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1950 Chevrolet 1/2-Ton 3100
From Dave :
January 1 not only marks a new year beginning for me (my birthday), it is the beginning of the fifth year of driving my ‘50 3100 every day. I am approaching 39,000 miles on her and while it has not been without ups and downs, it has been a wonderful experience.
This past year, I have had to replace both the front and rear suspension components, the carb and the brakes (third time on those). It is the replacement of the front suspension that I would like to focus on here because it is an experience that has had a profound effect on me.
Saturday, the 28th of December, I was running an errand in the truck for my wife. I was driving near the house when the truck suddenly shuddered and seemed to move sideways for just a moment.
I slowed and continued. It did it again. I pulled over and turned off the truck. I got out and looked underneath. All components looked fine -- nothing lose or out of place.
I restarted the truck and continued. It happened again. I was only a mile from home and was about to enter a highway where 60 MPH would have been required to stay up with the traffic.
Instead, I returned home. No more shudders or movement. I parked the truck in the garage and I had heard no sound that would indicate anything was wrong. So this was a real mystery.
I went out the next day (Sunday) to start the truck but it would not make a sound! The battery was fine and all other components checked out okay. I figured that the neutral safety switch had malfunctioned. I had other things to do and so I did not try to start it again that day.
On Monday I was going to take it to Fat Man Fabrications (the GREAT guys who have done fantastic work on my beloved Stovebolt). I went out to start her up but no go. NOTHING I tried would allow the truck to even turn over.
I still wondered if was the neutral safety switch malfunctioning to keep it from starting. However, moving the gear shift (it is an automatic T350 transmission) back and forth produced no results. It just was NOT going to start.
I called my towing service (Allstate Motor Club is BY FAR the best I have ever used!) and they would be there in five minutes!!
Since the truck was in the garage, I thought it might be tough to back all the way down my drive and pull it out so I gave it one last try to start. IT DID! The truck started like new!
I backed it out to the street just before the tow truck arrived. He loaded her up and off it went to the shop. Fat Man called me and let me know it was there and they would be working on it. I mentioned to them about the shuddering and sliding sensation along with (now) the neutral safety switch issue. He said they would look at everything and get back to me.
They called me the next day (I was at the hospital with my daughter - she had just given birth to my third grandson) and said that they could find NO ISSUE with the neutral safety switch and had started it multiple times. In fact, he said the switch looked and functioned like NEW! He said that they did find some serious issues with the right front wheel and the brakes. The bearings were completely gone and the wheel was just ready to FALL OFF! Additionally, he said, just after they got it and test drove it, the brakes failed completely! They had to replace the spindle and the whole right side assembly as well as the front brakes, realign the master cylinder and found a vacuum hard line kinked which was replaced with steel braid line. He said that if I had taken it on the highway as I had planned, I would most probably have been killed.
The fact that it did this JUST BEFORE I was about to enter the highway AND the fact that the truck WOULD NOT START when I tried to take it out again to drive it caused me to really think hard about this. I am a spiritual man and things like this really pull me back to my faith. I TRULY BELIVE that I was stopped from driving that truck ANY FURTHER until it was fixed. It WOULD NOT START until I had scheduled the tow truck and it took me home safely in spite of the VERY SERIOUS issues that were involved.
So this year I had two Christmas miracles. One was the gift of new life - my grandson; and the second was the gift of my own life. God, thank you for both!
01 November 2013 Update
From Dave :
Still on the road and happy after 35,000 miles!
Yes, 35,000 miles! I honestly was never sure if I would ever make that milestone but last month, Ol’ Blue not only carried me to that milestone but did while on a five hour interstate ride to visit my parents in Virginia!
I cruised there and back (in two days – total 10 hours) at 70 MPH all the way – who’s old?!
For those of you who have read my first narrative, you will understand my statement. For those who are new to my Gallery page, a very brief summary…
I have had my old truck for nearly 15 years. It was in a partial restoration state for much of that time until I ‘overhauled’ it. Since the first restorer I chose was woefully ill equipped (putting it mildly) to restore anything much less a classic truck, I ended up with massive issues, costs and breakdowns, literally for YEARS.
As a result, my truck has now been restored quite literally twice (AND paid for twice). Once by an amateur and the second time by professionals. (KUDOS – Fat Man Fabrications – Mint Hill, NC!!!)
Even though it has been a very tough ‘ride,’ I still love the old truck and enjoy, immensely the pleasure of driving it and seeing the joy that it brings to others. Every day is a car show with hundreds of smiles, thumbs up and ok signs wherever I go. No wonder people restore and drive these old trucks – universal acceptance!
There have been too many times to count that I have been filling it with gas, stopping at a market or just getting in it in a parking lot that someone has come up, asked about it and ending up with me having made a new friend. I make it a point to take the time to chat, answer questions and listen to the wonderful stories that people have about an uncle, a grandfather or father who owned on old truck. You can see the joy cross their faces as they are taken back to earlier, happier times and images of the people they loved. What a joy!
The other day, I was filling it with gas (by the way, I am getting 23 mpg highway and 20 mpg in town and that is with almost 450 HP!) and a guy came up to me. “Excuse me," he said. “I am a publisher of high quality books for GM and I recently published one that has a picture of your truck model in it. I wanted you to have a copy.”
I was delighted. He pulled a sealed box with the book in it from his car, opened it and signed it. I thanked him and when I got home, eagerly opened the (GEORGEOUS) coffee table book filled with high quality images of all of GMs triumphs over the years. However, I discovered that the truck that he thought was my 1950 was actually a 1954. I was a bit disappointed but understood. Not everyone knows the nuances between the years although the differences between the ’50 and the ’54 are VERY apparent to me and to (I am sure) the readers on this site. Anyway, I made another new friend, put a smile on his face and got a great book out of it!
I have only shown the truck at one event since I finished it and I WON! It was the Good Guys show in Charlotte last year and I got a trophy. Now I can honestly tell people that EVERY show that I have entered with the truck, I have WON. I think I’ll quit while I’m ahead.Updates I have made recently include:
Found a couple of chrome windows visors (allows you to open the window a bit in the rain and not get wet). I’ll be putting them on next week.
STILL driving her EVERY DAY and STILL LOVE the experience.
21 May 2012 Update
From Dave :
The first 25,000 miles – The odyssey of building and driving a classic Chevy truck
We found this old truck on a trip to Tennessee to visit my sister. There it was, by the side of the road next to a house trailer with a FOR SALE sign on it. My wife and I both exclaimed at the same time, “Did you see that truck?!”
We both love the 1948-1952 Chevy trucks (Advance Design series). We feel they have some of the most beautiful lines and most wonderful style of any of the classics. So, we were understandably excited at the prospect of finding one for sale since they are so rare.
We turned around and went back. A fellow came out of the trailer walking with a cane. He began to tell us about the truck. It had a very partial restoration which included a 1970’s vintage GMC six cylinder engine along with an automatic transmission (which as it turned out jumped out of gear when it felt like it). Some of the interior had also been upgraded. But the truck was mostly stock which meant, stock brakes, suspension and steering.
My wife (who collects canes) noticed a hand carved cane hanging on a rifle rack in the back window and mentioned it to me. She also told me that she wanted to buy the truck -- I was to be the mediator.
Over the next half hour, a considerable amount of haggling took place. To say my wife is frugal is like saying that Hoover dam is a place that holds back water.
After a considerable amount of yelling and screaming on the part of the owner, he finally relented to my wife’s offer, grudgingly. After he agreed. She quietly added, “I want the cane too.”
I thought the deal was broken right there after seeing the redness of the man’s face as he considered her demand. Propriety prevents me from writing in detail the words he uttered but she was resolute and firm. Seeing that he had lost, his shoulders drooped and he gave in ... beaten.
The cane is still in my wife’s collection and the truck is in our garage.
I actually drove the truck the four hours back to Charlotte which was a VERY tiring journey since it was so hard to steer and stop. When we got home, my wife wanted to drive it. I tried to explain to her that it had REALLY hard steering and VERY hard to use brakes and that you had to be REALLY careful driving it.
My wife was undeterred and got behind the wheel.
“AARRGGH! This thing is hard to steer!”
(Wives really do not hear most of what we say, guys.)
“AARRGGH! The brakes won’t work!”
She lacked enough leg strength to actually engage the manual brakes for a 2+ ton pickup.
After about a block, she got it stopped and got out. She did not want to drive it again which was a HUGE disappointment for her. I resolved then that ONE DAY, I would make this thing drivable for HER.
Over the next seven years, we used the truck quite a bit. It was pressed in to service to move our kids back and forth to college, to apartments and finally to houses. Neighbors and family were constantly asking us to move this and that and so it became a fixture at our house. I also drove it back and forth to work each day.
Finally, one day after moving a "small rug" for my Father-in-law that turned out to be heavy enough to break down the suspension (he never offered to compensate us), we had to park it. Lack of funds and time limited our ability to repair it.
After almost a year sitting in the driveway, I finally got enough money to begin repairs but was not sure if I wanted to go down that road. I knew that there were a lot of things that would need repairing and that it would not be a quick and easy job.
I told my wife that I was sick of seeing the truck in the driveway like it was and was either going to sell it or completely redo it to make it functional. She thought a moment and said, “I love that old truck. I’d hate to sell it.”
That started the journey that many of you reading this are on or have traveled. Like you have or will, I have learned much and suffered a lot. At the end though, I am beginning to feel somewhat vindicated for all the trials and tribulations of the last five years.
Once it was disassembled, I found much more than I had imagined. Without going in to detail, this was going to be a massive effort and would cost a LOT to do it right. I discussed it with my wife and we agreed on what to do -- fix what was absolutely necessary and over time, tackle the "nice things to have" as we were able.
I have written a couple of articles related to my experience and how when one enters into this kid of endeavor, one will find most of the charlatans in the industry fairly quickly – but only after they have harvested a lot of money from you first, sadly. So, I won’t go in to that. Rather, I will take this narrative up where the build was essentially completed.
Some of the guys who do this sort of thing on a more regular basis told me a couple of things when the truck was "ready."
First, insure you have a GREAT Road Service and second, drive it every day.
I followed their advice and was glad I did, on both counts.
Driving the truck every day has been a joy. Everyone who sees it smiles, gives a "thumbs up" and when stopped, asks me two questions. One, what year is it and two, did you do it?
After explaining about 1,000 times that I hired professionals (eventually) to do all the major work (engine, suspension, brakes, transmission, etc.), I got tired and now I just say, ‘Yeah, I did it.” I did pay for all of it after all and in truth, I actually have done about one-third of all the stuff myself -- so why not?
I have driven it EVERY DAY for the last two years and it still looks like the "after" picture, above. I keep it clean, maintained and tuned and yes, I do keep it in my garage at night.
Now for some of the more harrowing experiences during the last two years of my ‘break-in’ period ...
For some time, it was hard to stop the truck effectively. Try as I might, I could not stop it quickly and you could not lock up the brakes at all (these are NOT anti-lock brakes). I had three different mechanics look at it and all three told me I needed a complete re-work, more components and major up-fit to get really good brakes. The brakes are Corvette-style brakes with the power booster and master cylinder under the truck.
I went online and searched for others who might have had similar issues and found a great schematic of the booster unit and a good explanation of how it worked. It turns out this particular unit had an adjuster that would increase or decrease the amount of pressure your pedal exerted.
I got under the truck, found the adjuster and moved it about a half inch. I took the truck out in my neighborhood and sped up to about 30 miles an hour in a deserted area and hit the brakes. Tires screeching and a VERY quick stop was the result. Hooray! I had succeeded where others failed and it cost me NOTHING.
Lesson learned: while professionals are the ones to turn to, don’t blindly take advice until you are SURE that it is right.
I learned the hard way that some mechanics (certainly not all) are not as truthful and honest as they should be.
One day as I was driving to the store, the engine suddenly sounded different and a lot of steam began issuing from the hood. I knew something was wrong. I pulled over and raised the hood. It was fairly apparent after a bit of examination (when you do this sort of thing, you become INTIMATELY familiar with all the parts in your vehicle and if something is out of place, you KNOW IT very quickly), I could see the head gasket was blown.
The guys who had done most of my work were quite a distance away so it would have to be towed and this was a Friday afternoon at 4:45. I called and no one answered. That meant it would have to be towed to the facility and left outside for the weekend. Now many may tell you that Charlotte is a nice southern city with little crime - DON’T YOU BELIEVE IT. I was understandably worried.
Having no choice, I called my road service (remember the two pieces of advice I mentioned earlier?) and they got started toward me. Sitting in the truck in misery, I saw a young man approach the truck and I thought I recognized him. He came to my window and said “Hi, I remember this truck; I worked on your exhaust system!”
For moment, I considered how really sad that comment was. So many had worked on the truck by this point I was beginning to think that identifying the population of Charlotte that HAD NOT worked on it might be less time consuming.
However, once he said that, I did recognize him as one of the best and most honest of the litany of mechanics that I had turned to over the course of the last five years.
I explained my situation to him and he asked me where I was going to have it fixed. I told him and he winced, “Wow, a long way off and it’s Friday. I bet no one is there to receive it.”
“Right!” I said, misery showing in my voice.
“Well, I’m working at a shop that’s just a block away and they do engines. As a matter of fact, the two owners built racing engines for Nascar teams for nearly 10 years.”
NASCAR engine builders ... close by?! The little boy in my cheered but the wizened old man grabbed his arm. “Are they reasonable?” I asked.
“For what they do, absolutely! Want me to call the boss? I think he might still be at the shop.”
I’m going to say no?
The boss was there. The tow truck towed it the one block to the shop which was filled with race cars and racing engines. I was in heaven. They took my truck inside and told me first thing Monday they would put a man on it and give me a report before noon.
Yep, I was in heaven.
Monday at 11:18, I got a call from a very professional guy whose voice sounded familiar. After some chatting, I recognized him as one of the guys who advised me to drive the truck every day. I met him at a show where he was showing his GORGEOUS 1948 Chevy truck that he had built himself.
This was getting better and better.
He began to go over a list of problems with my engine starting from the fact that the pistons that had been installed were of the LOWEST quality available (I had been told by the mechanic at the time they were the best). One of them had actually broken. The rings were also very poor quality material along with several other key areas.
I built the truck with the idea that I wanted my wife to be able to drive it whenever and wherever she wanted to. I am a guy who loves his wife so it is IMPORTANT to me that she is safe in the truck and can depend on it to get her home safely. Consequently, I told my friend that I wanted the engine rebuilt with the BEST parts and for it to be solid and dependable. He told me that they would do it for as little cost as possible and that the engine would have a two year warranty.
They went to work and after four days, the engine was finished. They showed me the new parts they were putting in (I checked the manufacturers and parts numbers from the sealed boxes they took the parts out of) and showed me the broken parts that had been removed. They re-worked the heads (I had been lucky enough to acquire (for a GREAT deal) Dart Irion Eagle aluminum racing heads) and REALLY did a nice job on the engine. I had purchased a supercharger a while back and it had never been properly set up for the engine. They built the engine to accommodate the blower and when I drove the newly built engine for the first time, I was AMAZED. It was like driving a 5 series BMW (I know because I owned one).
Money well spent and for the FIRST TIME, I had a warranty!
Over the next six months, I had a couple of other problems including the supercharger shaft breaking in two (NEVER expect service from either Summit or Weiand – I had only had the blower for 10 months, NEVER drove it hard and neither Summit nor Weiand WOULD stand behind it! I now ONLY buy from JEGS). I did not overload it, I was driving at 50 miles an hour (with my wife – did not help my credibility) some four hours from home. I had to have it hauled home (Allstate Motor Club –THE BEST ROAD SERVICE ON THE PLANET – BAR NONE!) and also had to rent a car (NEVER RENT FROM HERTZ. They over charged me $400 to get a car on a Sunday and REFUSED (six efforts) to refund any money back!).
My mechanics checked the engine, no damage. So I had them remove the blower. I sold it on eBay and now just drive it without one. It does fine and has more than enough power to get me around.
I now have more than 25,853 miles on the speedo and have had no more issues to report. It has been nearly a year since the last mishap and driving every day seems to have rooted out all of the gremlins.
My wife has taken up driving it and as she pulled out of the driveway yesterday, I saw a very large smile on her face.
Yep, it was worth it.
Dave's original Gallery submission was May of 2009. Instead of adding on, Dave re-wrote the history of the truck. A fun read! ~ Editor
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