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1931 FORD MODEL A
PANEL DELIVERY TRUCK
Restoration Photo Gallery & Video
The saga of the restoration of this 1931 Ford Panel Delivery, found in 1970 rusting away in a field in Cheboygan, MI, to the Medal stand in 2009, includes many twists and turns and is better told by one of the restorers... Jim Rupp in his article "Thirty-Five Years and Counting".
Thirty-Five Years and Counting
The story of a very special 1931 Model A Panel Delivery.
WATCH YOUTUBE VIDEO ABOVE
showing Jim Rupp's complete
Interior & Exterior restoration!
It was September 1973. Al Audette, my long time friend, and I were making our way back to Cincinnati, Ohio after picking up a 1931 Model A Panel Delivery Truck from a field in Cheboygan, Michigan. This would be our last trip to Cheboygan, so we had the prize possession on our trailer. Let me give you some background on this adventure.
In 1970, Al, and another friend of mine, Jack DeBrunner, had just purchased a large assortment of Model A parts and vehicles from a man in Cheboygan after Jack had spotted them, in a field, on his many trips to this Michigan City for his work. Jack and Al worked out a plan to travel to Michigan on numerous weekends to load and bring back all of the parts and most of the vehicles.
I, of course being their friend, jumped at the chance to help them out and to see all the treasures they bought. We made several trips to pick up drums of parts that were taken off of the vehicles before they were parked in the fields to await decomposition. We also tried to load at least one vehicle on a trailer to bring back each trip. We made several trips in the next few years, the last trip being in September 1973, bringing back the Panel Delivery.
We had probably the worst trip ever when we brought back the Truck. We had transmission trouble in the ex-police station wagon that we took and had to retreat back to Cincinnati to pick up another station wagon to continue the trip. Then, we were pulled over because the lights on the trailer were not working. The cop was nice and I'm sure he thought we were nuts, but we were able to fix the lights and continued on our way. When we got to our destination the ground was very soft, and the truck was nestled fairly far away in a bunch of weeds. I guess that's why it was the last one to go. It was the hardest to load. At any rate, we got the truck loaded and started our journey home. During the return trip, Al and I had a discussion about the truck and the restoration of it. Al knew that I had my eye on this truck, but he also wanted to restore it. I made him a little wager that he would never restore the truck. He said “Sure I will, what's the bet”. Well, I came up with an idea. I told Al that if he restored the Model A within ten years I would buy him an extra large Pizza with everything on it. He agreed to that, but said, "What happens if I don't get it restored in ten years”. I just looked at him smiling and said, “Then you owe me $1,000”. Al agreed to this silly bet. I wrote it all down on a napkin that was laying on the seat, signed it, and had Al sign it. We had a Bet! We made it home and put the Truck in Al's Garage.
This was 1973. Al and I were both 23 years old and as everybody knows, priorities change through out the course of life. Jobs and personal time are so precious when you are 23. Before long, I was married, Al was married, and the truck was in storage 'for a while'.
We didn't see a whole lot of each other for the next twenty years. I had taken that napkin with the silly bet and placed it in a file, forgetting all about it. We both now had families to worry about, and kids to raise. It was a busy time.
One day, many years later, Al and I got together at a Chili Parlor that we used to frequent when we were younger. During reminiscing at the restaurant, the subject of the Model A Panel Delivery came up. I asked Al what happened to it. He said he needed the space, so he sold it. I told Al I really wanted that truck, but now it was gone. I never asked him who he sold it to or anything. I just figured it was a done deal.
A few years after that, I was going through my files when I came upon the napkin with the bet on it. I looked at it, smiled, and then threw it away knowing that I would never see that truck again.
Fast forward to November 2005. Dave Cradler calls my brother Tom, and says that he has a guy that has a panel delivery and wants to sell it. Apparently, Robbie Sizemore and his father-in-law bought the truck as a father/son project, and tragically, his dad had passed away. He was tired of it and wanted it gone. Tom, who by this time, was very much into Model A's, gave me a call and asked if I was interested in restoring the panel delivery. He said we should go take a look at it, which we did. Talk about your handyman special. I couldn't see much of a truck at all. There were parts everywhere. Wood, both old and new, Panels, Doors, Fenders, you name it and it was there. I did recognize the frame, engine, and the skeleton for the body, but that was about it. I did notice some pieces that looked just like the truck Al and I had brought back from Michigan so many years before. I asked Robbie where he got this truck and he told me he bought it from Al Audette. We left the visitation talking about how much work was involved with the truck, but my brother was extremely optimistic about doing the restoration. I knew Tom didn't want that one to get away, and I also knew it was my destiny to restore “That” truck! We decided to go into a partnership and purchased the truck as a team of two. You could say a brother/brother restoration project. Two days later we went and picked up the entire kit and caboodle.
Thirty-Two years had passed since I had my hands on that truck and now it was ours to restore. We got right into it. We did research. Found out which parts we needed, and where to get them. We also found out that any panel truck was very rare. After coming up with five good-looking wheels, we sanded, primed, and finally had Dave Cradler paint them with our pinstripe color of Straw. We knew the truck was going to be painted Rubelite Red. We fabricated a new wood roof for the truck with the help of Bruce Bailey. We were able to use some white oak that was left over from restoring two model AA mail trucks that we finished a couple of years earlier. We went through the entire frame and drive train, and picked the best body parts to put on this diamond in the rough. Believe it or not, we had a very nice looking panel delivery within the next year and a half. Then we ran into a problem we never expected we would have.
Nobody wanted to paint this truck… NOBODY!
It was amazing. We had more interviews with painters than you would have with baby sitters to watch your first born for a night out on the town. Everyone we brought in would be excited, but would never commit. We did have a couple of guys that wanted to do it, but one wanted us to wait a year and the other said he would get back to us. After searching another 15 months, Tom and I were ready to try it ourselves, but we just couldn't do that. We had no idea how to paint the truck, so we continued our search. Finally we found Automotive Enterprises. They said they could do it, and to the body shop it went. This was on July 1, 2008. They worked on the truck for months, but it sure didn't look like it was coming together. Tom and I would go visit our truck and even do some work on it. We brought our LeBaron Bonney roof material to the shop and helped install it on a bright sunny day. That, at least, gave us some assurance that the truck was coming together. We were starting to get a little concerned if this project would be finished, but by November, the truck started to take shape. We were promised that we would have a finished paint job by Christmas, and true to their word, on December 22, 2008 we were able to bring the Model A Panel Delivery home, freshly painted and ready to assemble.
Assembly started the very next day. We were so excited to have the truck home and all the parts that we had purchased, rebuilt, or made were being installed. Tom & I pretty much gave up doing anything else and focused all our attention on the project at hand. By January 6, 2009 Tom had the truck running. All the wiring, lights, & horn were installed. Our rebuilt seats with the LeBaron Bonney covers, which we had restored a year earlier, were unwrapped and installed. Along with all the glass, trim, bumpers, and dash. We even went a little crazy and had the wizard of pin stripping, Dan Shaw paint a nice straw pin stripe matching the wheels.
The Truck is finished now. It's red, it looks great, it runs great, and it is snowing. Thirty-Five Years and counting, that test drive will just have to wait until spring… or will it? Oh, how I wish I saved that napkin.
Ohio Valley Model A Club
P.S. This story was written in January 2009. Since then we did get the test drive and a whole lot more. It's a real looker. We took this truck to the M.A.R.C. National Meet in June 2009, had it judged in touring class, and came home with an “Award of Excellence”. This was followed by many car shows and tours with our Model "A" Club. We have had a blast with this restored treasure… But Wait, there's more! Just this January 2010, I was going through my files, looking for something and I came upon that BET. The one that Al & I made in 1973. Boy, was he surprised when I sprang that on him. I don't think I'll collect, but the look on his face was payment enough. It just goes to show you that even after thirty-five plus years, a classic can be resurrected from a rust heap.