1 August 2012

Power Wagon Passion

Even the toughest truck can be the object of love at first sight


Chrysler was everything to Detroit’s Wellman family: work, financial security and the cars in the driveway. So it was only natural that the first vehicle to capture young George Wellman’s heart was a Dodge Power Wagon at the Raynal Bros. dealership. “I thought it was a great looking truck,” Wellman recalls. “And it stuck with me.”

While Wellman was attending Kalamazoo College, the local dealer had a Power Wagon in his showroom, but it was unattainable for the young student. As always, though, the Power Wagon stuck with him.

By 1994, Wellman was a chemist working in Philadelphia. Finally in a position to rekindle his first love, Wellman attended the Power Wagon Rally in Fairfield, Iowa. There he learned of two trucks for sale in Arizona. Plane tickets followed, and soon he owned a nicely restored red 1956 Power Wagon pickup. With another day before his return flight, Wellman went to see the second truck. In the back of a building packed with Mopar muscle sat another red Power Wagon, this one a 1950 model with a beautiful Campbell wood body.

The price seemed a bit steep, and despite having just bought one Power Wagon, Wellman made an offer, which was politely declined. But a month later the owner called and accepted the bid. With two trucks and limited storage, the pickup went to Wellman’s home in Pennsylvania, while his brother agreed to store the woodie in Michigan.

After a few years, Wellman trailered the truck east for some major work. Several of the basswood roof slats had been broken by heavy footed vandals, a few wood panels were damaged and the ash floor needed replacement. The wood was refinished and the roof recovered. The front sheet metal was stripped and resprayed in the original dark blue, while the fenders were repainted black. Meanwhile, the interior, chassis, straight-six engine and four speed transmission were largely untouched, because in its 45 years the 11-passenger Power Wagon had only covered 31,000 miles.

The truck is thought to be the only surviving Campbell-bodied Power Wagon and was originally a gift from Brown & Bigelow greeting card employees to company president Charles Allen Ward. Mr. Ward had been a cohort of Pancho Villa and a petty criminal before serving a sentence at Leavenworth, where he befriended Herbert Bigelow after the greeting card magnate’s conviction for tax evasion. After his release, Bigelow rewarded Ward’s kindness with a job and a fast climb up the corporate ladder. A decisive and effective manager, Ward led the company until his death in 1959.

Among the most sought after of all Power Wagons, the imposing blue woodie looks perfect under the portico of Wellman’s striking log home in northern Michigan, where it shares the property with his 1953, 1956 and 1965 Power Wagons, a 1948 Plymouth business coupe and several modern vehicles—all from Chrysler, of course.

Want to talk Power Wagon with Wellman? Write him care of editorhagerty@hagerty.com.

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