February 5, 1931 ~ September 9, 2022 (age 91) 91 Years Old


Joseph N. Barnett (Joe) passed away peacefully at home on Sept 9, 2022, after a short illness. He was 91 years old.

He was born on Feb 5, 1931, in Sacramento, Calif., to Joseph and Fritzi Barnett. He spent his childhood in Merced with his parents and older sister, Marty.

His father was the chief engineer for the Yosemite Valley Railroad from 1929-1944 when it ceased operation. His mother ran a floral shop, Merced Greenhouse, in downtown Merced. He attended local schools and graduated from Merced High School in the class of 1950. He played football and baseball, fished and hunted local game, and began his lifelong passion for hot rods, building cars from parts of abandoned autos prevalent in the foothills in the 40s.

He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1951 and served 22 months in the Korean War before returning home. He received an honorable discharge. He loved his country and was proud to serve.

After returning to civilian life, he spent the next 40 years employed in various occupations and had his own backhoe business for 20 of those years.

He was a miner, a Ford auto restorer, a prize-winning freelance photographer, an artifacts collector, a surfer, a bodybuilder and a nature enthusiast.

He restored his first Ford mail truck in the late 50s and a 1931 Ford Model A was featured in several prominent Hollywood surfer movies of the mid-1960s as well as magazines such as Life and Seventeen. Rodder’s Journal, Issues 17 (Fall, 2001) and 18 (Winter 2002) featured Joe’s life story and cars, as well as May 2006 and February 2013 issues of the Woody Times.

His last auto restoration, a 1927 Ford Model T mail truck, was completed over a 12-year period and featured a giant antique padlock for the rear doors and a green toilet for the passenger, not to mention vintage U.S. Marine posters. His truck was a familiar sight on local roads and participated in several local parades and events, especially on Veterans Day.

A highlight of his latter years was taking the Central Valley Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. He was especially impressed with the Korean War Memorial exhibit during his tour with other area veterans.

In 2011, he was reintroduced to a casual acquaintance, Karen Gardner, whom he had last seen 18 years earlier when he took pictures of her family before they moved to Idaho. Their friendship blossomed into love and they were married by Pastor Brent Moore of the Yosemite Valley Chapel on Valentine’s Day in 2012. They spent many happy times traveling in the mail truck throughout the state, notably enjoying the waterfalls of Yosemite in the springtime and the fall colors of the eastern Highway 395, notably, Lundy Lake and Mammoth.

He loved sitting in his backyard, observing the wild turkeys, squirrels, rabbits, deer and hummingbirds that frequented his property in Mormon Acres. He was a good-natured, kind, thoughtful person who brought much happiness and good cheer to people. He will be deeply missed by those who knew him well.

He is survived by his wife, Karen Barnett (Lauritzen) of Mariposa; sister, Martha Dye of Sonoma; niece, Joanne Dye of Vai, Colo.; daughter, Danika Shearer; four grandchildren, Jaden, Lily, Otto and Piper of Rocklin; three step-children, Nate Olmos ( Julie Bolton) of Glendale, Mike Olmos of San Francisco and Carmen Massar (Frank); and two step-grandchildren, Ava and Zoey of Citrus Heights.

Services will be held at San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery on Thursday, Nov. 3 at 11 a.m. followed by a reception at Pea Soup Andersen Restaurant in Santa Nella.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you consider a donation to Tier One Tranquility Base, a local organization assisting veterans or to the John C. Fremont Hospice, whose staff provided compassionate care and support to Joe and his wife during his final two months at home. In addition, a special thanks to Comfort Keepers of Merced for in-home support services provided through the Fresno VA palliative care team.

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