Bringing back the old family milk truck

Darrell Jantz helped his father deliver milk door to door in this truck when he was a youngster. He spent four years restoring the rare 1955 1st Series Chevrolet pickup and his dad was the first person to get a ride.
Darrell Jantz helped his father deliver milk door to door in this truck when he was a youngster. He spent four years restoring the rare 1955 1st Series Chevrolet pickup and his dad was the first person to get a ride. The Wichita Eagle

HESSTON – There’s a bond that develops between a boy and his dad when they work together toward a common goal. Darrell Jantz vividly remembers how that happened with his father, Clyde Jantz, back in the mid 1950s, delivering milk for the family company, Canton Ice & Dairy.

“Wholesale delivery was made to stores in Galva and Canton. Retail delivery was door-to-door in Canton beginning at 5:30 in the morning, three days a week,” Jantz recalled. “I would stand on the running board as Dad drove to the next stop. When he stopped, I would run to the back of the pickup, get the milk for that particular house and take it to the front door.”

Not surprisingly, a bond also developed with their family work truck, a now-rare 1955 1st Series Chevy half-ton, purchased new in 1954 from Friendly Chevrolet in Canton. It was the last of the familiar round-bodied Chevy pickups that were so popular in the early 1950s. It was produced until March of 1955 when the exciting new Chevy trucks appeared on the scene, many of them featuring the new V-8 engine.

Jantz remembers that his dad wasn’t exactly thrilled that he hadn’t been tipped off to the introduction of the more stylized mid-year ’55s.

“This truck was used for four years, six days a week to haul milk. One of the first tasks was to build a plywood topper and install overload springs. Milk was purchased six days a week from United Dairies in McPherson, stacked to the roof of the topper and covered with crushed ice,” Jantz explained.

Later in the 1950s, he would learn to drive behind the big black wheel of the Chevy pickup. The family relocated to Hesston, but continued their milk deliveries.

Jantz said he was in junior high school one Saturday, headed home with his dad dozing in the seat beside him when he nodded off, too. He said they both woke up to find themselves driving in a ditch.

“Dad said, `keeping going’ and reached over and steered the pickup out of the ditch.” The only damage done, Jantz said, was to his confidence, but his father calmed him down and had him finish the drive home.

“This is a one family-owner pickup,” Jantz said, explaining that the truck was used by various family members after it was retired as a work truck. “My wife, Barbara, drove it to work at Hesston Corporation when I was in college and my sister and her husband took it to Colorado when they moved. They pulled a trailer full of furniture with it,” he said.

“Dad kept it all those years and wanted me to take it,” Jantz said. By then he was living in Duncan, Okla., and had no place to store it.

“In 1992, he said, `I want to sell it if you don’t want it,’” Jantz said. “I said, `I think I’ll take it, I would like to restore it.’”

Clyde Jantz said it wouldn’t take much to get the old ’55 back on the road: some new tires and maybe a set of shock absorbers.

Darrell trailered the pickup back to Oklahoma, where he rented a shop, bought an air compressor and some tools and tore into the project.

“Six months later, he came down and it was hanging in pieces on the shop walls. He must have thought, `I gave him a good running pickup and now it’s completely torn apart.’ I’m sure he thought he would never see it back together again, but he didn’t say anything,” the younger Jantz said.

The frame-off project took four years to complete, with literally every nut, bolt and bracket removed, saved and replated in the correct finish, either chrome or cadmium.

“I didn’t know what I was doing at first,” said Jantz, who was warned about getting in too deep by a friend who had done total restorations before. But when he saw Jantz’s determination, he was a valuable resource in getting the job done right.

It helped that Jantz had a degree in mechanical engineering by then and a lengthy career in design technology working for the Halliburton Company.

Three friends from Duncan were instrumental in the restoration. Tommy Anthony rebuilt the 235 cubic inch Thriftmaster 6-cylinder engine, Dale Bragg handled the 3-speed transmission rebuild and Curtis Hutton applied the beautiful factory-correct Mariner Blue single-stage paint job once the body work was finished.

The interior was finished in the correct Pearl Beige and brown leatherette, with the gauges restored to like-new condition and a hard-to-find swap meet AM radio fitted to the lower dash.

Jantz figures the project took about twice as long and three times as much money as he originally anticipated, but that it was worth every penny, especially since his dad was there to take the first ride in the pickup when it was finished in 1995. His father passed away about three years later.

The truck has won numerous awards, scoring Best of Show, Post 1945 Vehicles at the Mid-America Old Time Automobile Association show at Petit Mountain, Ark., shortly after it was finished.

“It still drives like an old truck, but it has been a lot of fun,” Jantz said.

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