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Published July 25 2011

It's My Job: Teacher switches gears to second career collecting cars

FARGO - Dick Olsen has spent more than two decades keeping tabs on the Gate City Bank parking lot in downtown Fargo from the attendant’s booth. But on most days, the fanciest car in the lot is the one he drove.

Weather permitting, it’s typically one of the classics he’s collected over the years, from sleek Chevrolet convertibles to rare British roadsters. He’s bought and sold a handful of models over the years, and currently has 13.

To make sure they’re in working order, he drives them all.

At 82, Olsen has effectively had two full careers: 30 years as a high school and college history teacher here, and now more than 20 years in the parking lot, where he started in 1989 shortly after retiring from the classroom.

The parking lot job helps pay for his automobile hobby and gives him a chance to chat with passers-by who are smitten with his cars, which are always parked prominently next to the sidewalk.

When The Forum caught up with Olsen last week, his ride was a 1981 Cadillac with a rare rounded hatch-style trunk rather than the traditional fins. He’s waiting on it to become a sought-after collector’s item, though he isn’t sure if it will get there in his lifetime.

“They didn’t have a very good reputation,” he said of the car. “People didn’t like the design, and the mechanical bits weren’t very good, either.”

A: I won’t buy or get interested in a modified car at all. I hate street rods, really. I don’t think they should do that to ’em. So I like originality first, and then low miles and well-kept, one-owner, if you can find them.

How often do you drive them?

I won’t have a dead car. They’re all driveable. I try to rotate so that everything gets driven two or three times per summer. I’ve got a tough storage plan. You’ve got to move cars to get something out if they want to drive it.

Do you have a non-classic car you use for normal travel?

We’re driving two Mercuries. We’ve got a Mercury Grand Marquis – we’ve had two of those; they’re indestructible. We’ve also got a Mercury Sable wagon.

People ask me: How can you afford all these cars? I point to the Mercury Grand Marquis and say, I’ve got that. I paid $9,000 for it nine years ago.

Do you have a favorite?

I really like Jags – I’ve got three Jags. And I really like MGs – I’ve got three MGs. I like British cars. I like British culture, is part of it. I taught over there on a Fulbright in ’68-69. I brought back a Jag, a Mark V, that I’ve still got.

It’s a ’49 Jag. It’s very, very original. I don’t think you’d find one that’s less messed with than that one. It has 67,000 miles on. I drive it every summer.

We drove it from London to Liverpool. It was shipped on the only ship that went across the Atlantic all the way to Duluth. It cost me 500 and some dollars to ship. The car only cost me $350.

We had a little electrical trouble getting home. We fixed it on the road – we got a ticket for no taillights, but we got it home.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Marino Eccher at (701) 241-5502

To submit an idea for “It’s My Job,” email businessnews@forumcomm.com.