For a guy who can boggle your mind with the most intricate details of early motorcycle history both here and abroad, Scott Hall readily admits it’s not nearly as easy to pin down what’s fact and what’s fiction when it comes to "Elbert," his funky 1929 Hudson truck.
First of all, his Hudson isn’t a truck — it’s a blending of two 1929 Hudson 4-door sedans into what was commonly called a "Depression-era cut down." He explains that not many farm families could afford a new truck during the Depression, so it was not unusual for someone to take a couple of derelict cars and create their own truck out of the hulks.
"They took two big Greater Hudson sedans one hit in the rear and one hit in the front and grafted them together," he said. The heavy frame was extended a total of 28 inches and a secondary transmission installed behind the big Hudson 6-cylinder engine to give it the pulling power a farm truck needed.
Hall said the Hudson was created on a family farm near Sawyer, Kan., in the winter of 1933 and used there until 1952. It sat in a shed until the early 1970s, when Harlan Thompson of Harper bought it. Hall spotted the truck rolling through town one day and followed it on his bicycle to find out what the heck it was.
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"I was after him from 1973 until 2001, trying to buy it," Hall said. Thompson finally relented and sold him the truck to help pay for dental bills.
He set about not only making it drivable again, but fixing it up to be a one-of-a-kind hauler for his ever-growing motorcycle collection. The goal was to retain the Hudson’s unique character and then expand upon it with all kinds of interesting, fun accessories.
"This has all been torn to pieces. It’s all blueprinted and new," Hall said, noting that he and Bud Redmond, his "co-pilot and technical advisor" went to great lengths to retain the patina that had settled over the truck.
"People say, `That thing really doesn’t look like it ought to run,’" said Hall. But they say the same thing about his perfectly preserved 1913 Harley-Davidson motorcycle, which he starts up by pedaling furiously for a few seconds, before tearing off around the yard of his industrial services company. "Unlimited horsepower!" he yells back over his shoulder.
Hall’s collection of motorcycles includes nearly all of the early "flat tank" Harley-Davidsons, several Indians and more than a few ultra-rare English-built Brough Superiors. "Lawrence of Arabia had six or seven of them it was what he was riding when he was killed," Hall said.
"A man can’t have too many motorsickles," he declares.
Hall has stories that go along with virtually every motorcycle he owns. And those stories’ facts are crystal-clear.
Then there’s Elbert, the hulking Hudson truck named for Hall’s late, beloved grandfather.
Hall equipped Elbert with a deafening set of old Union Pacific Railroad locomotive horns, a brace of steam whistles, an exhaust manifold wolf whistle, a 1929 Atwater-Kent "monophonic sound system" that blares period-correct CD tunes, and a custom exhaust system that puffs smoke rings and perfume through the twin cab stacks fabricated from Model T driveshafts.
Bob Christian restored the old greenish-colored mohair interior in the truck and for fun, Nadine Ward applied vintage-looking, weathered lettering to truck identifying it as belonging to the Elbert R. Hall motorcycle dealership in Wichita.
That’s where the history began to get a little fuzzy. Hall said it all began as a joke, but a lot of people who saw the truck at car and motorcycle shows swore they could remember when "old Elbert had that truck parked out in front of his shop."
"It kind of took on a life of its own," Hall said. "You tell ’em the truth and you tell ’em a crazy story and nine out of ten people are gonna believe the crazy one." So he lets people interpret Elbert’s story any way they like, based on flyers he hands out containing some hard facts, some soft ones.
He added to the mystique when he built a rustic trailer to tow behind Elbert for Harley-Davidson’s 100th anniversary road tour. The trailer is built out of dynamite crates, an ornate bed headboard and a heavy hedgewood fencepost for a trailer tongue.
Hall encourages people, including kids, to climb in and explore his truck. "This is called `interactive car-showing,’ " he says. "We put signs on it that say, `Yes, you can touch.’ "
Some purists get a little put out that Elbert often garners more attention than the rare motorcycles that surround it. "We kind of like stuff that gets on people’s nerves," Redmond said with a sly grin.
"I’ll tell you one thing — at the end of the day, nobody is having more fun than we are," Hall observed.