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When serendipity strikes
By John Milliman
Some trucks naturally find their owners. Others need a little help...
They say life is a journey. And so, maybe, it is -- A starting point, a destination and a lot of meanderings (some purposeful, others not quite. But all the good ones bring us new friends) in between. Some of the best of those meanderings are the ones that just ... happen. This is one of those.
As a sailor and Downeaster with a little seawater in my veins, I had always wanted to visit Lunenburg, Nova Scotia...
Nah, let's back up. Waaaaay up --- It's all Grampa Milliman's fault -- he started this.
"Pop" as my Dad called him, passed away when I was 1 year old so I never knew him. I've tried to get to know him through the tangible artifacts of his life that he has left behind -- knick-knacks, trophies, professional tools from his life as a commercial artist (he retired from the Traveler's Insurance Company in Hartford, CT as the director of the Art Dept.). Next only to his service as a Marine infantryman in the First World War (he fought under Maj. Gen. John A. Lejeune at le Bois de Belleau or Belleau Wood -- one of the most revered battles in Marine Corps history), his love of music always fascinated me. Not as a musician, but as an audiophile. Pop loved his tunes! And he had, in the vernacular of our day, a killer stereo.
I think he bought it as a retirement present to himself.
Anyway, that 1958 Pilot "Radio Phonographic Ensemble" was a marvel of its day, complete with a record player (33, 45 and 78 rpm available!) and -- get this -- a radio with both AM AND FM bands! An FM radio! It was just too cool! There wasn't much on FM in the mid-70's when I listened to this set. I can't imagine what was on FM in the '50's!
With its vacuum tube technology and big, heavy speakers, the sound out of this artifact was just beautiful. My Dad said that Pop liked to sit directly in front of it and crank the volume -- the only way to get the full beauty of the stereophonic sound! Why pay the big bucks for a Radio Phonographic Ensemble if you weren't going to get the full value out of it? This, of course, did not go over big with Grandmother Milliman.
Ever since I left home to join the Marine Corps myself and travel the world (and along the way, get into old trucks, get established in a career of my own, get married, raise a family and other minor pursuits), I always wanted to get back home and get Pop's stereo. But of course, the vacuum tubes and fragile speakers did not lend themselves to overseas changes of station. So mom (after Dad joined Pop on the Happy Hunting Ground) just kept it at home, safeguarding it for my eventual return.
Over the ensuing years, nearly 30 now, I had been conceiving different plans for liberating the Pilot from Mom's house. Most plans, naturally, involved roadtrips to Maine -- usually in Winter and not exactly meeting with an overabundance of enthusiasm from the younger Mrs. Milliman (aka, "The Margaret"). And every time we found ourselves back home over the years, I would check on my boyhood companion and how it was getting along (along with Pop's impressive record collection -- can't have a record player without records, you know. But... Barbara Streisand....?). As the years went on, and the Pilot was subjected to a third generation of Millimans (my sister's kids), the wear and tear was beginning to show -- a broken radio dial glass, scratched finish and then, finally, the inevitable "smoke check." My nephew, ever the clever one, figured out how to let all the smoke out of the wires in the set.
To the philistines in my family (i.e., the rest of the Milliman family except for my oldest sister who I feared had similar designs upon the unit), Pop's stereo was little more than junk. My time was short... The window of opportunity was closing...
And still, Margaret would not authorize a dedicated rescue mission...
A truck show and a phone call
During setups for the 2006 show and convention of the American Truck Historical Society in Baltimore, which I had been working on for more than a year as a volunteer, one of my fellow Baltimore-Washington Chapter members Henry Fowler gets a phone call from a fellow who (this story could get long and complicated) was somehow directed to local Baltimore-area old car clubs and finally found a human to talk to.
Charley Wunduke was a man with a pressing, albeit sad, need to dispose of a '51 Chevrolet 3/4-ton pickup truck. It was a project he had started with his son several years previously and they had planned to make the truck, originally from Arizona and amazingly rust-free for being in Maryland, into a street rod and had begun the process of assembling the needed replacement parts and upgrade components.
All was progressing smoothly on this father-and-son journey when tragedy struck. Charley's son passed away. It was a blow no parent should have to take, but Charley and his wife have endured.
Understandably, continuing the streetrod project was a bridge too far for a grieving Dad and the truck sat in the driveway. A few years passed, Charley retired from his aerospace job with Northrop-Grumman and he and his wife decided to sell their house and go home to Pennsylvania. It was time for closure on the unfinished business he had started with his son in the driveway.
When repeated ads, offers to various groups and other attempts to pass the project on achieved little result, Charley was on the verge of calling the scrap man -- something he really didn't want to do. But the house was to be sold and he couldn't take it to Pennsylvania.
Finally, a shot in the dark in the form of a last-ditch phone call to a number he had gotten second hand from friends who had friends who knew about these crazy guys in the greater Washington DC area who were -- get this -- into old trucks! The phone call got him talking to the former president of the Baltimore-Washington Chapter of the American Truck Historical Society, one Henry J. Fowler of Mechanicsville, MD.
Henry's cell phone rang, but not while he was sitting feet-up comfy in front of the boob tube, at dinner or even as he was perched on the running board of his fifty-something International fire truck swapping his unique blend of insight and sheer, um, baloney with fellow chapter members. Nothing quite so sedate. The call came as Henry was wrestling with his significant share of a major antique truck show -- not exactly the optimal time for new business.
As soon as the story unfolded into Henry's fertile mind, already busy with managing the logistics of moving trolleys, tractors, trucks and an assortment of "show" vehicles most sane men would melt down as scrap to the show site in the middle of an urban area, he knew exactly what to do...
Fate, who can sometimes be a fickle old bat, had gently sprinkled her fairy dust on the situation.
Meanwhile, Back in Ecum Secum...