Crystal Hall, associate professor in the digital humanities, has fond memories of participating in the Brunswick Memorial Day Parade. She rode alongside her father and Rene Bernier, laboratory instructor/support manager and Science Center manager, as they gave rides in their World War II Jeeps to veterans. These experiences piqued her interest in cars, and as soon as she was old enough to hold a screwdriver, she began helping her dad in his garage.

Hall began seriously working on cars when she was 13. 

“We restored my Jeep before I got my learner’s permit so that we could go off-roading with it,” she said. 

Hall is currently in the process of creating a hot rod from a 1934 Dodge, a car of particular sentimental value as it is the same type of car her grandfather drove. She has restored one and half cars with her dad, but the ’34 Dodge will be the first hot rod she has built. 

Creating a hot rod is the process of drastically improving old cars—different from restoring cars, which is taking an old car and bringing it back to working order. 

Building a hot rod can be time-consuming and frustrating. For Hall and her father, it is more like a jigsaw puzzle. 

“The biggest challenge with the hot rod is that you have a completely blank canvas to work with,” said Hall. “My father and I are very meticulous about history and historical accuracy and being very precise in our work, but there isn’t a blueprint for how to make this hot rod, so it’s really challenging our creative side.” 

As a professor whose main focus is working with computers, working with cars allows Hall to clear her mind and get her hands dirty. Unlike coding, where the products are on a screen, the results of restoring cars are tangible and immediate. 

“It’s satisfying to code, but it’s a completely different satisfaction to clean something, paint something and put something together,” said Hall. 

Through her work restoring and building cars, Hall has noticed improvements in other areas of her life. She credits these improvements to the intelligence her dad has shared with her. 

“Watching him think and problem solve and the different ways he approaches problems has helped me to be more flexible and open to different ways of solving problems,” said Hall. “When you are coding, that’s the best thing you can ask for.”

Another benefit of creating a hot rod is having the ability to build it exactly to one’s needs. With the ’34 Dodge, Hall is planning to install a Corvette engine and transmission as a nod to her dad’s favorite type of cars. She is planning on picking a Porsche color for the car as a nod to her long-lasting infatuation with Porsches. 

“That’s where the amalgamation of parts and pieces of different places comes into play,” Hall said. “We’re picking from the things we really like and the flexibility of being able to put them together.” 

Hall and her father plan to begin the assembly process of the Dodge in September and hope to have it up and running by next summer. They went on a road trip to retrieve the car parts and plan to go on another one when the hot rod is finished. 

“I have a feeling hot rods are in my future for a long time,” said Hall.