It is never easy to look back and realize you were right, especially if you did not take your own advice. More years ago than I care to remember, when most of my friends were eagerly seeking Mustangs, Chargers and similar vehicles, I was content to rattle around in my vintage Chevrolet trucks, most of which were older than I was by a decade or two.
To counter the ribbing I prophetically noted that these trucks would soon be leading the pack among automotive collectors and investors. I also said this about my other vehicle of choice, vintage station wagons.
Vintage trucks and station wagons have soared in desirability and value in recent years to such a degree many models, such as the Advance Design Chevrolet trucks built between 1947 and early 1955, are no longer affordable to the average enthusiast. The flip side of this popularity is the surprising obscurity of some of the most advanced trucks built between 1950 and 1970.
Consider that in October of 1949, advertisement for Dodge trucks began to herald the upcoming option of the fluid drive Truck-O-Matic, an early form of automatic transmission. This was several years before Hydromatic was available in light duty General Motors trucks. Turn signals became an available option on the B-3 series Dodge introduced in February of 1951. On Chevrolet trucks, it would be 1953 before this option was available.
The 1953 Studebaker 2R6 had styling so advanced there is a vague similarity between it and the late 1990’s Dodge trucks. These trucks were also adequate performers with a zero to sixty time of 14.9 seconds. Additionally they were relatively frugal with fuel as evidenced by extensive city/highway testing that indicated an average of 20 miles per gallon.
Another Dodge of interest, introduced in August of 1954, presented a near perfect blend of economy, performance, and durability. Before being made available to the public the remarkable 241-c.i.d. V8 Power Dome package was extensively tested.
A Dodge truck equipped with this 145 horsepower engine was driven 50,000 miles in 50 days at Chrysler’s new Chelsea, Michigan test facility without mechanical failure! Under AAA supervision, at Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, a similarly equipped Dodge pick up truck, with driver, passenger and 500 pound payload, clocked a zero to sixty time of just over sixteen seconds.
The same truck with the same payload, again under AAA supervision, averaged 22.21 miles per gallon when driven from the salt flats to Pikes Peak in Colorado. The final test was the most grueling, a run up the famous mountain with a five hundred payload. The 14,110-foot summit of Pikes Peak was reached in twenty minutes, 46.8 seconds!
Arguably, some of the most beautiful trucks ever built were the Cameo built by Chevrolet and the counterpart GM Suburban series introduced in late 1955. Ford countered with the Ranchero and the all-new Styleside pick up trucks. All of these are stylish, durable trucks but if you want to see something unique check out the Dodge built competitor.
Incredibly, a pair of rear fenders with tail fins, and rear bumper from the 1957 Dodge two door Suburban station wagon successfully was grafted to a 116-inch wheelbase D100 in such a manner it looked as though the truck had been designed with these components. The use of chrome trim pieces custom made to continue the station wagon fender lines into the cab that accentuated the two-tone paint fostered this illusion. These trucks, billed as Sweptside models, were built in limited numbers through early 1959.
Another series of Dodge truck overlooked by most collectors is the Custom Sports Special Sweptline introduced in February of 1964 and continued through the 1965 model year. The concept behind the CSS trucks was to offer consumers the rugged, durability they had come to expect from a Dodge truck with plush and comfortable interiors that featured amenities such as bucket seats and console.
The twin racing stripes that ran over the hood and roof of the cab were the only noticeable exterior difference between this series and the standard 122-inch wheelbase models. In addition to bucket seats, these trucks featured a lengthy options list including in dash tachometer, Load Flite automatic transmission, dual exhausts, power steering, and three different engines; the 225-c.i.d. slant six, the 318 c.i.d. V8 and the 426 c.i.d. V8.
Dodge trucks, as well as those built by International and Studebaker built before 1970, when new, represented value and reliability. Little has changed as these trucks can still provide reliable, durable transportation and, as their value is often one third of comparable Chevrolet models, they continue to offer great value for the dollar.
Well, I have returned from the adventure. Farewell has been said to a dear friend and he heads for the middle east (Nebraska-the middle east from where I sit in Arizona) and a new life.
After a steady morning at the office on Saturday I stopped for a few supplies, picked up my travel gear from the house, kissed the wife goodbye, hugged the grand daughter, and drove back to work where I picked up the 26′ Penske truck and car carrier.
I was on the road a few minutes after one o’clock, about an hour later than planned. As I drove west on I40 the cloud shadows danced across the desert valleys and shaded the rugged mountains, a pleasant site that never cease to amaze.
There was a temptation to avoid the longer grades, as well as traffic, and take old Route 66 but as time was of the essence resisted that urge. Instead I appeased my wanderlust by remembering past journeys across this vast desert and making plans for future ones. Perhaps this could serve as the topic for the promised pictures taken with my new camera.
With the exception of a few areas of rough pavement I held the speed at a steady sixty and listened to the audio book version of Band of Brothers. As the fourth CD continued the story of these amazing men I was rolled past Ludlow, through Barstow and closed in on Apple Valley, my destination.
Little time was spent on greetings as a friend of Jon’s had arrived to help but as he had to work the following morning could only do so for a couple of hours. With that in mind we focused on the task at hand and concentrated on loading items such as pianos and tool boxes.
It was somewhere around ten when Brian, Jon’s friend, bid us farewell and we realized we had forgotten dinner. I pride myself on adapting to challenges that arise in travel by taking a small kit with me.
If it will be a trip of more than one day and a night I carry a military surplus mummy bag, a small day pack with one or two extra pair of jeans as well as socks and underwear (long johns if it is winter travel), a sweater, razor and related toiletries, and a pair of insulated bib overalls, again for winter travel Additionally I take a small ice chest with a few cans of fruit and beans, some caned juice, and a couple bottles of tea.
For reasons unknown on this trip I added a small bag of salad. As it turned out this was a blessing.
To tired to seek food at that late hour we settled for a dinner that consisted of bag-o-salad (a bag of salad cut in two with both halves serving as a bowl), some cold beans, a can of apricots and some tea. The comradry of good friends and a roaring fire (the propane was already disconnected) to ward off the cold of an approaching storm rounded out the evening.
The following morning began with gathering the courage to climb from a warm sleeping bag, the smell of coffee, washing my face in cold water and a breathtaking view from the patio of daylight racing across the desert floor below towards the snow covered peaks on the horizon. This was followed with a first rate breakfast at Mollie’s in Apple Valley.
Then it was back to work. With each item loaded Jon severed another tie with the past and took another step towards transplanting tangible memories to Nebraska to serve as the foundation for a new chapter.
The well laid plans of mice and men would be an apt title for Sunday. Our plans were to finish loading by early afternoon and make a leisurely run back to Kingman following as much of Route 66 as possible.
By two with the truck only two thirds full and a fiercely beautiful desert storm quickly crossing the valley towards us we knew our plans were folly. So, as I moved things from the yard to the garage Jon drove to town for a bag of burritos.
As the storm raged and the temperature plummeted we took a front row seat in the garage. The rain, the wind, the thick black clouds that consumed the towering peaks made for a stunning show.
Quiet fortuitously we had just finished a pleasant, subdued lunch when the wind died, the rain subsided, and the sunlight broke from the thick black clouds to shine as a beacon on the glistening rock formations on the hill framed by the twisted arms of the Joshua Trees that seem lifted from the pages of a Dr. Seuss book. Now it was back to work.
Our focus on leaving Sunday afternoon kept us from planning for another night. As a result poor Jon found himself with nothing more than a pile of packing blankets and a seventy five year old quilt to ward off the cold once the fire had died down. This as well as the urge to finish had us up by 4:00 am and seeking more burritos, with little thought of the consequences, a mere hour later.
By late morning the task was done, his Dodge Dakota was on the trailer and we were on the road. Urban sprawl and the resultant ills, unchecked illegal immigration and the changes this has wrought on the culture there had driven a life long California resident and a bonafide desert rat to pack it in, to trade the sand, the sun, and the rocky crags for an island in Nebraska where you can still conduct business in English, where the neighbors take the time to chat, and teenagers have respect for themselves, for their elders, and their nation.
After fueling at a well worn truck stop in Barstow we took to the road less traveled, Route 66, and Jon began the reverse migration that I believe will soon sweep the southwest.
There is a delightful timelessness to traveling with a good friend down this road and through the harsh landscapes of the Mojave Desert. The dusty towns, the ruins, older alignments of the highway and awe inspiring views all blend into a wondrous tapestry.
There was little conversation as we were tired and full of reflection about times past. Still the trip was a pleasant one with dark, threatening skies capping the distant peaks, bright rays of sunshine spotlighting formations of dark volcanic stone and vestiges of when this was the Main Street of America passing by the windows.
After cruising the pre 1932 alignment through Goffs we were forced back to I40, the modern era and all that entails. A stop for fuel at Crazy Freds near Kingman, recovery of my car from the office and a fine dinner of avocado salad, garlic chicken pizza and black beans at the house marked the end of the adventure and another chapter.
As a kid a great deal of time was spent at the library. Visions of being a writer, as well as cowboy, explorer, and archeologist, dominated my thoughts and plans for the future.
After trying my hand as a cowboy, flirting with archeology, and a fair share of exploration the harsh reality of needing to make a living took over. So as I earned my pay on the working end of a shovel and jack leg far underground in a silver mine, at the controls of a dredge in New Mexico, under a variety of cars, stringing wire across the plains, polishing saddles with my back side, and behind the desk filling a number of positions on car lots the dream of being a writer simmered.
Almost twenty years ago, with the encouragement of my dear wife who said I could talk about old cars for hours in a room all alone and still enjoy myself, I decided to take the plunge. It appears success is drawing closer though it is still elusive and I now earn our sustenance managing a Penske truck leasing operation.
The moral of the story is this. Never give up on dreams. My dream is that when I grow up I will be a writer.
In the mean time I continue to work towards being an overnight success twenty years in the making with feature pieces for Cars & Parts and other publications, several books such as the forthcoming Route 66 Backroads, and original features on this blog.
With that reflection dominating my thoughts this last week was rather mundane. The post on the mystery steam Packard proved to be of interest to many as evidenced by nearly 100 hits per day. More importantly the car may have been identified. I will post the information this week.
Two writing projects in the next two weeks have my interest. I will write a feature for Cars & Parts profiling Walter Christie, a pioneer in front wheel drive development, and another on steam cars, including the Packard, for Old Cars Weekly.
In a move that surprised even me I accepted a request to cover for a friend who pastors a church in Peach Springs on the Hualapai Reservation. So I will preach my first service on February 1st.
This next weekend I close another chapter. I will be taking a Penske truck to California and helping a dear friend load for his move to Nebraska. So next weeks review may be delayed by a day or so but I promise a laugh or two.
Until then –