James Alan Jenkins'

1966 Chevy K-10 Short Stepside

"Helen"

Hell on Wheels


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23 May 2007
# 1954

From James:

           I have owned my three-owner 1966 Chevy K-10 Short Stepside "Helen" since April 15 1975. It was originally a US Forest Service rig from Yosemite Valley, California, that had the original "Six Holer" replaced by a slightly hot-rodded 327CI 300HP mouse motor (by its second owner -- a top fuel funny car "Wrench"). To say that it was "slightly hot-rodded" is probably underselling that motor's performance.

           This truck has truly "been and done" -- Death Valley, Mono Lake, Lake Tahoe, Lake Isabella, the Ocean Sand Dunes at Pismo Beach -- California, Arizona, Nevada, even a few trips into Baja Mexico, snow and sand! The sand at Pismo is very clean. Warm currents from the south converge with cold currents from the north, just offshore of Pismo Beach, and this kicks up a whole lot of clean sand to be deposited there. (All that sand had to come from somewhere.) It also keeps it mostly overcast and frequently foggy, and riding the dunes at night in the fog can be really scary. But, Oh!, So Much Fun! Especially, when the odd dune just drops off and you get completely airborne. You can't see the bottom yet and you look at the person riding with you -- the only sound is the loping of the hot-cammed engine at idle, as you fly through the foggy air. "Rumpata, Rumpata, Rumpata, Rumpata." Oh! "We, merry denizens of the Sand Dunes, are we!" It gives me Goosebumps to think of it. So much fun!

           Coming from a background of dirt bikes and sand rails, it's only natural that I have four grooved M&H Dragmaster Slicks mounted strictly for cruising the dunes, and pulling the buggy's trailer over the sand dunes.

           The 327 finally started to blow a little more smoke than I cared for, and it was donated to a 1958 C-10 Short Step, where it still serves well.

           I had been very busy with the dismantling my Chevrolet P-60 based Class A motorhome that is the donor of the soon to be installed 454. And, soon, with the 454 installed, I fully intend to do some "Chi-Town Hustler style" burn-outs, and to catch that on film, as well. The sidewalls on the old tires are rotting out. What better way to send them "The way of ALL GOOD THINGS"?!? I intend to burn a little fuel, but I intend to burn a lot of rubber! As it should be.

           I had three other vehicles that absolutely HAD TO GO!. We "Motorheads" have trouble letting some things go, but you can't keep them all. I don't consider myself a "hoarder" but I nonetheless know the value of good and rare, parts and assemblies. Letting go can be hard. You have to pick and choose. Hopefully, I've done well. I think I have. As of today, it's finally all done. It hasn't been without it's collateral damage. My back and right leg are killing me.

           Helen's painted in GM paint codes from Ditzler, "Jasmine Yellow" from '75-'76 GM paint code; and white (possibly Corvette White) for front bumper and grille also from '75-'76 GM paint codes. "Corvette Silver" was used for the Interior, again from '75-'76 as I recall. (Bill's '65 K-10 also uses the same "Corvette Silver" for its interior. Its exterior has never made it past primer gray.) And, Helen has a "fixed back" seat from a '72 Super Cheyenne white vinyl with white cloth inserts. The original seat was past it's prime, when I bought the truck. I like to keep things fairly OEM, but I'm not a purist by any stretch. When I found a perfect low mileage seat, the fact that I'd need to slide the whole seat forward to access behind it, didn't faze me.

           I wouldn't feel right without at least mentioning my friend, Steve Sevreid for his rightful credit in having shot "Helen" in 1976 in Ditzler enamel paints. Thank you, Steve Sevreid. ("Car Painter to the Stars") Steve Sevreid has painted personal "Cars for the Stars" for as long as anyone could hope to. Steve McQueen's 356 Porsche (as well as my own 356 Porsche), Paul Newman's various 911 Porsches, a '56 Chevy and a '48 Mercury for Sly Stallone, half a dozen Porsches for Otis Chandler owner of the Los Angeles Times, to name just few. (Some of Otis Chandler's cars were worth $1,000,000+ each, back when a million dollars was an unheard of sum, for a car.) And, as long as Steve Sevreid is alive, he'll repaint any car for no charge, if the paint ever goes bad. I don't know of him ever having to do it, but I do know he always gives every customer that guarantee.

           Steve Sevreid is in my opinion, one of, if not the best, car painter who has ever squirted a car, and it's only due to our shared love of all things automobile, that I could afford him. The fact is that I can't afford him, and he's never let that stand in the way. For that, and many other quite unselfish acts, I must point out that Steve's paint job is still good after 31 years of unstop exposure to the elements. (The fire did discolor just the front lip of the hood "a tad" but it melted the turn signal / parking lights, and cracked the glass of one headlight.) All things considered, I don't fault his paint job, in the least. (Those headlights happen to be Zelmot "Cats Eyes" H4 Halogens from the Universal Studios Film, "The Border" starring Jack Nicholson as a US Border Patrol Agent. Circa 1980s each of the "Picture Cars" was equipped with these high intensity lights before going out on location, in Mexico.)

      It's truly rare we get this kind of "inside view" of the goings on in Hollywood. So, as Jim sat back in the sand, telling his stories, we captured them for you all to enjoy.

      Truly fascinating. Read on.

Editor

           By the way, if you've ever wondered why many cars in film and TV night time shots appear to have their headlights painted black after the headlights are turn off, you've a very keen eye for detail. If a "Picture Car" or "Hero Car" is going to drive headlong into the shot with the headlights on, the headlights are ALWAYS painted over with black spray paint. Otherwise, the light from the headlights would be "too hot" and ruin all other lighting effects. Frequently, you'll see headlights in a daytime shot that are still "blacked out". It's not your imagination, they use a black spray can to block enough light so as not to ruin the shot, while the headlights are on, and facing the camera. If they didn't, you wouldn't be able to see anything on film but the two overwhelming beams of light from the unmodified headlights.

           Also, you may notice that in many of my daytime stills, I usually have the headlights, parking lights, and flashers lit, because that tends to "read" better in the daylight. (Yes, I'm a "Borderline Fuss Budget"!)

           We lived adjacent to most of the major film and TV studios in Hollywood, Burbank, and Universal City, CA and as such, were frequently dealing with their business. I've never been on camera but I've seen and worked on a number of celebrities' vehicles. You become quite jaded to celebrities. They really are just people. It sounds a whole lot more glamorous, than it really is. Very long hours, extremely demanding clients, and yes, big money. I really wouldn't recommend it to anyone. You don't have a life beyond your work at studios -- 16-18 hour days, 6-7 days a week. It gets old, fast. But by that time, you're accustomed to that large income, so you sacrifice for it.

           I will say this though, the people who work behind the scenes in film are the most fun kind of people you'll ever meet. They're people who, for one reason or another, can't really be tied down to a normal 9 to 5. I could name drop all day long, but I'd feel kind of shallow in doing so. They're just people, not that different from you or me.

           We lived in a little horse keeping enclave of Sunland, CA called "Shadow Hills" and since it was the time of the Golden Westerns, everybody in stunts lived where you could keep horses. So, many of our classmates were the children of stunt men and women. I will say it did give us an edge on learning how to ride (and drive) like real stuntmen. They were all our neighbors.

           It's true that the San Fernando Valley was a great place to grow up in, back in the 1950s-60s-and 70s. But, today? Not so much. It's far too overcrowded for me.

           My truck is called "Helen, 'Hell On Wheels'"so-named for my Maternal Grandmother, and Paul McCartney's ode to his obviously beloved Land Rover. I'm not much of a fan of British motor vehicles, but I can't help identifying with the line, "Helen, 'Hell an wheels', ain't nobody else, gonna know the way she feels!" My feelings, exactly.

           By the way, the black Great Dane is my first, "Jason." The truck never went anywhere without him.

           This red VW "California Look" Bug, being towed by Helen, actually belonged to my car painter friend, Steve Sevreid. I was delivering it to him at his new home at Mammoth Mountain, CA from Burbank, CA. Steve visited me here a few months ago before moving to Washington State. We still stay in touch by phone and mail, as we will for life. I make friends fairly easily, but maintain them quite selectively. I value my true friends very highly, and it's paid off in ways that can't be measured on a balance sheet.

           The two blue bucket seats seen in the bed were going up to Jeff Verplank's house in South Lake Tahoe, CA. They were from a '72 Chevy K-5 Blazer for his '71 GMC Jimmy, which he still has and is still in great shape -- despite its many miles and having completely worn out at least one set of seats. Jeff and his business partner Tom Gilhooley own and operate EGV, Inc. which is a TV and film studio transportation, lighting, and special FX Company. They currently have "Boston Legal" and "Grey's Anatomy" as clients. I've never looked but Tom's name is probably in the credits of both of those current shows. There aren't many shows that I can't spot the name of at least one friend's name in the crew. Particularly special FX and transportation. Everyone in the industry deserves much more credit than they get. It's a tough job to get and a tougher one to do. The financial rewards are commensurate with the difficulty of your duties. If they weren't, believe me nobody would do it. Tough jobs.

           My brother Bill has been the second owner (since 1976) of a 1965 K-10 300CI "Big" Six Banger, Short Stepside, which we restored from it's severely salt air corrosion damaged condition. It was a Santa Catalina Island Company-owned service vehicle on Santa Catalina Island, CA. (Around the decade mark, most island vehicles begin to shed rust, as though they were leaving bread crumbs to be retraced, lest the operator were to forget where home is. Then, they must come ashore, for a well earned retirement, and / or rebuilding.) As I recall, the original dash panel's clock showed 60,000 miles. Only the frame, drivetrain, bumpers, front mounted 10,000LB Ramsey PTO winch, utility box rear fenders, and hood, remain from the original build. It has had its rusted out cab replaced by a custom cab small window with factory air conditioning. I don't have any photos of Bill's truck ... but will try to get some fresh ones!

           All in all, after a complete frame-off rebuild with no "stone," bolt, nut or washer left unturned, it has turned out to be "a rare and beautiful thing." (I, also had a factory a/c unit for Helen. But alas, before I got around to installing it, it was lost, along with Grandmother Helen's Rocking Chair, and 2/3 of my photo albums, amongst many other things, in a garage fire.) Which is nothing, when you consider that this "garage fire" also wound up quickly consuming Bill's entire house, and all material contents. (No loss of life, a very narrow escape!!!, but no loss of life. Things are just things, and life does go on.) I only mention the fire and loss of photo albums as a way explaining that my mental inventory of available photos of the two trucks, is at this point, incomplete. I'm sure I have some, as I was camera nut, when younger. There is of course, always the option of my taking fresh photos.

           Both trucks were slightly damaged, but not consumed by the fire. Damage is mostly cosmetic, really. Completely reversible. It's just one more thing. (It's always, just one more thing.) Since many of my photos were lost in the fire, I got in touch in touch with friends who assure me they have lots of photos from "Mud Bogging" that will do my '66 K-10 justice.

           Both trucks had been lovingly, and completely, disassembled, and refurbished. Time is rarely kind to any of us, and the trucks may see yet another "re-freshening," I don't have a crystal ball, but stranger things have happened. Time will tell. As evidence of my once sharp recollection, may I note that the king pin bearings for these K-10 trucks, are 11520s and 11590s. I know that, because I replaced Helen's, back in 1975!

           It's a real good idea to regularly check, and "top off" those front axle "knuckles" with fresh 90W! Also, if you don't "put-in" your free-wheeling hubs once and a while, you are depriving those king pin bearings of rightly needed oil. (In my opinion.) Exercise all moving parts, on a regular basis. Think, "Tin Man" and never "Surrender Dorothy!" LOL (She's far too fine a lady, for that.)

           As much as you can love "a thing," I love these beautiful trucks. What's not to like? Yes, I do love my truck, "Helen" and, Bill's truck is pretty cool, too.

           It's been a great ride, and I'm looking forward to having the Big Block 454 "under foot." I think I'll need to make some changes to my rear axle lower link traction bars, now that I think "I know better." Plus, a stabilizer mount or bar to the Rockwell transfer case. When you put a lot torque to them, the stock mounts allow them to "wrap-up" and that's not good. Hot Rodders are never quite finished.

           Friends have expressed the belief that I'll be buried in this truck, and I'll make no argument with that.

           Thanks again, for your time, and stellar site.

Sincerely,

James Alan Jenkins
"James Yellow 66 K 10 Short Stepside"
Bolter # 14645
Placerville, California

           James initially wrote to us in January 2007. But it's taken a while to get his photos (as you can tell from the story). So, once they came in the mail, we were ready to scan them and finish up the story ... at least this much of it! ~~ Editor

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