumstances you remain centered, focusing on what really matters in life. I wish you the best in your rebuilding efforts and the restoration and preservation of those family treasures.
    I loved your comment about not taking up golf.
    Fred Phillips
    Calgary, Canada

  9. Mike Gulett says:


    I cannot imagine what you and your family have gone through. You all have my best wishes. It is great of you to share this story.

  10. tom petersen says:

    I was on your web page, and was checking out your blog. I had no idea what you were going through. My condolences on the loss of your mom, both of my parents are gone, so i guess i kind of know what you were going through. We lost our grandfather in a fire several years ago. You are so right the truly important thing is family. Best wishes in rebuilding , snd recollecting your memories. Good luck in the new season, and I really enjoy your shows.

    God bless, Tom Petersen

  11. Jerry Hightower says:

    So sorry for your loss last year. Fire is one of my worries as I live in an apartment. I would be devastated if I lost the pictures of my daughter who was killed in a car wreck in 2003. My wife passed away in 2000. I’ve made photo CD’s of my wife and my daughter. There’s over 2000 pictures of my daughter alone. I have a set and my son has a set so if one is lost, I have a backup. Good luck to you my friend.

  12. Randy Allee says:

    Dennis, condolences from Crockett, Tx. We just learned of the loss of your home. Thankful for the recovery of your family pictures and other treasures, and good luck on the restoration process. I know you mis your Mom, but she is not lost at all, as she is in Heaven. Hooray for her. Best wishes on the construction of your new home. Randy and Belinda Allee- yellow 1964 Buick Wildcat-West Yellowstone

  13. Dennis, we were so very sorry to read about your mother’s passing but glad to hear you were able spend time with her and we’re sure she appreciated that. Dealing with the loss of your family home with as much grace, dignity and yes, even a hint of humor as you’ve shown on your Blog is pretty amazing. You embody the concept that “things” can be replaced but memories can’t and we’re delighted you were able to save as much concrete evidence of your early years as you’ve been able to.

    Our thoughts are with you as you and your family work through the challenges ahead. And Dennis, just one more thing… we’re looking forward to seeing you in Woodland Park, CO, this fall.

    All the best,
    Dick & Wendy Thompson
    Woodland Park, CO

  14. Stan Goodwin says:

    Dennis, wow what a deal to go through. Hope this finds you and yours well. Sorry about your Mother, loosing a parent is a tough deal. If you get to Casper Wyoming again, look me up.
    Stan Goodwin

  15. Al Smith says:

    Dennis I have a chevy. advertizng sign that J.Leno would like. can send pictures Al

  16. Vince Corry says:

    Dennis,We all admire your strengh during the loss of your mother & the unreal fire,not many people could handle these circumstances and still find the best in life,We love you man….Just keep doing what you do!

  17. bob says:

    Dennis I just read about your loss.very sorry to here about your mother.
    it is very hard to loose a parent but it sounds like she was a very good lady. she must have giving you a great outlook on life. no matter how bad things get their is always a light at the end of the tunnel.
    love the show keep up the good work. ps the sharonville oh (cinti oh) is tomorrow 5-1 god bless (i think he already did)

  18. debilkeary says:

    My condolences in your loss. What a shock.I had my husband and mother in law die in 20 days followed by my dad. The “go through the motions “is what keeps us whole I think. Having a safe family is number1

    I would like to invite you to stop by our show June 5 in Fremont, ca if you are in vthe area. Lunch is on me!!!!

    Glad you are back in the forum. Heard you were in Calif recently at the Orvile Dam Show. Nice show. I am to busy this year as oresident of Mopar again and our show plus publicity so I missed it.

    Our show has grown since I became pres we should have 400 Moopars this year. My son was visiting his dad so I got a picture! Hopefully gas will bend a little to let all of us go out and play. I just put a superbird back together that had been in piueces since 1981. I have wonderful Mopar friends who are so talented.

    Keep smiling. Debi

  19. Dennis says:

    I want to thank everyone for the kind words. What happened wasn’t good, but you don’t have to look far to see folks who have it a whole lot worse. The devastating tsunami in Japan, the horrible tornados in the South, and now the flooding along the Mississippi. You should never miss an opportunity to count your blessings and help others who are less fortunate whenever you can. It’s what we do in this country. It’s who we are.

  20. If i don’t get climate controlled storage how bad would that effect my car?

  21. Fred Dawson says:

    Dennis! Very sorry to read about your mother AND the awful fire. So very glad everyone is ok. You will be appearing in Wilmington De. on 9/18/11 at the Hagley Car Show. Also appearing will be a FABULOUS rock and roll event called “Club Phred.” I seem to recall watching one of (many) of your shows and seeing that you played guitar! WELL, would you like to sit in on a song or two with the extraordinary Club Phred? Please let me know ASAP either way. In any event we’ll see you on 9/18!

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