(Throughout my blogs you may hear me refer to a truck, my truck, my 57 Chevy rust-O-ration project truck that I named Rusty. In honor of what would’ve been my Dad’s 87th birthday, I am re-posting what I think is a miraculous story, that emphasizes God’s goodness and his listening skills, his timing and his joy in blessing us, his kids. My Dad and my uncle Jerry figure prominently in this story).
This is the story of how I grew a 57 Chevy pickup from a horn button.
If this were a movie I would start out with a view of Rusty (my pickups name) in his current state and then I would do a fade out to me as a 15 year old checking out my dad’s 55 Chevy 2-ton flatbed. That is how my story started.
My dad worked in auto salvage. Growing up we were never allowed to call his place of business a junk yard, it was a wrecking yard. He never made a lot of money but the one thing he did do was provide each of his kids with a car, our first car, (or truck as the case may be).
My oldest sister was first. She got a 62 Buick Skylark. Next was my brother. His first was a 64 Chevelle Malibu. Sweet ride. My second oldest sister had some trouble with her cars. Her first was a 59 Fiat four door sedan. It had a bent drive shaft so instead my dad got her a 72 Fiat but it kept catching on fire. On a scale of one to ten, that’s not good. Her final first car was a 68 Mustang notch back. This where people start to wonder what this has to do with a truck and a horn button. Well I was next. I am the fourth of five kids and after I turned 15 I knew what was coming. I started looking around for a vehicle that I would like to drive. At the time my dad had a 55 Chevy 2-ton flatbed truck. I really liked the way it looked but I realized that it would be really hard to parallel park so I asked my dad if Chevy made a pickup that looked like his truck. He enthusiastically said yes. I will always cherish the memory of stepping into my dads world and getting him excited about something that we would share and the look on his face. It was a look that said, “You have chosen well my son”. I didn’t get a lot of those looks so this memory stands out.
My dad was working out of town at the time but it only took a couple of weeks before he called to tell me about the great truck he had found. It was a 57 3100 I/2 ton short wheel base. It had a 283 V8, a four speed tranny and it was a deluxe package truck which meant that it came with the better heater, stainless steel trim around the windows, chrome grill and front bumper. But wait, there’s more, it also had a tube style AM radio, the kind that you turn on and it takes so long to warm up the tubes and start making noise that you forget about it and jump out of your skin when it finally starts working. One draw back was the color, it was construction yellow. It was another couple of weeks before dad could bring the truck home. In the meantime he tried to clean it up by taking a pressure washer to it, inside and out. He found out pretty quickly that not all of the yellow paint was of the permanent variety, it started peeling in sheets. when he was done the truck was clean but it was also about 7 different colors.
It was a Saturday morning when I first saw it. The morning was bright and sunny and the truck? It was looking leprous. I walked around not sure how I was going to tell my dad that I didn’t want it. He had me get in, the seat was shiny black naugahyde with a wide red stripe up the middle. It was getting better. Dad said to start it. A funny thing happens to a young man when he is suddenly in control of something that is powerful. The truck roared to life and then settled down to a growly purring idle. Something stirred in my chest. I was in love. I kept the truck
It would take me 2 years to get around to refurbishing the poor thing. I ended up painting the interior and exterior, installing a new wiring harness from JC Whitney, adding some chrome to the engine compartment that my dad had salvaged from a Corvette and throwing on some new tires and wheels. The outside I painted a metallic rootbeer color and the inside I just took it back to the original gray with a brown dash. I put nylon covered black 72 T-bird bucket seats in it. The drivers had 6-way but I didn’t get a chance to connect it to power.
I didn’t think to take pictures of the finished product. I guess I just assumed that this truck and I would always be together. Unfortunately just two weeks after the paint dried a friend borrowed the truck to do some errands and totaled it. He ran off the road into a ditch and did a rolling flip. The only parts left that were salvageable were the left front fender, the right rear fender and the drive train. Even the frame was bent.
I was devastated and my family and friends mourned my loss along with me. Even my ex-girlfriend (now my wife) was sad for me. My dad immediately started trying to locate parts to rebuild. We found two 57 Chevy parts trucks along with some other assorted parts. The cab proved the most difficult. My cab had been pristine, no rust, no dents, door hinges good but the roll had tweaked it in a spiral where nothing was straight. Finally we found a GMC cab but the dashboard was different so my brother, brothers-in-law, dad and friends set about sectioning a Chevy front half and GMC back half. We were successful. After the surgery the doors opened and closed and all the body pieces fit back together.
I had a roughly assembled shell but I just couldn’t get excited about getting it back on the road. It frustrated my dad so he eventually he started looking for a different truck for me. First he found a 58 1/2 ton with a tired 6 cylinder and a 3 three on the tree. We nick-named him Gus. Gus was very cancerous, the sheet metal resembled Swiss cheese. I decided Gus wouldn’t do. My dad kept him but he kept looking for a suitable replacement. Next he found a 55 Cameo that had had the drive train replaced with early 70’s Chevelle parts, 350 small block and a 3 speed along with the rear-end. I bought this one but it wasn’t really what I was hoping for either.
Eventually my soon to be wife’s cousin offered to buy my original truck and I reluctantly agreed. Maybe a new owner would give it the life it deserved. So I had the Cameo and dad had Gus.
I got married and we got pregnant on the honeymoon. I was attending college at the time so I decided to sell the Cameo to pay for the doctor bill for our firstborn. All I had left of my 57 was a horn button and a hood ornament and I’m not exactly sure how I ended up with those.
We moved several times, had 3 more kids and everywhere we went I took along the horn button and the hood ornament. My kids would ask what they were and would explain that they were off of a truck that I used to have and that they were seeds. Their next question was always “why are you keeping them?” my answer was , “some day I’m going to grow a truck from that horn button”.
Many years passed, the kids went away to college, the girls all found husbands and during the last daughters reception at our house my uncle Jerry saw my “truck seed” horn button sitting on my garage work bench. He got very excited. At the time he was building a 57 Chevy LCF (Low cab forward, aka COE) flatbed to haul his homemade airplane. He had purchased a parts truck to complete his project but both his parts truck and the project truck were missing a horn button. He asked if he could buy it the button, I told him what is was and why I had it and I gave it to him. I thought that that was the end of my 57 Chevy pickup dreams.
Another few years passed and just before my 50th birthday I received a letter from uncle Jerry. He had completed his LCF truck and wanted to get rid of his parts truck. He wanted to give it to me. It was a 57 Chevy 2 ton 6500 with a 261 inline 6 cylinder and a 5 speed with a 2 speed rear end. It was almost complete, he had taken off the light switch, the glovebox door latch and of course it was missing the horn button. I gladly accepted, (my wife not so much). We arranged a weekend to tow it from his place in Cashmere Washington to my house in Ephrata. My son and I showed up and before we chained the truck to the tow rig uncle Jerry took me into his palatial garage and handed me a round silver object. It was my horn button. He had found another one and didn’t need mine.
After towing it home I realized what a big job it would be to get my behemoth bock on the road. The tires alone would cost a small fortune. Months turned into years as I vacillated between selling and keeping the truck. I advertised it several times on Craigslist and on Stovebolt but no takers. As I pondered what to do my wife was getting increasingly impatient for me to get it moving, either driving or towed away.
In order to make any improvements on my truck, (I named him Elmer) I was going to have to come up with some sort of currency. I have never had a lot of extra cash to spend on hobbies but one day I came upon a brilliant solution, I would try to trade for stuff. I went onto Craigslist and found a guy selling a rolling 55 Chevy SWB frame. I had some guns that I didn’t need and my wife didn’t want around so I offered to trade. He took the bait and soon I was the proud owner of 55 frame.When he arrived I immediately notice that the rims were 5 lug, the front hubs and the rear end had been updated. This was a shock but I wasn’t going to let that deter me. I knew from the internet that many guys had mounted their trucks on other frames, like S-10s but that required fabrication and I am short on fab skills. I saw this frame as the perfect solution. The cab and front sheet metal would be a direct transfer along with the drive train.
I called around and found someone who would recycle the big frame and even offered to help move the cab over from the old frame to the new. A good friend, Steve Argo offered to help swap over the drive train and then a couple weeks later my brother-in-law Kelly Ledgerwood and the recycler team lifted off the cab and switched the frames. A couple of weeks after the parts moving around the frame was hauled off to be turned into 5 or 6 Hyundais and maybe a Kia or two.
The next issue was that the steering column wasn’t going to fit, the big truck parts were just too big. I went back to craigslist and found a steering column. Again short on cash I offered to trade an acoustic base guitar that I had sitting around. The guy went for it. the column had recently been rebuilt and worked well. I had to buy the electrical stuff, horn and signal light switch (thanks LMC) but I soon had a complete steering column and the crowning piece was the seed that I had used to grow a 57 Chevy pickup, a horn button. I renamed my newly created 57 Chevy pickup Rusty. And he is all of that.
There is still much to do. I recently purchased all new wheels and tires from Les Schwab and mounted them. I have a refurbished gas tank that I also found on Craigslist that is awaiting final mounting and connection. (Done that) The seat has to be rebuilt (Found buckets seats from a Yukon).and someone somewhere will have to help me build a driveline but it’s coming together. (Drive line was built by Chris at Pioneer Metal works in Quincy WA). I have the brake system all connected and bled. I’m using the slightly larger master cylinder from the Big truck and had to concoct a connector to the brake lines but its all there and doesn’t leak.
I plan to leave the paint alone for awhile and also leave the 22000 gross weight signs on the doors. Eventually I would like to find pickup front fenders to replace the large wheel well units from the big truck and find a pickup bed. (Found it and it is on there) If I ever find the fenders I also found a pickup grill with upper and lower valances on Craigslist, (of course) to go with them. . My goal is to have it drivable by June so I can parade it in our town’s annual summer festival. (Didn’t make the parade but I’m driving Him now, that’s what really matters).
Kind of like the old French fable Stone Soup where an enterprising young soldier makes soup from a stone and the town’s people all proclaim, “soup from a stone, imagine that”, I want to proclaim, “a truck from a horn button, imagine that”.
I didn’t make the parade deadline. All vehicles needed to be licensed and insured. I did everything I could but fell a few days short. He’s licensed and insured now.
Another difficulty came with bolting a car rear end to a truck transmission. I had Chris from pioneer Metal Works in Quincy WA fabricate a driveline out the 3 pieces of truck driveline. It works great.
I found bucket seats out of a 90’s out a Yukon at a wrecking yard in moses lake.
They are tan. The driver 6-way works.
I bought some indoor/outdoor carpet at Home Depot. It’s blue. Meh.
I’ve replaced the windshield (thanks Steve Horner) and the window glass.
The gauges mostly work. Speedo is off by 50%. Gas gauge and voltmeter are erratic.
I’ve replaced the door gasket on the drivers side. I’ve painted the door interiors. (I know, now they’re not rusty anymore but they look nice).
Currently I’m rebuilding the heater. I’m waiting for parts and time and an inertia busting event (TBA) to complete that.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope you stop by and meet Rusty The truck from a horn button.