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He didn't start the fire ... but Stovebolt flames were HOT in him! Every once in a while, all the plugs are firing correctly and your motor just keeps going! What starts out as a neat friendship with an old lover of trucks, just keeps on giving! John soaked up every bit of the essence of this truck. In the process, more astounding details surfaced. This story is about the wonderment of learning the story of your truck and that it might be....
Not just some old, unknown truck
By John Edwardsen
I have a truck. It's a 1946 Chevy 2-Ton with a 235.5 cubic inch six cylinder. And I have a story to go with her!
I've done some research. I guess that's what happens to you when you run across a Stovebolt, art-deco, or old automobile of any kind. When it's in your blood, you feel it. Some people enjoy stories, others don't have time to read. For those of you that still enjoy a "read" ... here goes.
I live in a small town in northern Wisconsin. My technical title at work is "mechanic," however over the years and through the travels, I have worked in many areas.
"I have a truck you need."
The story begins in the winter of 2003. I met the neighbor who lives across the street from where I work. He was an elderly gentleman and I would see him in the winter plowing his driveway on his Ford 8N tractor with a back blade on it. Here is a man well into his 70's plowing snow with a vintage piece of equipment at 30 below zero. So much for whining like my kids do when I ask them to shovel an inch of snow off our 15 foot long sidewalk!
I developed a relationship with the man. He was a wealth of knowledge and always would have an interesting story.
The winter of 2006 brought some misfortune to me when my truck suffered damage in an accident that occurred while recovering a piece of equipment at work. I decided to repair the vehicle myself. My neighbor would stop into the shop occasionally to check out the progress on my truck. He really got a kick out of all the work I was doing and would even bring someone with him here and there to see it as well.
One fine day he stopped in and we were chatting. He says, "I have a truck you need".
I asked him what kind of a truck he was referring to. He told me it was a 1946 Chevy. I said, "Well, sounds neat, I'll have to check that out sometime." He told me that he wanted to have me over when the snow melts to see that truck and to take a tour to look at his junk.
This was exciting to me for a few reasons. One, I knew from talking to him that he lived there for a long time and probably had a lot of stuff. Two, I knew what fields he had worked in and was interested in.
The winter of 2006 passed and Spring came. However my dear friend who I enjoyed talking and sharing information from so much passed as well. I guess we never really saw that coming, and it just goes to show that time is precious and should be used and enjoyed -- none of us know how much we have.
I saw my neighbor's wife sitting on the steps one day about a month or so after the funeral. I walked over and asked her how she was. We talked a little about it. I asked her, "Where is this truck that he always said I have to have"?
"Oh, that old Chevy? It's back along the tree line" she replied. She insisted that I take the tour with her to see what in her word she got stuck with. "He never threw anything away. I don't even know what half this stuff is for" she said.
We walked through the garage and into a couple of sheds, and then into a open area of the yard not visible from the road. There it was parked along the tree line. I remember seeing it for the first time. It was weird because I had heard so much about it but never had a picture to put with the truck. I didn't know a thing about old Chevrolet trucks, even how to differentiate the years. But when I saw that one for the first time, it hit me pretty hard.
That smell of an old truck
I come from a family where Ford is the only acceptable make. However, I think there are brand people and automobile lovers in general. Fortunately, I fall into the automobile lover category. I remember opening the door for the first time -- that smell of an old vehicle, almost as if the past has a specific difference, when times where completely different.
We talked a bit about the truck. She told me how he had to have this truck and then never did anything with it. She thought he had it running a few years back, but wasn't sure when. I asked her what she had planned to do with it. She said, "Well, I'm gonna sell it. I don't have a use for it." I told her that I would definitely be interested, especially because it belonged to someone I enjoyed spending time with so much.
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She liked the idea of me owning it. She knew that her husband and I got along well and spent time talking as often as we could.
People often talk about the good deal they got on a vehicle. Other about how they purchased one from someone who didn't know what they had. This was different.
For starters, I knew nothing about this truck: if it ran, what they were or weren't worth. But my mind was in a different place. I thought owning this truck would be a tribute of sorts. I think he told me I should have the truck because he knew it would get my attention, and that I would work on it, tinker with it. He knew it would intrigue me.
He was right!
I asked her what she had to have for it, and she told me. I didn't argue. It didn't matter. I gave her half down and told her I would settle up with her in about a week. About a week later I was the proud owner of a true "Stovebolt."
Bringing her home
Summertime -- there's nothing like it. Warm sun and an excitement that the true enthusiast gets when you know there's a whole new leaf you're about to turn. This was the day -- the day I was going over to get the truck.
I pulled into the yard and looking through the windshield at it was like seeing an old friend. It felt good. I walked up to the truck and started looking it over. It was hard to believe I owned it. The tires were down, the paint faded, the names of previous owners trying to keep themselves known on the doors, legible only in certain lights.
This was neat. I opened the driver's door and shifted the transmission into neutral. I crawled under the front and hooked a strap to the front axle. I jumped in my truck and started to take up the slack. The thought that this vehicle had not been moved in a long long time kept going through my mind as I glued my eyes to the mirror watching it slowly start to move. I pulled it about five feet when I noticed, "Hey, those tires aren't flat" -- they were sunk! That was a mind blower in itself. I don't think the tires of today would hold air for five years, and these are what, 40 to 50 years old assuming someone put at least a set on at one time!
I got out and turned the steering wheel all the way to the left and strapped it. I was by myself, so I needed to play two people. Back into my truck and pulled it about 60 feet. I remember getting out and being able to walk all the way around it, seeing it in the sunlight from all sides. This is a memory I'll never forget ..... the beginning!
You know how it is when you get something that is new to you. Yeah, well you just can't get enough of it. I had to free up one brake on the right rear, gave the emergency brake lever sticking through the back of the splash shield a tap with a hammer and it was rolling.
I called a friend and told him I had the truck out, but needed someone to help me steer it across the street while I pulled it. He told me he would be right down. I had been keeping him updated on this relic. He was interested I think as much as I was.
We pulled it across the street to the shop and began looking it over. It had an engine, transmission, and all the things an automobile has. I felt stupid. I didn't know what size the engine was, what size it should be, what anything was. I just knew it was all there and appeared really original.
Things begin to take shape
We spent about two or three hours that day. After messing around with the basics, we had it running. Couldn't believe it! Here's this truck sitting for who knows how long and now it's running and we're taking a ride in it. It about blew my mind. How's that famous saying go, "They don't build 'em like they used too"! Well it's true. Check this out: P.T.O. works, two speed rear end works (note - a MANUAL two speed read axle -- check the picture -- Editor) , headlights work, door locks work. I couldn't believe it. There was a fire inside me and it was really starting to burn.
I'm the type of person with specific interests, and every so often one comes along that really gets my mind going. It was like a drug. I I had to know everything about it. Borderline obsessive. I took every number off that truck I could and went online. I started reading any piece of information I could, sucking up the knowledge as fast as I could, making notes, fascinated by the terms and definitions, the kind of drive you wish you had when you were in school studying for a test.
A picture was beginning to unfold.
Now I had a caption to put underneath the picture of the truck that represented a friend to me. You know a can on the shelf with no label is tough to figure out. You look at the size, shape, and maybe you smell what's in it to put a name on it. Now I had a label.
The 1940's were years that I didn't live through. But history tells us the story and from what I gather, there was so much going on in the world that to own something from that era is truly a blessing. The war, the changes in the country, just the whole picture of what encapsulates a time some of us will never know.
According to research there was a United Auto Workers strike in 1946. This put a divider in the year of production for this particular vehicle. I read that they divided the year into first and second production. The first being before the strike and second being after the strike.
Interesting. You think to yourself: it must have been a pretty big strike to reference the model year in that way, even after 61 years.
Ok, so I own a second production 1946 Chevrolet 160" wheel base two-ton truck, complete with 235.5 cubic inch engine, 4-speed transmission, two speed rear end, and P.T.O., built in August of 1946 in Janesville,WI. Neat. This is the description, but I'm really curious as to the history.
The label on the can gives you the content, but not where it's been and who's possession it's been in.
Have you ever walked by something several times before you finally noticed it? Yeah? Well this is one of those situations. I had started this truck up for a couple of weeks, used the keys in the door locks, glove box, even took them out of the truck and hung them up every night I left the shop.
Yet another wonderment
One day I was looking at the driver's door and I could see the name of a man, address, town and state, but it appeared in the right light that there was something under that. Letters started to become evident under a layer of paint. I have a very close friend in the body business and he often talks about how markers, paints, decals and even pencil marks in some cases will show through paint. He tells these horror stories of painting something and having the marks show through and how much of a nightmare it is to get rid of it. Well, this was one of those situations -- only to my advantage, an aid to my research if you will.
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I got some rubbing compound out and started to rub the passenger door a little at a time. I didn't know if this would aid in seeing the letters or damage them. The passenger side of the truck sat up against the tree line and didn't dull out from the sun as much as the driver's side. Soon, I began seeing the letters coming out, beginning to spell the words. The name of the company sounded really familiar, but, not for this town. I kept rubbing, and looking at it from different angles.
This is where the keys and not noticing something you've seen a hundred times comes in. I was sitting at the bench trying to think. "Boy that name sounds really familiar," when I noticed. Hey! These keys have a plastic key chain on them. You know the kind that you would fill out the little slip of paper and slip it in -- the kind car dealerships used to record customer information on when the vehicle was in for service .... HELLO!!
Yes, I felt stupid. I couldn't read the information on the piece of paper through the yellowed plastic. So I gently slipped the piece of paper out. There was a line for name, address, phone. I love how no one writes that down. They use the lines for whatever they want. This read: name: '46 Chev 2T; address: green truck; phone: MacDonald. I turned over the paper and it read "Quality Chevrolet-Buick, with the city, state and phone number.
I've failed to mention that I was born and raised in a town about 30 miles away from the one I live in now. I've only lived here for about ten years. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks.
I walked back outside and stared looking at the door again, a little more rubbing and sure enough. The whole name of the company, complete with town and phone. I was on the moon! This was a company that had been in business in my home town long before I was born, and I had been to a lot as a kid with my Dad.
I couldn't take it. I called up my Father and told him about my discovery.
A good source of info close to home
"That can't be right," he said. I told him "That's what I thought but you have to see this." He came right over with my Mom, and was equally as floored as I was. He hadn't seen the truck before, I was only able to describe it to him by phone.
He stood back and looked it over, and said, "You know, I remember this truck. I remember where they used to park this truck."
Well now this was getting nuts.
"Dad, come on. What are you talking about?"
He went on to say that in 1951, he and his friends would play baseball and they used the front of a storage building as a backstop. The storage building belonged to the company that was on the door of the truck. Every once in a while this truck would come down to the building while they were playing ball. He also remembered walking uptown past the main building and seeing the truck parked across the street next to a building that they would store it in at night.
When you find something you're truly interested in, it's an experience that overcomes you. It's interesting, fascinating, really keeps your attention, but this was getting insane! I don't know how to label it. It isn't really a family heirloom but when it has sentimental value to you because of the previous owner, and it has been a part of the lives of the ones that you love, what do you call it? Wow!! I confirmed the story again with Dad, and he went on to talk about other trucks they owned and storage buildings around town.
My Dad was a home builder for years. I remember going to this particular lumber company with him many times as a kid. He talked about how they supplied lumber and coal and even ice back then. Like I said before, although I didn't live through it, they were different times.
Conversing about this was amazing, and at one point in the conversation my Mom said, "Hey, I've got something for you." She went to their car and she brought me back this item and put it in my hand. It was a little whisk broom. It had a leather sheath over the handle that had the name of the Quality Chevrolet dealership on it that matched the keychain I had. It was an anniversary for the dealership and they handed them out in the '50's. This was quickly becoming more than just an acquired vehicle that belonged to a friend.
Decisions are tough. That's probably why they call them decisions. Time and money. Two things a lot of us have not as much of as we want. You work harder to make the money, and you lose the time. You work less to have the time, and you are out of money. It's a no win situation. Not worth crying about, just the way it is.
I was always taught to make due with what you have and use your knowledge and abilities to come up with what you need. It works. Takes longer, but it works.
Well I found myself smack dab in the middle of a decision that was tough to make. Do I tear this whole truck apart and restore it -- time and money -- or do I make do and just keep it the way it is and see what the future brings along the way?
Don't get me wrong. This isn't a sob story. I don't whine and don't condone it. I decided to leave it. I got into checking out what parts cost, pondered the steps required to remove the body, do the body work, and you know when you want to do something right, there just aren't any good shortcuts. A patch is a patch, and this wasn't the project for that. So next best thing in my mind was to leave it as original as possible, but make it mechanically function. This way if opportunities opened up down the road, it would still be a possibility.
I come from a family of artists. My Father, my Mother, Brother and myself. We all have our own specialties and likes. My Father had a little sign painting company when he was young, and would go around with his homemade wooden box full of paints and brushes and paint signs on various surfaces for different businesses. I remember as a kid going through town seeing signs that my Dad painted, a neat feeling considering everyone else saw them too.
When he looked at the lettering on the door of the truck, he said "I know who painted this. I can tell by the letters."
Sounds a little far fetched, but you have to know my Dad. He pays more attention to detail than anyone else I know. He explained who the man was and described some of the other things he had painted over the years. I always took it for granted, but I realized that I didn't have anything in my possession that my Father had painted. Not one thing.
I called him on the phone and asked him, "Dad, would you be interested in lettering my truck?"
”You mean the '46?" he asked.
"Yes," I replied. "I want you to paint the name, city, phone number, and slogan on it exactly the way it was."
He was a bit surprised I think, but given the situation, it was the best idea in my mind. He remembered the truck. He knew the man that painted it originally. And I wanted something that he painted. It seemed perfect. He agreed and came over with his paint brushes. I mixed the paint and masked off the area exactly where the letters were painted, and he started the job.
It was a perfect situation, because as he was painting he was describing different times he'd seen the truck around town, kind of a narrative paint job. When it was all done (here's a larger image of it), it looked exactly as it had.
I decided to have him paint it over the original paint. This in part because I wasn't in a position to paint the whole truck first and also because he did it in a way that it looked old, fitting to the overall appearance.
More than an old truck
Well, my truck has become a conversation piece. People are genuinely interested in it, because it has that appeal. When I first got it, it had a big jib on the back of it and a wooden flat bed. The jib looked like a rather scary contraption, and the wooden bed was very brittle. I decided to remove both of them.
I was now stuck with a chassis and cab.
Well as we all know, wood is expensive. Building a bed for this truck would cost money. What was I saying before about using what you have? Well I had a utility box. This box was longer than most you see. Guess what? It came off a 160" wheelbase truck. My wheels were spinning, and after a pile of measurements, I decided, why not? I can always remove the box later if I want to change it.
So I made the modifications and put it on, and although not everyone will agree with me, I don't think it looks that bad.
I've looked at a lot of pictures of these trucks on the internet, but never saw one with a utility bed on it. If appearance doesn't apply to everyone, maybe originality will factor in.
The wiring in these old trucks is something else. I can't believe how long it lasted and how it continues to function after all these years even missing whole sections of insulation. Well after checking into what an original looking wiring harness and what they get for one, once again I decided to go with what I had. Again, if I want to change it later, I can. I replaced the original with a modern wire loomed version I made. I wired it to the original items but I had pushed my luck with the factory harness long enough. I've ordered parts here and there, little things that I can afford, from Jim Carter mostly.
This is an ongoing project that may last a long time, but every time I work on it, I get the same feeling, and the feeling is really good.
The History continues
That's the history so far. I plan to make more history, and will update as I go. After all this vehicle was registered and on the road for less than half of it's life. Last registered in 1968, that puts it on the road for 21 years and off the road for the remaining 40.
About two weeks after I got this truck, I was driving it through the parking lot at the shop, and the neighbor I bought it from came down to the end of her driveway. She said, "Hey! I want a ride in that"!
"Get in" I replied. She jumped in and we went for a little ride around.
"You know," she said, "I've never ridden in this truck, all the years we owned it. This is really neat. I'm really glad you bought it!"