Big Truck Restoration

Jan 19th, 2015No Comments

Big Truck Restoration

Restoring big trucks is a big job, but you’d be surprised by how big of a hobby it is. People from coast to coast are bringing back the beauty and style of the trucks that caught their eye when they were in their youth.

The sidewalk superintendents who watched giant dump trucks and spinning cement mixers build their cities are now recreating their youthful dreams by fixing up the old machines. And those who grew up in the trucking industry are paying homage to it.


Sunday Afternoon Cruising

“It’s my Corvette!” says Steve Youngwirth of Oshkosh, Wis., as we inspected the bright red 1998 Western Star semi that he completely restored, fitted with a Holmes 750 wrecker and brought to the 2011 Wisconsin Towing Association Convention at the Chula Vista resort in Wisconsin Dells. “I go cruising in my truck on Sunday afternoons.”

Youngwirth is a construction steel fabricator by trade and his hobby is antique trucks.

“I took this truck all the way down to the frame,” he said of the like-new-looking rig. “Then, I restored both the cab and the wrecker and put it all back together.”

The project took about two years to complete. Youngwirth drew out portions of the box on the back of the truck with an AutoCAD system and he did a bunch of the sheet metal work himself. The front bumper was also designed on the AutoCAD system.

“I have my own job shop and do work for Oshkosh and D & H Crane Corp. and being a structural steel fabricator helped with this work.”

Youngwirth took the Detroit diesel engine apart, cleaned it up and put it back together without modifications. He researched the tandem-axle Dodge chassis and found it was built at Dodge Main in Detroit.

Youngwirth has three other large trucks in his collection. He says that he keeps them in his “toy box”—a 50-by-100-foot building.

“That isn’t very big for these trucks and they’re crammed in,” he admitted. “You can hardly walk between them.”

The others are all Oshkosh trucks and they’re all restored to the same condition as the tow truck.


An Eclectic Mix

Don Chew of Brighton, Colo., enjoys showing off the trucks he stores in large steel buildings on his property and on the surrounding rolling hills. The 80-something Coloradoan collects trucks himself, restores trucks for others and has accumulated reams of historical materials about Marmon-Herrington four-wheel drive Ford trucks and Coleman four-wheel drive trucks made in Littleton, Colo.

Chew’s collection of trucks is eclectic and ranges from a beautifully restored 1937 Marmon-Herrington Model C Canopy Express in military drab to a 1950s FWD with an experimental diesel engine.

Walking through his building you see the White Freightliner tanker he restored for another collector, an early C-cab Coleman tanker that’s fairly far along in its restoration, a well-preserved postwar bus, a Diamond Reo flatbed with an old crawler on back, numerous Ford-based Marmon-Herringtons, an amazingly well-preserved World War I-era FWD military cargo truck, a Dodge Power Wagon wrecker, a Kenworth tractor, a fully restored Pierce-Arrow stake bed and other old workhorses.

Chew’s calling card identifies him as a board member at-large for the American Truck Historical Society ( based in Kansas City, Mo. The ATHS is the nation’s largest organization dedicated to the collecting and preservation of the history of trucks.

ATHS has more than 20,000 members, a number that reflects the size and strength of the big truck restoration market. A second organization is the Antique Truck Club of America (, which has several thousand members.


A Great Passion

If the ATHS membership rolls tell a story, the statistics from the group’s annual convention play a supporting role. The 2014 meeting and truck show was held at the Ozarks Empire Fairgrounds in Springfield, Mo. It had 1,149 official registrations and 713 vintage trucks—most of which were restored—went on display.

When you consider that many of the really big trucks required special permits to move, you can see that there is a great passion for old trucks.

The actual process of restoring a big truck is the same as that used to restore just about anything: take it apart, clean it, replace broken parts and make things work, paint (or chrome) parts to make them look new, repair the upholstery and put everything back together. Then, get it all tuned up and adjusted and take care of all the final details.

Of course, there will be more of everything to restore with a big truck. So you’ll need extra space for the components. You may also need special heavy equipment to move truck parts around and special tools for the disassembly and re-assembly. Better invest in some big wrenches!


Styling & Custom Restyling

Big truck restoration projects vary in style and in factors such as originality. Youngwirth’s Western Star/Holmes tow truck is a beautiful example of restoring the condition of a vehicle, but it is solely his own creation. It did not come like it is from the factory.

At the 2014 ATHS convention, Steven Hartz of Ovid, Colo., showed up with his son Stevie Jr., and their 1936 Chevy “Rat Rod” truck. The Chevy has a 702-cid V-12 engine that came from a GMC truck made for NASA. TV comedian Jay Leno owned a hot rod truck—a customized Peterbilt called “Piss’d Off Pete.”

At the other end of the spectrum are rigs like a completely restored 1949 Chevy Series 5700 Cab Over and MHS Auto Transporter that Jerry Jones and his son Jason brought to the ATHS Show from Guthrie, Okla. The art deco style auto transporter looks totally authentic, although its paint scheme is actually the same one used on Jones’ 1946 Flxible bus. (The truck and the trailer probably weren’t red and tan when they were new, although they “could” have been.)

Other big truck restorers use old photos, advertisements or factory sales literature to determine the exact color schemes that their vehicles came in when new. Collecting such materials related to a truck often becomes part and parcel of its restoration.

It is worth pointing out that some of the truck designs inspired wonderful advertising art that truck fans collect in earnest today. The ads are also great for decorating garages.

Starsky & Hutch Hod Rod

Jan 16th, 2015No Comments


Like many of us, my girlfriend Linda can’t find anything good to watch on TV, so she buys videos (often on eBay) and watches them. After she has viewed the whole video, she sells it again on eBay. In many cases, she even makes a little money on the deal.

The latest video she bought is a season of the old Starsky & Hutch TV show in which the heroes drive a red Ford Torino with “hockey stick” white graphics. She asked me if I remembered the car from TV.  Actually, I remembered seeing it at the Volo Museum ( in Volo, Ill.

Greg Grams of the Volo Museum is an expert on cars used in TV shows and movies.  Greg knows his “Hollywood Cars” well. About 12 years ago he bought a Batmobile that George Barris built for the 1960s TV show. Greg found that it had a big effect on museum attendance. “We went from 150,000 visitors a year to 250,000 and we set records every year now.”

Greg has TV cars in the collection. He prefers what he calls “recognizable” Hollywood cars, like those from recent hits such as “The Fast and The Furious” and “Gone in 60 Seconds.” He has both of those cars in the Volo Museum and they are big draws.

Though Greg hasn’t kept all of the more than 200 Hollywood cars he has owned, he enjoys talking about any vehicle that’s part of TV or movie history. He said that the Hollywood cars appeal especially to kids and families. So, if your family likes movies and cars, you might want to check out or to call (815) 385-8408 for information about the Volo Auto Museum’s Hollywood cars collection.


Get What You Need in Albert Lea

Jan 11th, 2015No Comments
Here's the new timing cover ready for clean up and blasting.

Here’s the new timing cover ready for clean up and blasting.

We have been working on my son Jesse’s 1949 Studebaker Commander Starlight coupe and after we took the engine up to Antigo Auto Parts to have it rebuilt, engine guy Bob Andes called us up. “This timing cover has a bad dent in it,” he said. “And there is a spacer piece behind the water pump that the mounting holes are cracked on. Can you get these pieces for me?”

At first we thought Bob’s request was a pretty tall order. You can’t just buy Studebaker parts from a catalog. Then, Jesse hopped on eBay to see what he could find. Within a few minutes he came up with a timing cover for me to bid on. And it didn’t take much longer to find the water pump spacer.

When the parts arrived, we noticed that they both came from the same place–RPM Motorsports in Albert Lea, Minn. So we decided to see if this parts supplier had a Website. They sure did.  It’s  We linked over to it and started reading. Here’s what it says:

Think back to a time when Friday night meant cruising Main Street, racing for pink slips and showing off your wheels at the parking lot. The memories are timeless, as are the cars we have grown to love.

Your classic old car makes a statement. It may evoke a memory of another time, another place, or ownership may be the fulfillment of a dream. Looking at your investment portfolio is not nearly as much fun as driving your classic car. And chances are the car will be an investment, too.”

When the parts we ordered for the Studebaker arrived, they were neatly packed and the shipment included an invoice and business cards for RPM Motorsports. And best of all, both parts were in really great shape.

So, if you are trying to find unique, limited-edition or hard-to-find parts for your American-built  Classic car, RPM Classic Parts specializes in that niche. RPM says it has 14 employees and gets in more 1927–1972 classic cars and trucks everyday. Hopefully, they can get you the parts you need. If they can’t, they will search them out for you. They did a great job with the parts we needed for the Studebaker engine.


U.S. Toll Free: 1-877-489-9163
Outside the U.S.: 1-507-377-1138

Tell them that “Gunner” sent you!

New Motorsports & Vette Show in Green Bay

Jan 5th, 2015No Comments

By John Gunnell

It seems like everyone has been talking about Green Bay lately. There is a football team there called the Packers that’s doing well this year.

We don’t follow football, but right down the street from the Packar’s historic Lambeau Field is the Brown County Arena. It used to host the Green Bay “World of Wheels” that was promoted by Bob Ashton, who manages the Muscle Car & Corvette Nationals these days. Now a fellow named Rick Paulick has announced that he’s reviving car shows at Brown County Arena and starting with an All-Corvette Show in April 2015.

The new show will honor the all-new Gen 7 Corvette.

The new show will honor the all-new Gen 7 Corvette.

“The Green Bay, Wis. area hasn’t had an indoor car show for a few years since the World of Wheels ended in our area,” says Paulick. “So. I have rented both the Brown County Arena and Shopko Hall to try a Motorsports Show in one building and an All-Corvette Show in the other. I’m looking for 70-90 Corvettes of all generations and vendors. My website is www.newmotorama.comt.”

The All-Corvette Show at Paulick’s inaugural Motorama & Motorsports Expo is scheduled for April 3-5, 2015. Shopko Hall will feature vendors. The Brown County Arena will feature the car show. The car show theme will change.annually. This year’s kick-off event will feature the All-Corvette Show. Paulick says the theme “Honors the release of the Gen 7 Corvette, which may be the most successful new-car debut in history.”

Ford F-Series: The Truck That Grew-Up With America

Jan 2nd, 2015No Comments
2015 Ford F-Series.

1948 Ford F-Series.

By John Gunnell

One of the cars being worked on in Gunner’s Great Garage is a ’67 Mercury Cougar owned by Brett Irick. After two and a half years, the project is almost finished, but Brett has been a very patient customer. The reason is that he has been heavily involved with the creation and launch of Ford’s new aluminum-bodied F-Series pickups. So the new headline-making F-Series has kept him busy. Curators at the LeMay Museum have also been busy.

Known as America’s Car Museum (, the LeMay Museum is launching an exhibition on the history of the Ford F Series truck. Ford F-Series trucks have been beloved by enthusiasts and customers for decades. The F-Series has proven to be the most enduring and successful line of vehicles Ford has produced in its history. Since 1948, there have been 12 generations of this praised line of trucks with numerous special editions in between.

Aluminum body F Series Ford.

Aluminum body F Series Ford.

The new 13th generation launched at the 2014 New York International Auto Show promises innovation and design that will inevitably help this treasured vehicle retain its longstanding place as America’s favorite truck.

The museum’s new exhibit is called The Truck that Grew Up with America and it will tell the story of the beloved Ford F-Series evolution from a utilitarian work implement to a fully appointed luxury vehicle with functional capabilities that deliver the competent utility required in the workplace and recreation.

The exhibit will chronicle the evolution of the 13 series of the truck with imagery and props illustrating how the F-Series has evolved with the functional and lifestyles needs of society. It will showcase examples of each truck in the series as well as the special editions that have garnered loyalty with owners.

To place the F-Series in a cultural context, three “Windows in Time” sets will be created to further illustrate the Truck that Grew Up with America theme by comparing a period with the F-Series truck designs of that era. The three periods; “Widows in Time” are: 1) 1946 through the ‘50s—The beginning; 2). 1960s—A period of dynamic cultural change and 3) Late 1990s—When the line between a work truck and luxury car blurred ACM will build small “sets” with period artifacts, memorabilia and ephemera to enhance the story of the truck in its era.

The exhibit will open on January 10, 2015 and run until June 2015. The Truck that Grew Up with America exhibit will be located on the museum’s Showcase Gallery and is the first exhibit guests will experience. It will include 20 trucks from 1948 to present. In addition to the 20 Ford trucks, the exhibit will have a number of exhibit elements designed to enhance the telling of the F-Series story. These include a video wall adjacent to the entry of F-Series exhibit. The installation is a thirty-five foot exhibit wall with four video monitors, which will run individual films. The museum is working with Ford’s Media Archives to acquire a wide selection of high-quality photography and film to use in the creation of the videos.


Dec 25th, 2014No Comments
A recent Garage Session in Green Bay brought a bunch of car enthusiasts out.

A recent Garage Session in Green Bay brought a bunch of car enthusiasts out.

A new form of old-car fun is catching on in our area. Enthusiasts are getting together for “garage tours” that give them a chance to see current restoration projects or collections that other collectors are willing to show off. These gatherings are informal: no club and no dues.

One group is called the Coffee Clutchers and most of them are from an area in or around Appleton, Wis. Gary Nehring, the former owner of The Ford Barn originated the idea by inviting some hot rodders to gather for breakfast and then visit another rodder’s garage. That was three or four years ago. The Coffee Clutchers’ latest outing involved renting a bus for a 56-person trip to the RVM Classics hot rod collection in Madison.

Sometimes the Coffee Clutchers gather for breakfast only. They have also visited dressed-up garages, restoration shops, car collections, collector car dealerships and engine building facilities. The gatherings are not held on a regular basis. When Nehring gets an idea for a visit, he talks it over with a few members and if they all give it their “Like” he has someone send out an email with the location, date and time. Restaurants are always glad to see the Coffee Clutchers coming; after all, 50 breakfasts can make for a big day.

In Green Bay Tom Kujava has been arranging Garage Sessions that get up to 100 car nuts. Kujava hosted a local car TV show called “Wheels” that put him in touch with car enthusiasts in his area. He decided to arrange Garage Sessions as nighttime visits to different collections in the Green Bay area. One Garage Session was centered on hot rods. Another well attended one drew over 100 people to a collection of signs and automobilia.

Both of these activities are basically garage tours with casual planning Judging from the turnouts that they get, the idea of just enjoying cars with no deadlines or commitments seems to fit today’s fast-paced lifestyle.


Dec 14th, 2014No Comments
This 1968 Triumph TR250 has a low production number.

This 1968 Triumph TR250 has a low production number.


The latest British-built car to come into Gunner’s Great Garage ( is a 1968 Triumph TR250 roadster. As you can tell, this is a car that was “driven hard and put away wet.” It was last licensed in illinois in the 1980s.

The owner kept thecar all those years, pushing it from one stoage space to another. Now, he has decided it’s time to get the car going again. He doesn’t want a restored show car — he wants a reliable “driver.”

The car’s in-line six-cylinder engine received good care over the years and it is not stuck so we are hoping the car can be made to run again without a lot of work. However, it will need things like a battery, a clutch and rebuilt brakes.

This car has the serial number 66 andf is believed to be the 66th TR250 made. But we are going to have to do some research to verify that.

GGG Blog 02


Here is the story of the TR250 from my book called The StandardGuide to British Cars.


1968 TRIUMPH TR250/TR5

Adding more power to the TR roadster was accomplished by add­ing two more cylinders to the engine. The appearance was similar to that of the TR4A, except for a new grille. The TR250 did the quarter mile in 18.8 sec. At 74 mph.

The United States Government was largely to blame for the fact that the new six-cylinder Triumph sold here was slower than the previous four-cylinder model. To make the car comply to U.S. pollution laws, the fuel-injection hardware had to be swapped for a pair of standard carburetors tuned to run on the lean side of the scale.

Externally, the grille used on the TR250 varied from the TR4 grille by losing a small, vertical, center bar. This left only a pattern of full-width horizontal bars to fill the opening. The TR250s had reflective racing stripes across the hood and front fenders ahead of the front wheel wells. The standard steel disc wheels came with covers that were designed to resemble “mag” wheels and even had dummy lug nuts. But many of the TR250 convertibles wore optional center-lock wire wheels instead. Radial tires now were standard. A new magnetic gas cap was introduced.

Inside the cars, the TR4 style interior was redone to make in comply with new federal safety regulations. The steering wheel got a leather-and-sponge-rubber rim and had padded spokes. The gearshift lever was also padded. The old toggle switches protruding from the dash were replaced with safer rocker-style switches. A reflective material was sewn into the convertible top to make it more visible at night.

The TR250 engine was an in-line, overhead-valve six-cylinder with a cast-iron block and head. It had a 74.7 x 76-mm bore and stroke and 2498 cc displacement. Four main bearings supported the crank in the solid-lifter power plant. It had two Zenith-Stromberg horizontal carburettors and an 8.5:1 compres­sion ratio. This added up to 111 hp at 4500 rpm and 152 ft.-lbs. of torque at 3000 rpm. Road testers estimated top speed at about 107 mph and 10.6 sec. was required to get from 0-to-60 mph.

The TR250 had ane 88-in. wheelbase and overall length of 153.6 in. They were 50 in. high to the top of its windshield and 58 in. wide. The front tread width was 49.25 in. and the rear tread width was a slightly narrower 48.75 in. The standard disc wheels carried 185HR15 radial tires.

A four-speed manual transmission was standard and overdrive was available. The final drive ratio was lowered to 3.45:1 for the six-cylinder drive train, because it produced more torque than the Four. Rack-and-pinion steering was employed and was significantly redesigned to reduce rear movement of the column in a collision impact. The front suspension relied on unequal-length A-arms with coil springs. The rear independent suspension featured semi-trailing arms and coil springs. For brakes, Triumph used Girling discs up front and Girling drums at the rear.

The TR250 was marketed in two models. The convertible had an East Coast Port-of-Entry price of $3,175 and the coupe version was priced the same. The convertible weighed 2,165 lbs. and the coupe (actually a hardtop with a detachable roof panel) weighed 2,268 lbs. Production lasted less than two years, ceasing before the end of 1968.

About 8,484 TR250s were made, with this figure reflecting a fall off in American interest in the TR series for the first time in seven years. The TR250’s reputation for having less power combined with the negative write ups in car magazines had soured the market here.



Manawa Downtown Car Shows Revisited

Dec 9th, 2014No Comments
Some people at the show said it brought back memories to see Gary Heise's Chevelle parked at the old Heise gas station.

Some people at the show said it brought back memories to see Gary Heise’s Chevelle parked at the old Heise gas station.

The other day we stopped into Suehs Motors for an oil change and Jerry Suehs asked if the four downtown car shows held in Manawa last summer had been successful. He said that he wanted to get more involved if there were going to be similar shows in 2015.

We weren’t certain what the plan was for next year, but when we ran into Brenda Vander Zanden at a Manawa Chamber of Commerce meeting we asked. She said it seemed like the downtown car shows will be on the agenda for 2015, although no dates or details have been discussed so far.

A colorful array of cars filled the street by the post office.

A colorful array of cars filled the street by the post office.

There were four shows in 2014 — one on each Friday night in July. The first was actually on the Fourth and therefore it was called the All-American Car Show, although all cars were welcome of course. We had a pretty good turnout of around 30 cars.

The second Friday was the weekend of the Iola Old Car Show, so we decided to call it the Gunner’s Great Garage party and we invited Iola participants from all over the country to attend.

The turnout averaged about 30 cars per weekend and there were many gems.

The turnout averaged about 30 cars per weekend and there were many gems.

The third week we had musical entertainment by Fred Beyers and we had arranged for several VIP’s to sign autographs. The cars came, but there were few requests for autographs. There was one fantastic highlight on Week 3 when Burton Brown of Fremont showed up with his Bonneville Salt Flats racing Streamliner.

The fourth night was the “British Invasion” and thanks to a bunch of my friends and members of the Fox Cities British Car Club we had an excellent turnout of cars made in England including some real rarities like a Turner and an Austin A90 Atlantic Convertible that’s one of only about five in the United States.

While the 2014 downtown car shows brought out a good number of collector cars and their owners, there weren’t as many spectators as the organizers had hoped for. Those who didn’t come missed a chance to see some world-class cars and learn a lot about automotive history.

If you came to the shows last year, why not give us some feedback on what you liked as well as how the shows can be improved? There was a very short planning period for last year’s shows, which is a good reason to start thinking about next year before the calendar flips.


Nov 30th, 2014No Comments


Volunteer firefighters in Bear Creek restored this FWD fire engine as a department project.

The first year or two of my life, my family lived in an apartment over a firehouse. While that led to many sleepless nights for mom and dad, it turned me onto fire engines for life. We don’t own any fire engines, but we should, After all, the collection already has a police car and a tow truck So why not a fire engine?

When we moved to Wisconsin in 1978, it opened up an opportunity to become a volunteer firefighter. That led to some exciting rides hanging off the back of the truck and riding shotgun in a squad truck that clobbered a deer on the way to a blaze.

At that point the Iola Volunteer Fire Dept. still had a monstrous ’57 IHC brush truck and a classic ’69 Chevy pickup that served the same purpose at smaller grass fires. The IHC was a bear to drive, with a shift pattern that defied logic. The Chevy was light and agile and built like a rock, of course.

We had fun when we went on the Great Race in 1984 and hitched a ride on Doc Fuson’s 1912 American La France with Terry and Gene taking turns driving. All of the modern equipment on the truck failed, but we made in from Albuquerque, N.M. to Amarillo, Texas by switching to the old magneto ignition and ditching the electric cooling fan.

At lunch in Tucumcari, N.M., Terry and Gene asked me if quitting was on my mind. “The New York Times reporter quit,” they said. So, I showed them my Wisconsin Volunteer Firefighter Assoc. card and joked, “Now which one of you has really ridden to a real fire?” They were impressed and we never heard another suggestion that we couldn’t handle a fast ride in the hose bed of a fire engine.

We still enjoy seeing old fire engines at car shows. Like modern cars, many modern fire trucks look similar to each other, but years ago there were styling distinctions that set an FWD apart from a Seagrave. Those differences in appearance are what makes antique fire engines interesting to us.




Nov 12th, 2014No Comments


Gunner’s Great Garage ( specializes in the mechanical restoration of old cars. One of the most important mechanical components in any car is its engine and this has been a week of work involving engines.

390 Photo 01

This FoMoCo 390-cid V-8 “grew” during its rebuild.

Last Friday we got back an engine we have been waiting a long time for another shop to complete. It is a 390-cid Ford engine for a 1967 Cougar XR-7. The owner elected to have this engine built with Edelbrock heads and Super Stock exhausts. We got him a discount of $70 per head direct fron Chrsty Edelbrock. The 390 is a big engine for a sports-compact like the Cougar. With the new heads and big exhaust manifolds the engine is going to be an even tighter fit in the car. In fact, we are going to have to measure very carefully before we go dropping it in. It is a beautiful motor, though.

A second engine for a customer car that we had in another shop also got finished. This is a rare 1948 Chrysler straight eight. The shop has completely rebuilt it, but because of the snow and some personal considerations, we haven’t picked it up yet. We have to figure out how to handle a big straight eight once we get it back in our shop. Modern engine stands aren’t designed for big, long motors.

Stude Six

This Studebaker “Big Six” was formerly a “boat anchor.”

A third engine we have been tinkering with is the one for my son Jesse’s 1949 Studebaker Commander. This is a 245-cid six-cylinder flathead engine known as the “Big Six.” This engine had been stuck for about 30 years. Last week we got it apart and the only special thing we’ll need to do is have the cylinders sleeved. The old pistons were frozen almost solid in the cylinders so liners will be required. The cam, crank and most other internal parts were in good shape. You get a great feeling inside when you think about bringing a 65-year-old engine that was a “boat anchor” back to life. That feeling is one of the reasons people spend more restoring a car than it’s worth when it’s done.





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