Cars

Not a T-bird, but ’47 Ford truck fills the bill

The Wichita Eagle

Not every restoration project begins with a flash of inspiration.

Dan Caywood discovered that when his wife, Dana, phoned him about an old truck she saw listed for sale in a school newsletter back in 2010.

“I was looking for something to do in my retirement. My dream car to do would have been a ’55 Thunderbird, but I knew that was probably out of the question,” said Caywood, who was wrapping up a 45-year career at Learjet.

“I loved working on any kind of cars. And I always loved trucks. I had an El Camino and I would do another one if I found the right one,” he said. But this truck was a 1947 Ford pickup, a design carried over from pre-World War II, and it wore a coat of faded red paint, had a thick stack of leaf springs under it and sat on massive 17-inch split rim wheels.

“We went to look at it and I kept saying to myself, ‘I don’t want that big old monster,’” Caywood recalled. “But after I looked it over pretty good, I had kind of a vision of what I thought it could be.”

So he took the plunge and bought the heavy-duty hauler. The rear brakes were locked on it and he and his son, Richard, burned up a winch trying to load the truck onto a trailer. It finally had to be pushed on with help from a tractor and unloaded with the assistance of a bunch of friendly, understanding neighbors.

Part of Caywood’s vision for the truck involved turning it into a flatbed with stake sides.

“I wanted that bed gone immediately,” he said.

Fortunately, his daughter listed the truck bed online for him and an eager buyer from Minnesota agreed to buy it.

“He drove down on his Christmas vacation with a tiny trailer and hauled it home with him. That bed must have weighed over a thousand pounds,” Caywood said.

With that out of the way, the real work began, with the chassis being sandblasted and painted black. RPM Motorsports in Wichita was called on to graft a Mustang II front suspension onto the frame rails, complete with disc brakes and rack and pinion steering.

The flathead V-8 engine, a later model from 1949-53, was pulled out and taken to John Hebb, where the block, crank and heads were cleaned up and machined. Caywood and his grandson, Michael, picked up the pieces and reassembled the engine, which was then mated to a Ford C4 automatic transmission using a special adapter.

Bill’s American Muffler Shop fabricated a dual exhaust system for the truck, installing a pair of Flowmaster mufflers for “that nice, mellow sound.”

An 8-inch Ford differential was installed, geared to work with the smaller diameter 15-inch American Racing wheels fitted to the truck. A matched set of Ohtsu radial tires, 195 /60R15’s in front, 215 /60R15’s at the rear, were used.

“You can cruise pretty comfortably in it and not realize how fast you’re going,” Caywood said.

His brother-in-law, Bruce Webber, stepped up to help create the solid oak flat bed for the truck, finding a source for the wood and showing Caywood how to join the individual boards together with a biscuit-cutting machine. It took a total of 150 such joints to create the floor of the cargo area. Caywood also built an oak cargo box to store car show supplies.

The metal running boards of the truck didn’t look quite right with all that wood, so Caywood fabricated a set from thick, wide planks of oak, incorporating Ford logo step-plates into their centers. Even the front tag surround is made from oak, as is a handcrafted center console and a firewall plaque inside the cab.

The original bench seat was retained, but given added padding by AutoFurn in Derby. The seat was covered in off-white pleated leather, with the same material covering the headliner and door panels. The factory installed rectangular instrument panel was cleaned up, with its bezel repainted in a light almond.

A set of Equus white-faced gauges was installed below the dashboard to help monitor engine functions.

Once the body work on the cab and fenders was finished, the question arose as to what color it should be painted.

Dan and Dana Caywood went looking for an appropriate color and found it in a 1999 vintage Chrysler color called Black Cherry. Sam Valdez at Showroom Automotive in Haysville handled the paint job.

“We had some of that almond paint left and somebody said, ‘There’s your accent color,’” Caywood said. So the front bumper and hood trim were painted in light almond.

The entire project consumed three years’ time and involved both family members and friends.

Inside the completed cab, an early Radio Shack transistor radio now hangs from the rear view mirror, a tribute to Dan Caywood’s late brother, Richard, who received it as a youngster.

Now that the truck is finished and roadworthy, Caywood drives it to the monthly Learjet retirees’ breakfast whenever he can. He and his wife also show it at area get-togethers and shows.

“I’ll use any excuse to get the truck out,” he grinned. And he no longer thinks of it as a “monster.”

Reach Mike Berry at mberry@wichitaeagle.com.

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