MULVANE – To an untrained eye, the faded old Chevy half-ton pickup must have looked like fodder for the scrap yard when it was pulled out of a farm shed near Argonia nearly 20 years ago.
But not to Brenda Dale, who credits an aunt, Lois Greenwood, for inspiring her to save the truck.
“It’s my daddy’s family. We grew up in this truck, we all learned to drive in it,” she said. Her father, Toby Meridith, bought the 1955 Chevy stepside pickup new, at the same time his father bought a new green ’55 Chevy three-quarter ton pickup.
“Dad would put it in granny gear for us and let us steer it and he’d feed cattle from the back of it,” Brenda recalled. “We hauled wheat in it in 1955.”
In fact, when it was rescued the pickup, it still had the grain chute tailgate in it and a tow-bar for hauling it to the field behind a tractor.
“Dad kept it around the farm and as it got older, he used it as a service truck around the farm. He always hung onto this truck,” she said. The old pickup also did double duty, being used by Toby Meridith to haul carpet to jobs where he worked as a carpet installer.
Eventually, it was retired to the farm shed, where it sat for nearly 20 years. After her father died in 1965, at the urging of her aunt, Brenda and her husband, Steve, along with some cousins, dragged the pickup out into the daylight with a tractor.
“My brother Randy thought it was a lost cause,” she said – and the pickup had been his first vehicle.
“It was bad,” said husband Steve. “The cab was good, except for some rust along the peak, and they had stood on a fender so much to swing stuff in and out of the bed that it had a ‘u’ in it.” But he has built more than a few vehicles himself, so a long-term rebuilding project was begun.
Although not destined to be a factory original restoration, the finished truck was to retain as much originality as possible, according to Brenda. That meant no V-8 engine swap, no modern front suspension replacing the old straight axle, no 5-speed transmission, and it had to have a floor-mounted starter button.
The factory-installed 235 cubic inch 6-cylinder engine was hoisted out and taken to Smith Auto Machine, where it was rebuilt. Steve Dale and his good friend Gerald Keck reassembled the engine, which was painted the correct gray color for this particular truck. (Different factories painted engines different colors back then, Keck explained.)
The original 4-speed manual transmission was retained, but a more dependable 1991 Suburban rear end outfitted with 3.73 road gears was installed. Keck redrilled the original wheels to a 6-bolt pattern to mate up with the new rear end.
“I wanted to split the (exhaust) manifold, but that was not going to happen,” Steve Dale grinned. Nor was power steering.
Another buddy, Jack Marinelli, redid the brake lines and rewired the truck. He and Keck also helped Steve Dale with final assembly.
Dale had bought not one, but three parts trucks to help piece the project together. Near-perfect rear fenders and a tailgate made the work a little easier. The truck was sent to Chris Carlson Hot Rods in nearby Mulvane, where the body work, paint and interior were done.
Carlson and crew figured out a way to drive an air conditioner compressor off the 6-cylinder engine without having to spring for a costly aftermarket pulley setup, and then installed an old-school Vintage Air air conditioning unit under the dash of the truck. Brenda had quickly agreed to that upgrade.
She also decided that the interior shouldn’t be redone in the original dull, drab brown, but set off in white and red to complement the brilliant red custom-mixed paint of the exterior. The dash was painted white, with a red top, and the seat was reupholstered in white with pleated red inserts. A matching two-tone headliner was created and installed.
There’s no sound system, only the factory radio-delete panel. Out back, the stepside cargo bed was refurbished with a new ash wooden floor kit accented by brightly polished steel trim.
New hubcaps, stock muffler and tailpipe and fender trim pieces were installed, many supplied by Bowtie Bits Antique Truck Parts in southwest Wichita.
Blackwall bias ply tires were installed on the white wheels and give the truck the same handling characteristics it had when it was new. How is that?
“This is the definition of ‘it drives like a truck,’ ” said Steve Dale, who drove the bright red ’55 Chevy to Brenda’s high school class reunion recently. “I had a bunch of old guys chasing me down, saying, ‘Hey, I know that truck. We used to haul carpet in it.’ ”
Brenda Dale is thrilled to have her dad’s old truck back in action. It carries a Kansas antique vehicle tag that reads “TOBY 55” on the rear bumper and a vintage Argonia Red Raiders tag topper that Steve found online in Alaska on its front bumper.
“It’s really cool,” Brenda says. “I used to have to sit on the tool box to see out of it. I remember riding the lift up to dump wheat out of it at the elevator. It was scary. But there are lots of good memories in this truck.”