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1937 GMC Fuel Tanker COE

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  Owned by Lou Shirvell
Edmonton, Alberta
13 February 2009
# 2536

From Greg Garson :

This is Lou Shirvell's 1937 GMC F33B COE. He has owned this truck for nearly 20 years. It was nine years to complete the restoration. It has always been stored inside and insured.

Since Lou now has an interest in other vehicles, he is ready to sell this one. (If anyone is interested, feel free to call Lou at 780-475-2934, or email him.)

The story as told in the Edmonton Journal, December 27, 1997:

When Lou Shirvell first saw a 1937 GMC fuel tanker in 1976, it was just an old truck in the way of a pipeline job. Shirvell and his colleagues moved the truck out of the way and pushed the pipeline through near Ashmong, 120 km northeast of Edmonton.

By 1988, cab-over style trucks had become popular with collectors and Shirvell decided to take a second look at the truck hidden away in the bush. This time the truck's rugged good looks and potential shone through. Shirvell made a deal to buy the truck and had it hauled home the same day.

"The truck had been there 27 years the seller could remember, "Shirvell said. "He was going to have it pushed out of the way with a bulldozer. He was just too happy to get rid of it."

George Wells, a retired CP Air employee who accompanied Shirvell when he bought the truck, remembered the vehicle from its years at Edmonton's municipal airport.

"I remembered seeing it in front of No. 9 hangar at the airport. Then there it was in the bush," Wells said.

The then 50-year old tires still held air; although one needled additional inflation before it could be loaded onto a semi for the trip to Edmonton. Besides tires, that still held air, the cooling system was nearly full of antifreeze.

When Shirvell bought the truck, the weathered finish was a mixture of colours with the hues of the British-American oil company showing most prominently. After additional research, he discovered that the truck was originally owned by Trans-Canada Air Lines. The pumps used to pump fuel from the tanks on the truck are stamped with their logo. The airline used the truck for several years to refuel its piston-engine truck and used it for some time before selling it to Westland Spraying, a company that used aircraft to spray farmers' crops.

The truck was used at the airport from 1937 to 1961. It was used in crop-spraying operations as far south as Claresholm and then somehow ended up in the bush near Ashmont.

Despite more than two decades of work at the airport, the truck had travelled just over 18,000 miles. Most of the time, it was either on the airport grounds or making short runs back and forth from the British American fuel depot. The truck's condition verified the low mileage -- the engine runs well after repair work on the cylinder head and the brake shoes and drums looked like new when they were disassembled.

However, the brake drums contained ample evidence that the bane of collector vehicle enthusiasts -- mice -- had been hard at work. Shirvell found all four brake drums were packed full of mouse nests -- all told, he collected enough nests to fill a five-gallon pail.

Although GMC would begin building its own truck engines in 1939, it was still using passenger car engines in its trucks in 1937. Shirvell's truck has a six-cylinder Buick motor installed on a slant to fit in the tight quarters of the cab-over's engine compartment. Some smaller GMC trucks used Pontiac motors in 1937.

After the truck was delivered to Edmonton, Shirvell wanted to check out the engine. After hooking up a battery and fuel supply, he pressed the starter.

"It started so quick it scare the dickens out of me," said Shirvell, who quickly turned the engine off.

After nine years of parts hunting and restoration work, the truck finally rolled ont the street last April (1997).

While the truck was in good mechanical condition, the rear of the fuel tank was pushed in and dented. Shirvell had to straighten the dented rear corners and replace the section of metal below the fuel doors on the rear of the truck.

The truck and the fuel tank body were completely dismantled during the restoration.

"There weren't two pieces that were left together on the truck," Shirvell said.

The parts of the fuel tank had to be painted separately and then bolted back together.

Perhaps the most difficult part of the restoration was repairing the damaged transmission so it would shift properly. Shirvell spent many hours working on the transmission before discovering that a small missing part was the source of his problems.

"I was ready to tear my hair out," he said.

A few parts, including the seats, engine cover, front bumper, a head-light lens and a clearance lamp lens, were missing.

Shirvell searched for four years to find the clearance lamp lens at an automotive swap meet in Red Deer and severn years to locate the headlight lends at a swap meet in Portland, Oregon. He found the bumper at a farm auction near Vegreville.

The bumper didn't sell at the sale, but he returned a few weeks later and bought it from the farmer.

The oak sills between the truck frame and the fuel tank were replaced because the old ones were soaked with oil and gasoline. The new sills were made by a small sawmill near Woodstock, Ontario. Shirvell advertised the old sills in the classified ads and sold them to a man who planned to use the wood to build clocks.

After the truck was finished, Shirvell drove it during the summer and entered it in collector vehicle shows. Its top speed of 26 mph is better suited to city streets than the highway.

When Shirvell drives the truck, he is -- as the license plate reads -- in "37 HEAVN."

  • Drivetrain: Front engine, rear-wheel drive
  • Engine: 286 cubic inch inline six-cylinder Buick engine, installed on a slant
  • Horsepower: 90
  • Transmission: Four-speed manual
  • Body-style: Cab-over engine truck with fuel tank
  • Pumps: Two 90 gallons per minute pumps to load and unload fuel.


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