The Little Blue Truck: The Plan

I like having a plan. I need to have a plan. This antique truck project had a plan.

I had the truck. I had ample cash and credit cards. I had a shop that restored old cars to help me. I had a paint shop lined up. As a business owner I had the flexibility during my day to run errands as needed for the truck project. I had employees and trucks available to run errands and pick up parts. I had every parts catalog available. I had all of the original Ford parts and repair manuals.

I reasoned that when a car is in a major wreck it can be rebuilt and repainted in less than six months. I reasoned that when you blow an engine and drop the tranny you can rebuild them in much less than six months. I reasoned I will be driving this little truck in six months or less.

I had everything because I had a plan.

In reviewing what I had and my intended use for the truck it was decided to convert the mechanical brakes to hydraulic brakes. The mechanical brakes were a system of cables, chains, and rods, similar to the parking brake on a car, that actuated the brake system. These were notoriously inadequate especially for today’s high traffic congestion.

The original engine was a 221 cubic inch, 85 horse power and this engine had two major flaws. The first was the front mounted distributor that mounted on the end of the cam shaft. It was known to be difficult to keep in adjustment. Its location also was subject to getting wet from road water.

Secondly, this was the first year for the V8’s and overheating was a problem with the original 1935 motors. All of the Ford flathead V8’s have a divided cooling system. The coolant from the left and right sides of the engine flows separately to the radiator. Each side of the engine has its own water pump. There is only one temperature sending unit for the temperature gauge so only one side of the engine is monitored for temperature overheating.

I replaced the original engine with a 239.4 cubic inch, 112 horse power, 24 head bolt flat head engine. The engine block date code, F3G, equals December 3, 1951. This latter model flat head engine has better cooling and more horsepower. Unless you are an early Ford car collector you can’t tell the difference.

Electrically I went with a 12 volt system and installed an original 12 volt generator to keep the original appearance. I had been advised to change to an alternator and was warned that the generator probably would not have the charging capacity to keep up with the addition of an electric cooling fan and using replacement halogen bulbs in the headlights. As it turned out I did need to change to an alternator. Night time driving with the halogen headlight bulbs burning caused the battery to run down. I got stranded at the shopping mall one evening when there wasn’t enough left in the battery to start the truck as we were leaving.

The original radiator was retained after being recored but was changed to a pressurized system. This raises the boiling point several degrees to further reduce the possibility of overheating.

I always intended to drive my Little Blue Truck. This little truck was not going to be a display show truck. I was going to have fun with my Little Blue Truck. It would get wet when it rained, dirty and dusty and pick up a scratch or two. We were going to have fun.

The Little Blue Truck: The Pitfalls

Welcome to the real world of antique car restoration.

I need to say that I love this little truck. I have had a lot of fun working on it. I have done as much of the work I was qualified to do and some I was not. But what it took to get this truck on the road has been the most frustrating experience ever.

Deadbeats To The Front Of The Line.

When the truck was in the restoration shop for work I would complain that my truck was just sitting there as other cars were coming in and going out. The explanation I got from Russ was that they knew I had the money to pay for my work and that I would have the work done. The other car owners had iffy finances and when they had any money to spend on their cars it was important to get it before it was spent on other stuff like the rent and the light bill.

Body Shop Number-1 Padlocked By The Sherriff.

I was an electrical contractor at the time and the deal was that I would do a couple of thousand dollars worth of electrical work in the shop and they would paint the truck. They did good work and all started well. I had all of the sheet metal sand blasted and delivered to the body shop and they immediately shot a coat of primer so it would not surface rust over the bare metal. A few days latter I get a frantic call from my office that Jeff called to say the Sherriff was coming to padlock his doors by court order. He had pushed all of my stuff out into the parking lot of the shop next door so it would not be impounded and I better come and pick it up real quick.

Jeff never reopened and I never saw or heard from him again. I never got paid for the electrical work which made that a very expensive coat of primer. However, he did me right by pushing my stuff out the door so it did not get seized by the tax man along with all of the other cars and his tools and equipment.

The truck sat in Body Shop Number-2 for one-year and 10-days. That’s right one-year and 10-days, 375 days in the body shop. Why? Because Tom said working on my truck was a therapy project for him. He would work on the little truck when he needed to relax and for stress relief. I could have it sooner but it would cost a lot more and the work would not be as good.

Disassembly And Sand-Blasting

I did all of the disassembly, taking photos of every nut, bolt, and part before it was removed. These photos were helpful during the reassembly. All small parts were placed in Zip-Lok bags and labels were also placed in the bags.

I had General Sheet Metal, a local welding shop; make a frame on wheels to roll around the cab and another to roll around the pick up bed. This allowed these two items to be moved out of the way as necessary.

All parts were degreased and cleaned and inspected as to their condition and serviceability. My intention was to replace anything that could remotely cause a problem later.

Everything was sand-blasted. I was tipped off by Russ stay with the parts, and insist on paying by the hour, insist on using very fine sand and sand-blasting the sheet metal parts at a low angle and not straight on. While all of these would cost more it was essential to the final quality. When sand-blasted for a fixed price I could expect that very course sand would be used and this could pit the metal and add to the cost of the body work. A straight on blasting angle would be real fast but can cause ripples in the sheet metal that again would add to the cause of the body shop work. When sand-blasting the doors we were able to observe seven distinct layers/colors of paint.

Immediately after loading the sand-blasted parts on the trailer they were hauled to the body shop for a quick coat of primer inside and out. Had this not been done immediately the moisture in the air would have cause a light film of rust to quickly form overnight.

Radiator

The radiator was the first item sent out and it went to the “recommended” radiator shop. A week later it came back and it looked horrible. The solder on the tank seams was not smooth. It had lumps and drips. On the bottom of the radiator are threaded openings where the brass petcocks thread into. Each had a copper penny soldered over the hole. You could clearly see the Lincoln head pennies soldered to the bottom of the radiator. I was between furious and disbelief.

I asked what the deal was. They said; “You don’t need those. The petcocks always corrode. Just pull the lower hose off to drain the radiator.”

Unbelievable. Yes, the original petcocks were corroded shut. But they unthreaded cleanly from the bottom of the radiator and the new petcocks threaded nicely into the old holes.

The radiator was sent back to be corrected.

The Beginning Of The Excuses

The confrontation over the radiator was just the beginning of what I was met with. From that point on there was a continuous flow of : I don’t see a problem, we always do it that way. That part is not available. That cannot be repaired. We can take care of that latter. Don’t worry about it. They all were like that. They never worked right. We’re working on it. It will be ready tomorrow (next week, next month, never). Etc, etc.

The Radiator Returns

After the truck came back from the body shop I found out there was another problem with the radiator that had gone unnoticed by me. The mounting bracket on the top tank had been removed to recore the radiator and when replaced was put back on wrong. Tom discovered this in the body shop during assembly. The radiator was now in a too vertical position and the hood and fenders would not fit. Instead of calling me and telling me of the problem Tom just cut and rethreaded the two support rods from the radiator to the firewall. It works, but it is not right. Had I known at the time I would have gotten the radiator fixed AGAIN but at a different shop.

I had purchased new radiator grill trim and a new hood ornament which also attaches to the radiator cap. The original radiator cap wouldn’t fit because the radiator shop had removed the original neck and installed a smaller sized one that would take a pressurized cap. At the time when it was recommended to go to a pressurized cooling system I said sure. It seemed like a good recommendation. No one said the hood ornament would not fit.

So I call up Russ. “Hey what’s the with the hood ornament/radiator cap that does not fit?” He says, “Of course it doesn’t fit it. The neck was changed. Just make some sort of an adapter for it.”

(An adapter?) I ask what he had done in the past and he says, “We’ve done nothing. Just glue it on with silicone or something.”

(to be continued)

READER COMMENTS:

From Sarah:
    Peter, I'm hoping you can help me.
    Your truck--which is lovely by the way--looks just like the truck in the "Little Blue Truck" book series, which is my 2 year old son's favorite book.
    The problem is that all he wants for Christmas is a toy little blue truck. He has not been impressed by the trucks we've seen so far. They've got pinstripes or the fenders are wrong, or the front is "sideways" (I think he means the grill is wide and short).
    Do you, by any chance, know of a model of your truck?

Thank you,
Sarah

Peter's Reply:
    YES, there are models out there. Google: Solido Diecast Ford 1936 V8 Truck. The 1936 is available. I never saw a '35 model. I quickly found a red one on eBay and a green one on Craig's List. Happy hunting and my best wishes to your son.

From Sarah:
    Thank you SO much. You have no idea how long I have been searching.

Thank you,
Sarah

 

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