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'49 Chevy 4400

By John Milliman

    The Restoration Series is comprised of trucks undergoing restorations, rebuilds or efforts inbetween. Please note: these trucks may not be 100 percent accurate -- please contact the truck owners to verify items of interest.

Big Red    To fully understand the gyrations we underwent searching for this truck, please peruse the 2 Guys In Search of a Truck series. What you see here is the ultimate end result of a several month-long quest to find a decent, restorable larger flatbed truck that would be used to haul hay, antique tractors and horsedrawn vehicles. In short, this truck was located using the Stovebolt Page (Thanks, Sam!). In the first photo, you see the truck as we first saw it in December, 1998. It had been garage kept it's entire life until 1996. At that time, it lost its space in the barn and was pushed outside. What you see is the effects of two years out in the weather. It also had both headlights bashed out and the passenger side windshield busted in. Other than that, it appeared really solid and rust free -- but it was weathering/deteriorating rapidly. It had to be saved soon.

Getting it home

    Once we settled on a price, we had to figure out how to get it from Mt. Sterling, KY to Georgetown, KY (About an hour trip). We settled on towing it with a chain. Not the smartest option, but it actually worked out. As soon as we hit the road (We were towing it behind a '96 Dodge V10 1-Ton dually), I started double clutching it. After about a mile, it started and ran. After about another mile, we stopped and took the chain off and the big, old Advance Design was under her own power for the first time in 5 years. Unfortunately, but expectedly, just before Paris, KY, she ran out of gas and we went back on the chain. A quick fill up in Paris and we were home free all the way home. Except for that 4-way stop just inside the Scott County Line when the brakes froze...


    As with any restoration, the first thing we did after getting "Big Red" home was to take a thorough inventory of the truck's condition. With a digital camera and a notepad, we went from stem to stern documenting the different systems' conditions and taking stock of what the truck was equipped with. Here you see the period aftermarket turn indicators. Some folks don't like these, but I sure do. The 4400 I rode in as a kid with my dad had ones just like this and I love 'em -- THEY STAY!!

A Brief Interlude...

    As is bound to happen now and again, the fates threw a monkey wrench into our best laid plans -- A change in jobs relocated us from Georgetown, KY to Leonardtown, MD. I found a really good hauler on the Yesterday's Tractors website who moved the truck to Maryland. Here you see the truck earning its keep by hauling a 500-gallon water tank around our Maryland farm so we can pressure wash the paddock fencing.

Getting Started

    After documenting the truck's condition and setting up the spreadsheet to track our work plan and budget, it was time to get serious and start turning wrenches. First to come off was the bed. A little heat from the "Gas Wrench" (Oxy-Acetylene torch) and the bed u-bolts came free. As the bed is the original oak bed Mr. Gilvan bought to haul his cattle to the stock yard, I needed some help lifting it off. Some chains, a tractor and the Bobcat lifted the bed off without much problem.

Front Clip

    Once the bed was off and stored down in the implement lot (It shares a tarp with a manure spreader!), the truck went up to the shop for the real fun -- removing the sheet metal. Naturally, we started with the front clip. If I had more room in my shop (as you can see, only the front of the truck fits), I would have removed the grille and fenders as a unit, rather than taking everything off seperately. From what I'm told, and what I saw, it seems like it would be easier to unbolt the front clip as a unit, roll it forward so it ends up inverted infront of the truck. Just be careful to pad and support everything so you don't twist or bend anything.


Teardown Tricks   

    From my Volkswagen days, I learned to organize my parts as I disassembled the truck. The system I developed for myself involves putting each seperate parts (and associated fasteners, etc) into a ziplock-type plastic bag. My wife gets these from the Dollar Store in gallon size. I use a permanent laundry marker to mark each bag's contents. I then write down each bag's label to enter into my spreadsheet. While this may be overkill for more organized people, I've found this makes me work slower (less foul ups from rushing!) and I don't get stuff spread all over the shop I also use to maintain the farm vehicles -- with me, chaos could result fast if I don't do this.    All the bagged parts, after entering into the spreadsheet, then go into a box. Beats the heck out of a coffee can full of stuff!

Teardown ends -- Finally

    Over the 4th of July weekend (2000), the cab came off with some help from my neighbors. On the left you see the frame right before I pulled the engine and driveline. Now that the truck is completely disassembled (just a frame on stands), I'm working the frame to get it ready first. My sheet metal parts (cab, doors, hood and fenders) are going to a local bodyman (who only does restoration work -- he's great) to work on while I do the frame and mechanical work. On the right is the frame sans engine and driveline. As you can see, I've already sandblasted the battery box area and treated with POR-15. I'm going to work the frame in sections and do the back last. I haven't quite figured out yet how I'm going to sandblast the underside of the frame -- I may just run a chain through the wheels and lift it up on it's side. I'm afraid I'll bend the running board supports, though.


Frame sandblasting, repainting begins

    15 July 2000 saw the beginning of the frame refinishing. What a chore. I'd sandblast until I ran out of sand, use the POR-15 metal prep, rinse, blow dry and paint on the POR-15. I could usually do about 4 or 5 feet of frame at a time this way. I didn't worry about seams in the finish, because I was going to top coat with the ChassisBlack for POR-15 anyway. Nonetheless, it was sloooooooooooow going this way. I hate sand blasting....



Frame sandblasting, repainting ENDS!!!

    Waa HOO!!! DONE -- FINALLY... And it only took a year. Yup! Well, I have a farm to run, you know... Anyway, here's the finished frame, still upside down, in July, 2001. What an odyssey! Did I mention how much I hate sandblasting??





Rear Axle

    Last year, I went to Illinois to see my good friend, John Smith, who had found a bunch of stuff for me. Among the treasures was this 2-speed rear axle from a '52. Here, I've removed the rest of the frame and bed from the axle (easier than the other way around, let me tell you...) and I'm going to start blasting it prior to POR-15 application. Did I mention that I hate sand blasting?? Anyway, this step also involved a trip to the ER after a bout with blood poisioning from a rusty metal cut on my hand... THAT was fun... NOT!


front axle installedJanuary, 2002

    After spending a LOT of quality time with the blasting cabinet, I had all the "little" suspension parts refinished and ready to go. I also had my spring eye bushings and new spring shackles -- it was time to 'round the bend and actually start putting the truck back together. I started with the front axle build up. On a cold, but clear, 20th of January I reassembled the front and rear axles. The front axle build up went without a hitch. Okay, maybe it didn't -- installing the new spring eye bushings proved a chore (getting the old ones out wasn't so fun, either). Of course, it was a struggle getting that heavy rear axle in place and aligned, while juggling spring leaves, u-bolts, impact wrenches and floor jacks ... I think I have a little fine-tuning to do back there before we venture out to the road ... someday.


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