Integrity and Excellence: Boesch Hot Rod Concepts
A welcome sign at the edge of Humphrey, Nebraska (population 760) says “Integrity & Excellence – Not Just a Statement, a Commitment” – the same slogan can be applied to Boesch Hot Rod Concepts, the small shop in town that’s been turning out high-impact vehicles for more than 40 years.
There’s little doubt the hot rods Dale Boesch (pronounced BESH) and his team build exhibit excellence and integrity. They’re not only innovative and distinctive, they’re also well-crafted and functional.
Boesch’s creations have earned some of the top accolades in the industry, including a Goodguys Street Rod of the Year title and several top-five finalist rankings for Goodguys Top 12 awards. There’s big-time respect for this little small-town shop.
Though the cars he builds are often sleek and contemporary, Boesch’s shop is decidedly old school. Unlike some modern high-end rod shops, it’s not a big facility with dedicated areas for machining, fabrication, and assembly. In fact, it’s still an active collision shop, with one side focused on conventional body repair and insurance work, and one half focusing on hot rods and custom builds. That’s largely the way it’s been since Dale first got involved the trade back in the 1960s and ’70s.
The Boesch family’s automotive roots in Humphrey go way back. In 1945, just home from World War II, Dale’s father Harry and uncle Vic opened up a body shop just across the alley from Boesch’s current building. “They decided they were going to fix cars,” Dale said. In 1963, a third Boesch brother, Jerry, purchased the town’s Ford dealership a block south. The three brothers consolidated, with the body shop becoming the collision repair branch of the dealership.
Growing up in this environment, Dale was naturally drawn to all things mechanical. “From as little as I could remember, I was doing anything I could to modify cars,” Dale said. Whether it was customizing model cars or tricking out a toy wagon, Dale couldn’t help but put his personal touch on things. “I just loved it,” he said.
Dale’s father and uncles had little interest in hot rods or custom cars, though he recalls an occasional shaved hood or deck lid leaving the body shop when requested by a customer. When Dale started helping out in the shop, he was eager to try some of the modifications he’d seen in rodding magazines and on local rods. “I had to learn how to do that myself,” he said. “It was just trial and error. I learned a lot of my stuff on used cars that got turned in.”
Dale learned much more on his first car, a ’58 Ford that he painted three times – green, then yellow, then green again – over a three-year period. The hard lesson came when all that paint began to crack. “Then I stripped it and painted it all red metalflake,” Dale said. This was right around 1970, when the jacked-up Gasser look was at its peak. “It was as high in the air as you could make it,” Dale said.
Dale spent some time in college studying mechanical engineering, but ultimately knew it wasn’t for him. He returned to Humphrey and continued working for his family until 1978, when he purchased the body shop. During that time he built a couple of noteworthy hot rods – a black ’57 Ford with flames that made it into a couple of magazines after a trip to the 1975 Street Machine Nationals, and a ’56 F100 that landed on the cover of Truckin’ magazine in the late-’70s.
A bright-yellow ’34 Ford Victoria finished in 1983 helped solidify Dale’s reputation in the street rod world. “That was probably the biggest turning point,” Dale said. “It was just a super standout no matter where I went with it.”
How nice was it? Nice enough to gain the attention of rising West Coast builder Boyd Coddington, who invited Dale out to California to work for him. Boesch entertained the offer enough to visit Boyd’s shop, but with a young family and deep ties to his hometown, he decided to stay put. “This is where I wanted to be,” he said.
The Victoria was sold in 1986 (it’s still on the road in Kansas with more than 100k miles on it), and Dale followed it up with an almost-identical ’33 Victoria in 1989. The ’33 is still nice enough to have earned a PPG Paint Pick nearly 30 years later at the 2017 Great Northwest Nationals in Spokane! A slick black ’41 Ford woodie followed up the Vicky in 1991. “Those three cars really put me into the hot rod market,” Dale said.
For the most part, Dale has followed a similar formula to maintain his success in the decades since. He doesn’t employ artists for renderings, relying instead on many of his own instincts, sketches, and vision. “I like to build my own car,” Dale said. “I’m not a guy who likes to follow trends. I kind of do my own thing”
The customers he attracts trust that vision. “Your past history really helps you out,” Dale said. Of course, most customers have some visions of their own. “They all have their idea in their mind,” Dale said. “You’re always working with the guy who owns the car to come up with the vision. Sometimes you’ve got to help them decide the best route to go.”
Dale acknowledged that it can be a balancing act to establish the right direction for some projects. “You’ve got to be a salesman, not just a builder,” he said. “It’s not easy. You have to get their trust first; they’re spending a lot of money on these cars. You’re going to do whatever the customer likes in the end.”
There seems to be no shortage of customers or projects. Dale recently counted 10 in-progress builds between his main shop and a storage building across the street. “That’s real normal,” he said. Many still know Boesch best for prewar street rods – cars like John Boyce’s ’38 Chevy that won Goodguys Street Rod of the Year in 2006, or Dana Elrod’s ’36 Ford roadster that was a 2018 AMBR contender and finalist for both Goodguys Street Rod of the Year and Street Rod d’Elegance.
Like many shops, though, Dale said he’s seeing more muscle cars lately, and we counted three ’50s and ’60s trucks during our visit. Dale said he’s game to take on just about anything, “as long as it’s not a leadsled.”
With a tight team that includes himself and a trio of craftsmen – Daniel McLain, Jordan Schaecher, and Jim Gronenthat – Dale Boesch carries on a hometown tradition dating back more than 70 years, and a hot rod legacy that spans more than half of that history. It’s not the biggest shop, nor the flashiest, but Boesch Hot Rod Concepts delivers integrity and excellence, and there’s nothing small about that.