Bruce Johnstone's

1954 Chevrolet 3800 1-Ton Stake Bed

"Big Orange"

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23 June 2007
# 1976

From Bruce :

           Hey guys! I've been on the site for a while and finally decided to submit to the Gallery.

           I first spotted this 1954 Chevrolet 3800 dual wheel stake truck while driving in the Black Hills of South Dakota. On a back road, there it was tucked amongst the pine trees. I stopped and was imagining myself driving this truck which was parked near the road. When I eventually turned around, the owner (who I swear had snuck up on me) was only about four feet away standing there silently. This filthy little man, about the size of a leprechaun with a long white beard and white hair, looked like he hadn't seen or talked to anybody for many years.

           After I regained my composure from his little ninja style approach, I asked about the truck. Dale, the owner told me he bought the truck to haul firewood for his house many years earlier. He only used it for a couple years when it dawned on him. He would cut the wood, load the wood, drive home then he would have to unload it by hand. Dale decided that was too much work. So he parked the truck, put a "For Sale" sign in the window and bought another truck with a hoist to dump the wood out.

           Dale assured me the truck would start right up even though it had not been run in many years. Having heard that story before, I looked it over inside and out, underneath and on top. Surprisingly, the truck had not been altered or hacked up. The windshield was good as well as the side glass. The rear window was broken by Dale when he chucked a log in and cracked it. I didn't find much rust even in the typical Advanced Design rust prone areas. The only real rust was under the heater where it had leaked.

           The only other thing I could see was the motor had been replaced. Usually when a motor goes, it's replaced with a newer and more powerful model. Well, not this one! Dale had slapped a 1950 216 Stovebolt in shortly after he got the truck.

           I asked Dale what he wanted for the truck and he almost instantly replied $1500. I wished I'd had a mirror right then, believing I must have "easy sell" tattooed on my forehead. I made a lower offer and he told me no. Not coming to any agreement, we went our separate ways.

           About one year later and a bunch of stealthy drive by's, (I know he probably saw me every time) I stopped again. This time I wouldn't let him sneak up on me! I saw Dale come out of the house, I think wearing the same clothes from a year ago. We talked again. Nothing had changed on the truck from my previous visit. I asked Dale if he still had a title for the truck. He told me after I left the last time he had gone into his house and dug around till he found it. Not trying to fool myself, I had decided I wanted the truck before I got there. I would make an offer and I would take it home! Not wanting to go too low but not wanting to screw myself either, I offered Dale $750 for the truck. Almost immediately he said yes. That's when you sit back and go "Dang, could I have offered less?" Anyway, Dale went and got the title and I gave him the cash and the deal was done. After a couple of days, I dug out my trailer and hauled the beast home. My youngest son looked at it and said "Is Big Orange ours?" I told him it was and he proceeded to crawl all over the truck.

           There was still gas in the tank from who knows when. I know better than to try starting an engine with old rusty gas so we just played with it. I had decided I would attempt to locate a correct motor for Big Orange. A 1954 Chevy 235 would be hard to find but would be worth it in the long run. So with that decision being made . . . I planned to start it! I checked the oil, poured a little gas in the carburetor and the stupid thing fired right up! I ran it for close to an hour while I looked and listened.

           Then I drove Big Orange around the yard a bit! It obviously had non-functioning brakes. So I had to be careful to stay out of the daisies or the wife would kill me! I shut it off and just smiled at my great purchase, envisioning myself tooling around without having to do much work on it.

           Later when I went to put Big Orange into the barn, it wouldn't start. It seems the fuel pump, filter and carb were all choked with very fine rust particles - go figure.

           About a month later, I was driving around (I do other things also) and spotted a1954 Chevrolet 6400 parked out behind a house. I stopped and talked with that owner (who didn't sneak up on me). He told me he bought the big truck new and hauled mail from Rapid City, South Dakota to Sioux Falls. This truck hadn't moved in over 25 years and was in pretty darn nice condition.

           I ended up giving the guy $200 for this truck (basically for the motor). It even had a good title. Unfortunately, when I got it home, I found out it didn't have a 235 -- it had a big honkin' 261!! It just couldn't get any better. Being as I have to rebuild the motor out of “Bigger Big Blue” to put in Littler Big Orange, I've decided to do a full restoration of Big Orange. This will take a while since space, time and money are (as always) in short supply.

           I'll try to keep everybody up to date on the progress, not that you care a whole bunch, but hopefully it might energize others to tackle project like this. I have a few more pictures in my Photobucket. In case you wondered, the " 55 1st Suburban" handle is because I also own a 1955 1st Series Suburban. It's in pieces all over the place waiting to be finished. Should be cool when it's done.

           Thanks for all you do with the Stovebolt page. It's a wealth of information!!

Bruce Johnstone
“55 1st Suburban”
Bolter # 8751
Rapid City, South Dakota

           Glad you rescued Big Orange from the "Ninja" and of course we want updates!!  ~ Gallery Gal

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