Reminiscing – Dad’s Old Chevy Truck
[Editor’s note: This “Reminiscing” story, edited by Richard Lentinello, comes to us from Jim Miles, Corona, California.]
In the summer of 1968, I was 12 years old and my father, Bob, was 37. We lived in a rural area of western New York in the town of Lewiston, right on edge of Lake Ontario. As I recall, my dad and I were on one of many old-car excursions. We drove no more than five miles down Ridge Road to look at a 1928 Chevrolet truck that had been converted many years before into a farm truck, and was now in repose. All that was left of the Chevy was its cowl, fenders, radiator shell, frame, and running gear. Basically, a truck frame clad in a wooden flatbed that the farmer would use to haul fruit from the orchards to his roadside stand. We were told that the truck had not moved from its overgrown spot in the field since some time in the mid-1950s.
Dad was up for the challenge of getting the old Chevy running, so after stopping at the farmhouse to pay for the truck, our work began. I was given an old coffee can to dredge water from a nearby creek and told to keep some water in the bullet-holed radiator. We had a can of gasoline usually used for the lawnmower and a bicycle pump to inflate the huge old flat tires. Dad turned the old six-volt starter over with some cables and the 12-volt battery of our late-model Pontiac rescue car. He spun the old four-cylinder engine over checking the truck’s vital signs. Within a few minutes of tinkering, a “grab that wire and see if there’s any spark” shock test for me on the old plug wires–he ‘taught’ both of his sons that trick–the engine fired up and we drove it sputtering and leaking to the front porch of the old farmhouse. The Chevy cost $25! I can still remember the shock on the woman’s face as she watched us drive away in the old wooden rig.
My dad was hooked on old cars from an earlier era when his dad scrapped many cars, trucks, and other metal at his auto-repair shop and scrapyard; much of the scrap was used for the war effort. This yard later became Miles Foundry and Miles Auto Parts in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania. The foundry building still stands and Miles Auto Parts is still in business today.
From Dad’s many years in the scrapyard, he learned every detail, every subtle nuance, and many obscure details of many of the cars that have been rolling down our roads for the last century. Knowledge and experience from cutting up many old cars; classics and regular family transportation cars, with a gas torch. His work helped to support the war effort and to help put food on his family’s table. His friends in the old-car hobby often use his knowledge when restoring their own cars.
We drove the old wooden 1928 Chevrolet truck around our farm, hauling wood trimmings and rocks, and just going for rides. Dad had it listed in Hemmings as a parts car and proceeded to sell it piece by piece until it was not recognizable, but still drivable! By the time he finally sold the remains of the truck he had made close to $1,000 from the $25 initial investment.
In his search for old cars, we made many excursions around the Northeast. A very nice 1932 Packard was bought for $500 from a garage in Auburn, New York; a 1934 Cadillac V-12 Fleetwood Convertible Sedan (body #1) was acquired from a yard in southern New York. This three-ton beast was towed home on a trailer by a 1948 Chevy pickup. I still can’t decide who was driving who through the hills and valleys that night–my dad or the 6,200-pound Cadillac (without the engine!) on the now-fractured and patched old trailer.
This is just one of many such adventures that my father, brother, and I shared. Going to get cars always involved a cigar, usually burning before dawn. There was always the grease, snow, mud, or rain ground in or smeared all over everything we wore. The homestretch involved being towed home, freezing or sweating in a car full of mice or bees, with the occasional blow out of one of the old cracked and worn tires. Keep in mind, as kids, we were ‘driving’ these old things as the cars pulling them were usually lighter than our ‘new car’. This is how we learned our hand signals. And, most of our swear words.
My younger brother, John, was a participant in many of our old-car adventures, and we still have some great stories to share when we meet up with Dad and all the boys at the Fall Meet at Hershey every year. Imagine, my dad has been going to Hershey since 1966. Even the old cars were not old yet.
Many cars Dad bought, then fixed to running condition, drove by us on the farm roads surrounding our home, and then sold for a profit of a few hundred dollars each. There were Dodges, Packards, Cadillacs, Plymouths, Hupmobiles, Buicks, Pontiacs, Chevrolets, Hudsons, La Salles, Oldsmobiles, Mercurys, and even a Maxwell.
As Dad bought and sold old cars, he developed a desire to keep and restore a few. So he did, even winning a junior award for his Seafoam Green 1942 Buick Roadmaster Sedanette at the 2001 AACA Fall Meet.
Dad is almost 87 now, and the last two trips to Hershey he has sold a car. He once sold nearly all of his cars and said there would be ‘No More’! Then, within a few weeks, he went out and bought a ’48 Plymouth, two Buick convertibles, a very nice 1934 Dodge rumble seat coupe, a 1949 Chrysler, and a Cadillac. Thanks to our dad, my brother and I, and our friends and relatives are carrying on the old-car tradition, and we are all having fun driving our old cars.