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10 December 2015
1948 Chevy 1/2-Ton
The “Heartbeat of America”
More pictures on the Bolt Bucket
Pix of all the details mentioned in the story
This 1948 Chevy 5-window deluxe 1/2-ton pickup truck was my first project of this sort after dreaming about it for years. I did not start the restoration, but believe that I have now finished it. The age-old question in this hobby: "Are you ever done with a restoration?"
In 2009 I received a tip from my wife Martha’s cousin Steve that this truck was available. When the previous owner from Cadillac, Michigan had to let go of the project, I was in the right place at the right time for once in my life!
After making multiple phone calls and visits in person to check the truck out, we negotiated a fair sales price. The unfinished truck, and boxes of small parts, along with a truck bed and trailer full of larger parts, was hauled to my pole building in West Branch, Michigan (approximately 95 miles from our home in Alma, Michigan). Once jump-starting the restoration, I was “all in!"
This project became a great stress-reliever from the daily responsibilities of being a middle school principal in a state hard-hit by the Great Recession. I retired in 2012 from my life’s work as a public school educator, spending the last 21 years as a building principal. I spent more time in my waking hours thinking about the truck than I should have; it occupied my dreams as well!
The truck was on the road again by August 2009, and it now has 5200 miles on a completely rebuilt 235 c.i. 6-cylinder engine pulled from a 1955 Chevy. This engine was bored .060 over, and only had shop hours on it when I purchased the truck.
The truck has its original 4-speed stick (floor) shift with a 4.11 rear-axle. It runs really sweet at around 55 m.p.h. My driving season is April – October each year.
This old truck was in the service fleet for the Road Department in Mineral County, Nevada (county seat is in Hawthorne) until the mid / late 1960s. I corresponded with the man who purchased the truck from the Mineral County Road Department; it has had multiple owners since then. Included in the ownership is a couple that lived in Texas, who then moved with it to Michigan.
The truck was originally purchased by the Road Department from the “Nevada Garage” Chevy dealership (no longer in existence) in Hawthorne. We believe that a Road Department supervisor used the truck. The Mineral County seals on the side of the doors were compliments of the current Road Department supervisor.
Patched holes from a roof-mounted service light were clearly visible when the headliner was replaced. A period-correct amber Federal service light was purchased and mounted it in its original location, operated by a vintage switch under the dash. K-D 517 amber cab clearance marker lights were also mounted on the cab roof. Four vintage red reflex Guide / Stimsonite reflectors and two amber King Bee reflectors clearly mark the truck box / tailgate and help identify the vehicle as a service truck. The GM accessory road reflectors and Bolser “smudge pots” mounted on the passenger bedside help with that as well.
I’d love to find a rare 1948 Nevada “highway department exempt truck” license plate to mount on the front of the truck, which would replace the standard 1948 Nevada truck plate. A 1948 Michigan license plate is mounted on rear of the truck.
Further evidence of the truck’s past includes an original set of “cargo tie-down hooks” that can be seen below the tailgate area. These hooks were used to hold a tarp in place over the truck bed. Additional vintage WWII era cargo tie down hooks were located and fastened in the original mounting holes on the side rails. A heavy-duty tan canvas tarp is once again secured in place. Holes in various other locations around the truck where various items were mounted could be seen when I bought the truck. Three holes below the left headlight still are puzzling. Any ideas? Some accessory items have been purchased and re-installed in many of these holes.
One such set of holes, on the upper left of the dashboard, was for a small rubber-bladed electric fan. I found a rare N.O.S. Casco rubber-bladed fan and installed it in that very same location! Another hole in the dashboard is where the wiring for the vintage N.O.S. illuminated Hull compass passes through.
A vintage one-quart brass Pyrene fire extinguisher is mounted on the passenger-side kick panel near the Harrison heater. The mounting holes for the bracket fit exactly where the pre-existing holes were located in the sheet metal.
If these old trucks could only talk! I believe that they do speak to us, but they still can not completely tell their story to us.
(Well Luke, you've done a pretty good job of tracing it's history. Maybe someone will visit the site who is familiar with the truck. It does happen! ~ Editor)
Two holes on the dashboard, found left of the headlight switch, are still a mystery. The purpose of two interior holes between the passenger side corner window and back window is also unknown.
The previous owner did most of the undercarriage and bodywork. Nearly all the sheet metal is original. Only the tailgate, front bed panel, and the front and side splash panels are after-market replacements.
Amongst a very long list of things I have done to this truck:
- cab interior restored to its original look (repainted the original “champagne / graphite brown metallic” color)
- steering wheel and column repainted
- seat recovered
- replacement interior sun visors w/ original brackets installed
- door panels replaced
- headliner replaced
- instrument gauges restored
- all correct trim pieces located and installed, including a pair of rear headliner support bars -- evidenced by the four small “buttons” in the headliner)
- the original fresh air Harrison heater that came with the truck was restored; it must have come in handy on cold Nevada mornings / evenings out on the Mineral County roads
- replaced driver’s side inner door panel, driver’s side upper hinge detents, hinge pins and passenger side door latch
- replaced the driver’s side stainless steel inside window trim
- new data plate stamped / installed using original “clutch head” fasteners; the worn original data plate is “wall art”
- original jack / handle and complete tool set were located and placed under the bench seat
- Guide glare-proof mirror installed
- N.O.S. armrest installed on the driver’s side / reproduction armrest on the passenger side
- N.O.S. Casco cigar lighter installed
- extension mirror and bracket installed on the driver’s set
- dual Delco-Remy seashell horns mounted on the passenger side firewall
- Trico wiper vacuum booster pump was mounted in the engine bay, where that bracket also fit exactly in three pre-existing holes located on the firewall
- N.O.S. windshield washer unit installed
- Generator (rebuilt) had to be swapped out with the old defective one
- Sway bar added to the front end
With safety in mind, seatbelts had to be added -- the only way my wife and son Derek were going to ride with me! Furthermore, the running boards were “Rhino-lined” and reproduction step plates were added for more sure footing. A unique feature -- strictly for safety reasons -- is the addition of a third stoplight to the front bed rack / rails.
I’ve added a restored Guide 6004 turn signal switch and Guide D-68 lamps front and rear, Guide B-31 back-up lights, and Guide 5-3/4” amber fog lights. An original set of Guide black-metal back sealed-beam headlights are also in use. The rear driver’s side Guide tail light housing / bracket is original. N.O.S. Stopray / Guide taillight lenses are in use. A reproduction rear passenger taillight was added.
The original 6-volt electrical service has been completely rewired. My 6-volt battery of choice is a red-top Optima.
The side-mounted spare tire, decorative hood ornament, a restored radio / antennae, and an N.O.S. underhood lamp (a now very difficult-to-find accessory) were added. The bed was refinished. New wheels were painted / striped and mated to a new set of tires, along with new hubcaps. The cab was striped as well. Original GM bumpers are on the front and back (it has been re-chromed).
There was an interesting finishing touch that I was fortunate to include in the restoration. In December 2014, I purchased a vintage “Smash Hit” grille guard (that was complete) from a man living outside of Waco, Texas. This beautiful and rare GM-approved accessory, made from 1” solid cold-rolled steel, was made by The Perry Company in Waco. I had it rechromed, and mounted it May 2015. It’s quite a conversation piece!
New friends have been made through the project the past seven years -- some over the phone, others via the Internet and e-mail, and many in person. The information, help received, and locating miscellaneous original parts from the Stovebolt on-line forum has been much appreciated. I also found the H.A.M.B. on-line forum, the V.C.C.A., and eBay to be good places to find original parts.
Younger brothers Joe and John were a big help on the project. Joe assisted on the electrical side of the project, as well as the body finish. John topped off the restoration by building a set of bed racks / rails out of red oak left behind by our deceased Grandpa K -- “the Judge” -- who ironically retired from the Bay County, Michigan Road Department. My wife’s cousin Jim has been a big help as he has served as a general consultant and problem-solver.
On a side note, my deceased Father Fred was a big supporter of this truck restoration project. In 1966 he used an early 1950’s Chevy 3-window pickup truck with vented windows to haul building supplies to build a house for his growing family in the small town of Zilwaukee, Michigan (outside of Saginaw). When he finished building the house, he sold the truck for the same purchase price. My Mother still lives in that home.
Driving the “Heartbeat of America” on a regular basis and attending classic car shows has validated for me that completing the restoration was a very worthwhile project to others as well. Attending the 50th V.C.C.A. Anniversary meet in Flint, Michigan July 2011 sure was quite an event! The truck has participated in “Back-to-the-Bricks” events the past few summers, which included a couple of trips to the showroom of the local Chevrolet dealer. The truck and I have also appeared on local TV through those events.
The truck has taken part in the Old US-27 Tours the past few summers as well. This classic American truck has appeared in multiple Stovebolt calendars (2010-2011-2012-2014-2015), as well as in the 2013 Michigan Antique Festival calendar. The Heartbeat was featured in Vintage Truck magazine March/April 2015. This story about it, was been featured in the V.C.C.A.’s Generator and Distributor monthly magazine September 2010 and February 2012. Hemmings Classic Car magazine featured this story in December 2011. A newspaper article was written on the truck in the Mineral County Independent-News June 2011. It was the featured “truck of the month” January 2012 on the Jim Carter Truck Parts website.
The “Heartbeat of America” has come back to life and lives again, nearly 70 years after its creation in Oakland, California. Now in my mid-50’s, I see this restored ’48 Chevy truck as a tribute to the rich auto heritage of our great state of Michigan -- which has fallen on hard times recently. Like this truck, we thrive once more as better days are ahead of us.
We initially heard from Luke in November 2010 as he was beginning work on his truck. His first post in the forum in 2009, was in the Electrical Bay asking about the horn installation. Since then, he's been all over the truck restoration forums on Stovebolt, as he lovingly put this beauty together. He continues to update this story every year as he finishes the details on this fine old daily driver pickup truck. Awesome and impressive -- you really need to check all the pictures he has in the Bolt Bucket, too. ~ Editor