HERE IT IS almost February and I’ve done next to nothing on the truck since dismantling it in the fall. I’ve been busy writing and working on the motorcycle since then. But here are some photos you haven’t seen: the record of the first restoration on the ’49 Ford. I worked on it for about a year and a half, from late summer ’95 though the early spring of ’97.
The light was stark when I took these pics but the insurance company wanted them ASAP.
We set an agreed-upon value of $10,000.
That was seriously low and much to their advantage over mine but I was eager to get the papers filled out and put the truck on the road.
Derriere view, looking fine.
Here’s the truck a year and a half earlier, the day I trailered it home to Rhode Island from Alabama.
Rolled it down the hill into the backyard, took the nose off, the cab, the box…
Daughter #3 used to like to hang out with me in the truck yard. She was nine or ten here. Just turned 26 this month.
The chassis was in good shape when I started. No structural rust.
I stripped the chassis, sunk a pair of used fence posts in the ground for an engine stand, bolted the front motor mounts to the posts, stuck a plank and a couple of concrete blocks under the back of the pan. Go with what you’ve got. It kept my motor out of the dirt.
The six-cylinder flatmotor was in decent shape, all I ever did to it was the usual: carburetor, generator, starter, clutch, water pump, head gasket, paint job … I ran the motor for seven or eight years, wore it out, replaced it with a flathead eight I had collected in bits and pieces, over time. Found a good engine block in Connecticut, with crankshaft and connecting rods, a pair of NOS (new old stock) engine heads in New York, and so on. It’s the correct V8 motor for 1949. It makes 100 horses, 5 more than the flathead six. (Hang on tight!)
Here’s the engine ready to go back in. The chassis has been wire brushed, power washed, primed and painted.
I had to hang new leaf springs all around, the originals were beyond shot. The truck hadn’t been greased since the Eisenhower administration, if then. The shackle pins had worn through the bushings decades ago and were rattling around in the hangars. All the bores were egg shaped. I ground out the factory rivets, knocked the hangers off the chassis, bought NOS hangers (from the great Joblot Automotive, Queens Village, NY) and secured them with hardened steel bolts. Haven’t had a spring fall off yet.
By way of background, here’s how I came to take on this job in the first place: After the first of the year, Richard and Margene Smith, of Orono, Maine, my in-laws, would drive down to their winter home in Huntsville, Alabama. Over the years, Richard had bought a few antique vehicles for himself a way down yonder in the land of cotton. Old times there are not forgotten mostly because you still see these old trucks on the road. With little or no exposure to road salt, the old rides don’t go to the junkyard as fast as they do in New England. You have to look away, look away, look away in Dixieland or you’re gonna buy one.
I made an idle comment to Richard when he was passing through in January ’95. Hey, find an old truck for me in Alabama this time, blah blah… Mere weeks later, the phone rings:
“You bought a ’49 Ford pickup.”
“Come get it out of my driveway.”
“And send me eighteen hundred dollars.”
So my word’s on the line, time to back up that idle chatter about wanting an old truck. (Good thing I didn’t tell Richard to buy me a farm.)
Here’s a pic I snapped of Richard on the last fishing trip of his life. He wasn’t doing well, we had to cut that trip short. This was his favorite brook, in Aroostook County, Maine, pretty far off-road but I think I could still find my way in there.
So I trailered the truck from Alabama to Rhode Island, rolled it down the hill into the backyard and took it apart. A frame-off restoration is a big project if you have a garage to work in; working out in the weeds, all the more so. When you’re not swatting mosquitos you’re dodging snowflakes.
Honey, I blew up the nose metal.
This is the right-rear fender, ditch side of the road. You can see were the wheel threw up rocks in a pattern. They battered the fender from the inside out for the first 46 years the truck was in service. It took quite a lot of hammer & dolly work to beat these fenders back into shape. Hmm, maybe this is how I damaged my hearing. All these years I’ve been thinking it was chainsaws and motorcycles.
Huh? What was that?
Hammer out the dents, skim the low spots, prime it, sand it, prime it, sand it…
The new red is pretty close to the original Ford vermillion. Look how it faded between 1949 and 1995.
When the body work is near finished, I like to shoot a thin coat of paint. The shine shows exactly where you need to work a little bit more to get it right. Professionals don’t do this. It burns time and wastes paint and they probably don’t need to in the first place. But as an amateur, I find it helpful.
Take your time, get the body work right, mix some more paint, shoot for coverage-plus-one, declare victory and depart the field. I used Dupont Centari, an old fashioned single-stage acrylic enamel, with isocyanate hardener. You don’t want that material in your lungs but if you have a beard, too bad, you’re gonna breathe it. No way you can get a proper seal when you strap a cartridge respirator around a hairy pooch face. Woof. Good thing I got up early every day for a close shave, real diligent-like.
Dig it, some islamo dude used to drop by and offer to help. Most of what he did was drink my coffee. He finally ran off to, I dunno, storm the embassy in Tehran or whatnot.
Here he is again with my old bud Larry Stanley. I threw up this cheapo rain shelter at one point. See the light up top? That was so the mosquitos would know to come in out of the rain at night and keep me company.
Larry owns the same truck, one year newer. His came out of Colorado. The only difference between ’49 and ’50 is the color of the grille, I believe. Silver in ’49, ivory in ’50.
Daughter #3 hanging with her best friend, Larry.
That first winter, I hammered rebar in the ground, set up hoops of electrical conduit and threw a tarp over the top.
The tent had a kerosene heater, good opportunity to get gassed by carbon monoxide instead of isocyanates. Nice change of pace. The rain shelter took a beating but was still good for storing parts. We had 105 inches of snow that winter, and no snow at all the first winter I put the truck back on the road and introduced it to road salt. So destructive. The salt is why I have such a job on my hands now with this second restoration. New England has had her way with the old Ford over the last 15 winters. I have a ton of welding to do this time.
I didn’t own a welder in ’95. My friend and neighbor John Kendrick lugged his over and went to work burning wire.
The box, ready to go back on the chassis. It had a stamped metal floor originally. I cut it out and made a new floor out of white oak from a mill in Connecticut.
Months go by, I get more paint out of the can and onto the metal. Once you stop on something like this, you’re sunk. The secret? Don’t stop.
Do at least one thing every day, without fail, even if it’s just running after some oddball piece of hardware, a nut, a pin, a washer, a grommet… Daily effort adds up. By the looks of things here I’m just about ready to reassemble the vehicle. Time to run to NAPA for a few rolls of wire, break out the soldering gun and start fabricating a harness.
Don’t be cheap, buy the service manual. Follow the diagram, take it one wire at a time. And question authority. I spotted a mistake in this diagram. All service manuals contain mistakes. (Can’t remember now what it was, I’d have to study it.)
I always stopped to celebrate a milestone with a nice Don Tomas maduro. Kinda wish I had a picture of that. Here’s a shot of me complaining to the neighbor about his dog. Can you believe it? Still smoking. That’s what I call evidence.
When the truck was roadworthy, my friend Jimmy Clarke sent a wrecker over to winch it up the hill. I had four new tires and no traction. Skinny tires, correct for the era, with a vintage tread pattern that will hardly grip asphalt let alone grass. They were made by Coker Tire, of Chattanooga, Tennessee, in the original Firestone molds. Old-fashioned bias-ply construction. In raised letters on the sidewalls, Firestone happily boasted of their latest high-tech innovation — Gum Dipped! Well, I’ll be dipped in…
Cresting the hill up into the front yard. Before you know it, the truck would be on the road north to Maine, south to Pennsylvania, you name it. When my old man was on the way out, I remember driving the truck past the smoking ruins of Ground Zero on my way to see him, in Philadelphia. My home town in Philly and the bride’s in Orono, Maine, those are about the longest rides I took in the truck, 600 miles out and back. That’s nothing in motorcycle miles. The iron piggy likes to run 6,000 at a time. Ran more than 12,000 once and probably will again.
Friends and neighbors came around to inspect the resurrected old Ford. My neighbor, Rose Lafleur snapped this pic. We all called her “Rusty.” She’s gone now. How I loved her and miss her every day. Old Joe on the right there, also gone. Can’t say I miss Joe but he was a funny old Guido.
That little girl Pam’s holding is just about in college now. That’s her mom, Ann, in blue jeans, and her dad, Big John Ross, over by the truck with Larry. Our neighbor, Elsie, in the cap, no longer with us. She and Rusty were great friends.
Yes, indeed, many a change happened during the second incarnation of the old Ford. I see there’s no porch on the front of the house in this photo. I hadn’t built it yet. I’m not sure I had even thought of building it. Once I did, the Ford would haul everything I needed: concrete, lumber, hardware, roofing…
What will be different 15 years from now, when the old Ford is used up yet again and needs to come apart for a third restoration? If I’m here to do it I hope I still remember how. But maybe I’ll be shuffling around and mumbling to myself, trying to light a dog turd and wondering how my islamo bud ever made out.
Tony DePaul, Cranston, Rhode Island, January 29, 2012