Strangers helping man with ALS rebuild Jeep for one more ride

Rocky Sexton, left, and Bill Hammock have become friends after Sexton bought a car and agreed to help rebuild Hammock's Jeep. Hammock was diagnosed with ALS in 2017. SUBMITTED PHOTO

TURTLECREEK TWP. – The plan is for strangers to finish what three generations of Hammock men couldn’t complete.

First a little Hammock history.

Bill Hammock bought a used red CJ-7 Jeep in 1983 and drove it four-wheeling around Waynesville for years, then to Florida and back, until it needed major repairs and body work.

“That was my vehicle,” he said of the 1979 Jeep. “I loved it.”

Hammock disassembled the Jeep about 20 years ago and stored the parts in his garage with the intention of rebuilding it as a family project with his father and son.

“It was easier to take apart than put back together,” said Hammock, noting he didn’t have the time or money to make the necessary repairs.

Then life pushed the project off his “to-do” list.

His 83-year-old father suffered a ruptured aneurysm. Then, three years ago, Hammock, 58, was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, that has no cure. The life expectancy for someone with ALS is three to five years.

“A death sentence” is how Hammock described the diagnosis.

Now some strangers hope to give the Jeep a second life, and in the process, provide Hammock more motivation to live.

Rocky Sexton, of Middletown, and two of his buddies who own S.N.S. Fabrications, purchased a 1959 Ford Fairlane that Hammock was selling. While at the garage off Ohio 741, Sexton noticed all the Jeep parts stored in boxes.

When asked, Hammock told Sexton the Jeep’s history.

Here’s where most of us would have taken the keys to the Fairlane, shaken Hammond’s hand, driven off and never seen him again. But Sexton reacted differently. Thankfully.

“Mass respect for veterans,” Sexton said of Hammock, who served four years in the Air Force. “It touched my heart. It didn’t take me long to realize what a special guy he was.”

Sexton contacted members of the Middletown Area Jeepers Club, and about 20 of them drove their Jeeps to the Hammock house recently and loaded up the parts in the back of a trailer. Sexton then called local auto parts stores AutoZone and O’Reilly Auto Parts, and managers agreed to donate parts. The owner of Little T Paint and Body Shop agreed to do the body work.

Eventually, anyone with grease under their fingernails will meet at Sexton’s garage in Middletown and rebuild the Jeep. The goal is to get it 70 to 80 percent complete and return it to Hammond so he can ride in it at least once more. They know time is short. Hammock probably won’t see his 60th birthday.

His son, Eli Hammock, 30, said he was “floored people could be so nice.”

When asked what riding in the Jeep would mean to his father, Eli Hammock broke down.

“Excuse me,” he said, wiping away the tears. “Sorry about that.”

Then he answered: “That would be huge. He always dreamed of getting that thing back together. That would mean the world to me.”

Bill Hammock has lost all movement in his legs, he’s slowly losing arm motion and he uses a wheelchair. He’s on disability, and his days of working on cars are over. Now he has hope that what he started 20 years ago will get finished in 2020.

“This is a real blessing to us,” he said. “I couldn’t believe they wanted to do that for us. It was out of the blue.”

The first stop in the Jeep will be at the cemetery where Hammock’s brother is buried. Hammock’s nephew, his brother’s son, has heard countless stories about the Jeep, but has never seen it run. He refers to the Jeep as the “Loch Ness Monster.”

“I want my brother to see me in that Jeep,” Bill Hammock said. “We will blow the horn at his grave.”

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