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If I knew then what I know now...
|I needed a "horse" for my "hobby" ... this had to be a sign!
I was going through some old photos and stuff and came across a project truck I did a number of years ago, probably around 1979 - 1980 or so. I thought you all might be interested in one of my early ventures into the truck restoration world.
As you may know, I am very involved in the radio controlled model aircraft business. My models are large. Usually around a 90 or 100 inch wing span and weigh around 30 to 40 lbs. As you might imagine, transporting these can be quite a task.
I first got started in these large models around 1978. At that time, Nancy and I had only two cars: a 1965 Pontiac GTO and the 1965 Corvette that we still have. Needles to say, neither one of these could transport my models.
I needed a vehicle to transport the models so the hunt was on. A fellow model aircraft club member suggested that we look at an old Chevy Suburban that a friend of his had. Sounded good to me so we made arrangements to go visit this Suburban just a few towns away -- maybe a 30 minute ride.
Well, here is where the story really starts.
It seems this guy and his wife had just bought a Nursery School business. Along with the school came a few “school buses.” They were basically a striped down Chevy Suburban painted yellow. Well, the owner managed to get rid of all but one of the school buses.
Naturally, this survivor was the black sheep of the bunch. It didn’t run, had four flat tires, was missing parts, etc. When the day came to go check 'Burb out, I grabbed a flash light and a tape measure and off we went.
It was a cold and snowy day in January. When we finally got there, we found this 1969 Suburban sitting along side the school. It was covered in snow, mud and old leaves. When we brushed off the snow, we could see that it was indeed yellow and that the name of the school was proudly painted on the side “Hobby Horse Nursery.” [ pix ]
"How appropriate." I thought. I was going to use this “horse” for my “hobby.”
After clearing away lots of debris, it was tough to even see through the windows. I managed to get the driver's door open and the two “barn doors” at the rear.
For a vehicle used by little kids and left to sit out in the cold for so long, it was surprisingly clean inside. We managed to get the hood open and there sat a trusty old 283 V-8 with that little 2 barrel carb. No battery or cables but everything else seemed to be there. I checked for oil and it had some. No water in the radiator but all the hoses and belts were there. A bit dry rotted -- but there.
The most important task was to check out the interior. After all, I intended to transport big models with this. I climbed in the back and asked the owner to hold the tape measure up near the top rear door latch. I then climbed over the rear seat and proceeded to stretch the tape until I touched the rear view mirror.
“What are you doing?” the owner asked. My friend explained to him that if it wasn’t long enough to hold a 100 inch wing on a rack near the ceiling then the visit was over.
As all you Suburban-ites know: it was long enough.
So the inspection continued. We started negotiating a price and the guy says to me, “Why don’t you have your mechanic come look at it.” I told him he is already looking at “my mechanic” (me) and that I’ll take it for $200. Deal …..
“When can you take it?” he says and I tell him we’ll be back on Saturday to get it out.
That Saturday my wife and I headed down to the school to meet the owner. We exchanged paper work and money and he wished us well. He also wanted to know where the tow truck was.
"No tow truck needed" I tell him. "I’m going to drive it home." He looks at me just like you are now looking at this page. He has that “THIS guy is nuts” look on his face.
I proceeded to the trunk of the GTO and pulled out my trust traveling tool box. I brought along spare parts. I used one of those portable little air compressors to inflate all the tires while I attended to the mechanical chores and cleaned off all the debris. I installed two new battery cables and a battery. I topped off the radiator with anti-freeze and the engine with oil. I poured five gallons of fuel in the tank and saved about a quart to pour down the carb’s throat to get things primed.
When all was ready, Nancy got in the truck. I poured about a cup of gas down the carb and we proceed to crank away. I was really surprised that the starter worked but this helped make this look easy. After a while, the engine kicks and pops, little puffs of smoke rise from the carb.
We let the starter rest for a few seconds and another shot of gas down the carb. Crank again and this time she starts. A big cloud of smoke and a little bit of noise and this baby is running! Nancy and I cheer and the owner shakes his head. I twiddle with the carb to get a nice idle. I have to twiddle with the carb -- it makes you look like you know what you’re doing -- magic fingers, right?
We let the engine run for a while to see if the radiator will hold water and see if we get any heat. It's January in New York remember? The water level drops a bit in the radiator so I know the thermostat has opened. Can’t find any leaks either.
I add some more anti-freeze and check out the transmission fluid. I add a little and all looks like were good to go. Let’s close the hood and cover her up.
While the water temp comes up, we shovel snow out of her path and have to take down a section of a chain link fence. I then drove it out into the street as the owner (previous) stands in amazement. We helped him put the fence back up and were off.
Fortunately the trip home was only a few miles and the truck made it with no problems.
The next step was for me to turn this into the hobby truck we bought it for. But first it had to be “Lab tested” by the pooch. All our vehicles get “Lab” approved by all the Labs we’ve had over the years.
To shorten the story here, I rebuilt most all the systems on this truck from front to back. The usual stuff, a general tune up, brakes, ball joints, control arm bushings, “u” joints, etc. There were many trips to the local junk yard for interior parts off of '69 to '72 pick-ups and I was all set.
I replaced the floor mat with some indoor-outdoor carpet from the local home center. This worked out neat.
The next step was to paint this beauty. Not wanting to spend a small fortune on any of this, I went with trusty old Rust-Oleum paints and gave it the three tone paint job you see in the pictures. As you can see, it came out pretty darn nice.
The Suburban drew lots of attention at all the model events we took it to. We kept that truck for a good long time. It traveled the circuit from Massachusetts to Florida a few times but as the traveling for the model contest circuit got more intense, the trusty old truck just wasn’t up to it anymore so off it went to another home…
What a neat truck that was. If I knew then what I know now…
I miss that truck…..
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