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A Diamond T dream come true

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, Dec. 13, 2013, at 3:42 p.m.
  • Updated Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013, at 6:39 a.m.

Photos

— Day Radebaugh is a fan of big, commercial-duty trucks — wreckers, fire engines and so on. With the help of friends Merrill Green and Carl Barrier, he’s restored several of the heavy-duty haulers over the last decade or so.

So when it came time to look for a pickup truck, nothing would do but a 1949 Diamond T 201 one-ton.

Diamond T had made its name throughout the first half of the 20th century building heavy-duty trucks, including tank transporters during World War II. But the company had begun building a limited number of good-looking Model 80 3/4-ton pickup trucks in 1936, running through 1938, when the larger Model 201 was introduced.

“This was the smallest thing they ever made,” said Radebaugh, showing off his bright red, immaculately restored pickup.

“It’s about the most stylish pickup I ever saw. I saw a picture of one in a magazine (about 12 years ago) and I said to myself, `That’s for me.’ 

The quest to find a Model 201 was on. A couple of years later, he located one for sale, restored by Tom Warren Vintage Trucks in Amarillo, Texas. Radebaugh said the restoration shop had combined two trucks to make one good one, taking it all the way down to the frame.

“I think the bed was refabbed from scratch,” he said. It is of all steel construction, including the cargo floor. The shiny chrome rear bumper was an add-on, but the much heavier front bumper was factory-installed.

He wasted no time in hauling it home.

Ironically, there wasn’t much left for him to do but enjoy it.

“We converted it to 12 volts and added the turn signals. We fixed a few little odds and ends,” he recalled.

“These were called `assembled trucks.’ ” Except for the cab, the sheet metal and the grille, everything could be ordered out of a parts catalog.”

The engines, for example, were all heavy-duty 236 cubic inch flathead 6-cylinder Hercules commercial engines used in all kinds of industrial applications. As installed in the 201, that engine produced a whopping 91 horsepower.

Radebaugh’s version is connected to a Warner T9 4-speed “crash-box” transmission.

“It’s non-synchronized … so you have to double-clutch it,” he said. “But it’s not hard to drive if you go easy. About 40 miles an hour is it in this thing.”

But with the torque of the 6-cylinder and the heavy rear end, he said he thinks he could pull a tree out of the ground with his Diamond T.

“You could get duals on them,” Radebaugh said, explaining that Model 201s so equipped came with wider rear fenders.

His truck rolls on hefty Highliner 7.50x16 LT tires with an 8-ply rating, with a single spare mounted on the passenger side of the bed. Unusual for a pickup at the time, the truck was outfitted with handsome chrome full-wheel hubcaps, which complement the polished stainless steel horizontal bar grille.

“This was the corporate color scheme, red with the green belt on it,” he said. “If you saw a Diamond T, it was probably going to be red.”

The two-piece hood, which can be opened from either side, features a beautiful rocket-like hood emblem emblazoned in three places with the Diamond T logo.

Inside, the pickup features a two-piece leatherette bench seat and a similarly finished headliner. The dash and inner doors are painted a pleasing gray color, with a beautiful aqua panel added to the doors. A pair of matching chrome window cranks allow the individual panes of the two-piece windshield to be cranked open for added air flow.

With no power steering in place, a massive steering wheel is employed to steer the truck. A full complement of gauges is centered in the dashboard.

Diamond T built approximately 7,000 Model 201s, which sold for about $1,800 a copy, before phasing out the model in favor of the Model 222, which reportedly didn’t really catch on as other truck makers rolled out newer, more affordable models of their own.

Radebaugh is justifiably proud of his “light-duty” Diamond T, which represents a bygone era in automotive history, when an independent truck builder was bold enough to build a hard-working pickup that turned heads when it rolled down the road.

And just where did that Diamond T name originate? Charles A. Tilt, who began his life working as a shoemaker for his father, apparently borrowed the diamond shape stamped into the soles of his father’s shoes, along with the “T” for his last name, when he founded the company, Radebaugh explained. Diamond T, which is almost synonymous with trucks, began in 1905 as a builder of cars, not trucks.

Today, Radebaugh’s truck lives up to its heritage as a parade vehicle and a showpiece at local truck collector shows.

Reach Mike Berry at mberry@wichitaeagle.com.

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