TEAYS VALLEY, W.Va. -- Retired Putnam County Circuit Judge O.C. "Hobby" Spaulding wanted a two-seat Mercedes roadster all of his adult life, but it wasn't until 2003 that he managed to buy the car of his dreams.
In 1968, during his first post-college job as a systems engineer for IBM in Baltimore, he saved diligently to buy his first new car, which he wanted to be a Mercedes 280 SL, due mainly to what he called its "James Bond" image.
"I went to the Mercedes dealership to price them," he said. "They were $13,000 - about two years of my salary, so I bought a new Pontiac instead."
Spaulding put his automotive dream on hold until 2003, when a cousin decided to part with a 1984 Mercedes 380 SL to free up garage space for a restoration project. The flashy roadster had been garage-kept and seldom driven, racking up a total of only 48,000 miles by the time he bought it.
"It turned over to 60,000 miles last week," said the veteran judge and former prosecuting attorney. "It's all original equipment. Everything about the car is as it was when it was first built. I drive it only in good weather."
For Spaulding, who was forced to retire from the bench in January after he was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, spending time behind the wheel of his dream car has been good therapy.
"I feel like the king of the road when I'm driving it," he said, speaking with the assistance of a specially programmed laptop that converts his words into a computer-generated voice. "My wife hates that it blows her hair and that people seem to be staring at us, but she's much more private than I am. I love it."
Spaulding is in the bulbar onset stage of ALS, in which about 20 percent of ALS patients begin to notice problems with speaking, swallowing and controlling some muscles of the neck.
Other than not being able to speak, "I feel fine, and I'm completely mobile," he said, and plans to keep driving his roadster as long as possible.