October 23, 2010

Divco truck a family project

GODDARD — You can't help but smile when you see Rick Prather's metallic orange 1962 Divco delivery van. It looks like something out of the movie, "Who Framed Roger Rabbit."

GODDARD — You can't help but smile when you see Rick Prather's metallic orange 1962 Divco delivery van. It looks like something out of the movie, "Who Framed Roger Rabbit."

"I have always had a spot in my heart for delivery trucks. The first custom I did back in 1983 was a 1954 sedan delivery," Prather said.

But following a 20-year absence from the car hobby, he decided a show-quality Divco would be just the ticket for Cameo Cakes, the custom baking business he runs with his wife, Vicki.

He had spotted not one, but two, old Divco milk trucks in the area, but neither owner would part with them.

Divco, which stood for Detroit Industrial Vehicles Co., built commercial delivery vehicles from 1926 to 1986.

Stymied at home, Prather wound up buying a rough 2-ton Divco off the Internet. But then the owner of one of the local Divcos, a smaller Wichita Meadow Gold milk truck, decided he would sell, after all. That was in the spring of 2006, and it became the focus of the project.

"We started out with the idea of using it as a signage truck for advertising purposes," Prather said. Zoning restrictions prevent him from putting up a large sign at his business, so he figured a big old, slab-sided van with a sign on it would solve that problem.

"When I told my wife I was going to build one of these, she thought I was crazy," Prather said. "She said, 'It will be ugly and you will look like a dork in it.' "

Rather than using the Cameo Cakes pink and white color scheme, he went paint shopping. When a paint rep colorized a computer picture of his Divco in DuPont Hot Hues Tango-Tango, that issue was settled.

"We took the truck completely apart and sandblasted everything," Prather said. In researching Divco, he learned that an entrepreneur in Ohio had bought the remaining inventory of parts and stored them in a warehouse after Divco closed its doors.

"They had kept the main body style the same from the mid-1950s to '71. It was one of the longest running body styles of any manufacturer," Prather said. "They were a utility vehicle, and that was strictly it."

As a result, parts interchange freely from year to year, he said. So he was able to buy virtually all-new sheet metal for his delivery truck, rather than painstakingly smoothing out dented, rusted original panels.

But just as the project was picking up steam, disaster struck.

Prather, riding his motorcycle to check on materials for the Divco, was hit by a car and nearly died. Although he pulled through, he was told he would never walk again.

"I spent the better part of 18 months in a wheelchair," he said. A young surgeon took on his case and to date has performed nine major surgeries on Prather's shattered leg. Today, Prather is able to walk and work again.

But even while he was recuperating, the Divco project continued. "It was the best therapy I could have had," said Prather, who would sit in an orange office chair so he could be rolled around the truck to sand panels and mark where mounting holes needed to be drilled.

His daughter, Amy, moved home to take over the baking duties at the cake shop, working with her mother to keep the business going. They both helped out on the truck, too. An uncle, Glen Burns, came down from Indianapolis and helped fabricate metal panels and parts. Even Prather's mother, Elaine Wallace, who started the cake business out of her home 42 years ago, pitched in on the Divco.

"My mom and me did all of the interior except for the seats," Prather said. "It's a completely family affair. Without them, it would have never got done," he said.

He selected a pair of Freightliner air ride semi truck seats for the cab, covered in orange and white vinyl by Unique Auto Trim.

Brian's Body Shop in Valley Center shot the two-stage orange paint on the van's expanse of sheet metal.

As for mechanical components, Prather retained the original 100-inch Divco wheelbase, but welded on a Heidt's Mustang II-style rack and pinion front end with disc brakes. Only two leaf springs were retained to mount the Chevy pickup rear end. All four corners received Ride Technologies air bags.

The tiny Golden Missile 4-cylinder engine was scrapped in favor of a rebuilt Chevy 350 V-8 dressed out in billet aluminum, chrome and stainless steel. A Turbo 350 automatic transmission is linked to the power plant.

Foose 5-spoke custom wheels, 16 inches in front and 18 inches in the rear, mount appropriate sized Hankook tires.

With Vintage Air air conditioning, a state of the art sound/navigation system and orange LED digital gauges in the dash, the Divco goes down the road like a dream, Prather said.

Finally, it was time for that signage. As luck would have it, a young graphic artist, Cody Zimmerman, needed a wedding cake. A deal was struck and he took Prather's basic sign design and turned it into the eye-catching logo that now adorns both sides of the Divco.

"In fact, I delivered his wedding cake in the truck last weekend," Prather said. Wife Vicki now proudly says their delivery truck "looks like a VW Bug on steroids," and the couple have gotten great reactions to it at car shows since it was finished this summer.

Prather is already at work on his next project — a sort of "mini me" version of their Divco. He bought an original go-kart-size promo model of a Divco and plans to paint it and letter it to match the full-size truck.

"This one will be 'Mr. Cake' and it will be 'Cup Cake,' " he said, laughing.

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