At some point over the summer, someone here at Hagerty came up with an idea that would raise the bar for any collector vehicle build challenge: a team of four car nuts from Hagerty would take on a truck build with the goal of not only getting it running and driving within 100 hours by sourcing all of the parts from the fall Hershey Swap Meet, but also of making the nearly 750-mile drive home to Traverse City, Mich.
The aforementioned “epic build” involves a 1946 Ford ½-ton commercial pickup. Over a four-day period, Wednesday, Oct. 7, to Saturday, Oct. 10, the old farm truck that had been sitting behind a barn and forgotten since 1962 was brought back to life in front of a live audience at the Hagerty booth during the fall Hershey Swap Meet.
The four car nuts are all Hagerty employees: Parts Finder Davin Reckow, Social Media Analyst Matt Lewis, Staff Writer Tara Hurlin and Client Relations Manager Brad Phillips.
The team purchased the chassis ahead of time for a couple of reasons: 1. It was their ride home and they had to have it registered and insured for the road. 2. The team needed to look over the beast of a project that they got themselves into in order to plan ahead for the intense four-day (and night) build.
Despite its wheels being buried 6 inches in the soil behind a barn in northern Michigan, the truck rolled out of its slumber surprisingly well. It had no engine, and had been sitting outside for decades. At first glance, the truck was in better shape than expected: the body solid, the glass good, and with a natural patina that — if you look closely enough — tells its story. Before the big week, the team’s first priority was to sort out the safety issues: brakes, steering and suspension. That way, if worst came to worst, the truck would be able to pull over and come to a complete stop. The drum brakes and axles were rebuilt and all bearings replaced, and then the ol’ gal was loaded onto the trailer for Hershey, Pa.
Swap to Street, Day One:
The team spent a good deal of time on the show field, tracking down some big parts wins: a correct 1946 Ford pickup bench seat, a bed and rear bumper from a 1952 Ford, rear fenders, leaf springs (from our friends at POSIES Rods and Customs), battery box, engine mounts, transmission mounts, rearview door mirror, inside door handles, and taillights.
First up was installation of the leaf springs. Brad and Matt took on this task. Meanwhile, Davin worked to fabricate floor pans and weld them to the frame. After noticing a leak in the brake line, he took care of that, too. Tara made some progress in the cab, tearing out the headliner and cleaning from the glove box a rat nest fit for a rat king. Then Brad, Matt and Tara spent longer than you’d guess trying to affix the rear bumper to the frame. It didn’t help that the bumper, brackets and frame were all bent in different directions. The successful completion of that project was cause for celebration.
And then, the team’s first frustrations. They needed to find an engine as soon as possible, preferably a flathead V-8, and preferably a running example. Several options were spotted on the field; most of them looking like they didn’t run. Vendors and attendees stopping by the booth gave tips, which the team spent some time chasing down. The best tip on the engine was from an attendee who stopped by the booth to let us know he had a V-8 for sale – at his home in Virginia. The team made a late-night run to scope it out, and returned home with a running 1953 flathead V-8 engine and transmission at 2:30 a.m., just in time to get a few Z’s and get back to the build at 7 a.m.
Swap to Street, Day Two:
On Thursday morning, the team was in great spirits due to the engine score, but there was lots of work ahead. Davin finished up the floor pan and Matt got a good deal of the wiring completed. Tara installed water pumps on the flatty, and the team worked to install the bed and prep for the wood.
There was much success on the parts front, too. Corky Coker of Coker Tire hand delivered a set of steelies with beautiful wide whites, and POSIES Rods and Customs delivered wood for the bed. Matt tracked down all of our electrical components but the wiper motor. Other Hagerty staff got in on the action, too. Marketing VP Doug Clark and magazine Publisher Jonathan Stein went way out to the Red Field and returned with horns, hood springs and hinges.
The main pain point on Thursday was missing parts for the engine. The team needed a clutch disc and truck oil pan before the engine could be installed. They found and installed the clutch disc by end of day, but still no luck on the oil pan. The team went back to the hotel for some sleep with that worry in the back of their mind.
Swap to Street, Day Three:
After learning Thursday that the oil pan on our flathead — which had come out of a '53 passenger car — didn't quite work in our '46 pickup, the team scored what they needed from longtime Hershey Swap Meet supporter Robert “Redneck” Readnack, who donated a truck pan in memory of a friend. It was just another in a long list of kind gestures from fellow car lovers at Hershey. One spectator even gifted us a beautiful die=cast model of a 1948 Ford pickup to inspire us to finish the challenge.
Brad, Matt, Tara and Davin put in a 16-hour day on Friday at the Hershey Region AACA Swap Meet. And the 1946 Ford pickup build progressed, but not without some bumps. Mother Nature was gave the team an extra challenge, as a midafternoon thunderstorm swept through Hershey. But thankfully the rain lasted only a half hour, and moments after it stopped the engine was lowered into place — cheers rang throughout the grounds from the hearty group of spectators who stuck it out.
Everyone buckled down on their tasks. They got the wood down in the bed. They got a mess of wiring done. They got some parts they'll need, and they got the flathead and transmission in. Then they fired it up for a single, loud, fantastic moment, right around 10:45 p.m., with 30 people watching on the ground and about 180 watching from all over the place on the Livestream.
The need for clutch linkage moved to the top of the priority list, and the rain reduced the team’s chances of finding what was needed. Half the vendors on their side of the Swap Meet had already packed up and left. So the parts runners went looking for a ’46 Ford pickup that was seen in the car corral, slid underneath and took photos of what was needed. Davin sketched the part, which was quickly fabricated by Worm Inc. Another victory.
Swap-to-Street Day Four:
Adrenaline ran high on last day, and it’s a good thing, too, considering the team’s overall lack of sleep. The truck needed to be roadworthy by midnight, and there was still a lot to do. The team was feeling the heat, and it was crunch time to wrap up all the bits and pieces that would let this truck drive off of the Hershey grounds.
It was all-hands-on-deck as the team wrapped up the wiring, installed the original 1946 truck seat sourced from Hershey, mocked-up and welded the exhaust, and won the fight with the clutch linkage. With the radiator installed and fluids poured in, a slow leak was discovered in the water pumps, so Brad and Tara quickly made some adjustments and fixed the issue just in time.
The truck started up with a spit a spatter, and the proud team drove it around Hershey’s Chocolate Field for the first time, receiving many thumbs-up and cheers from the dedicated people remaining on the grounds. A few more adjustments to the timing, and the truck was driven for another round around the lot, still sputtering and popping, but at least flames weren’t shooting from the exhaust. With smiles on their faces and renewed energy from all of the build’s successes, the team drove the truck back to the hotel and would to rest up for their long journey home to Traverse City, Mich. early in the morning.
A victory for hobbyists worldwide:
It all sounds so simple to say in a few sentences, but this project has not been without its roadblocks. So many of the issues that plague you in your own restoration work over the course of a year (or, let's face it, folks, a decade or two) are the issues that the team faced, compressed into four days. They're just replacing two-and-a-half-dozen trips to the junkyard with two-and-a-half-dozen conscripted runners putting in miles at the greatest swap meet in the land.
And the journey home wasn’t without its fallbacks; fuel pump failure and other minor issues caused the team to fall behind a few hours in their travels, spending much time on the side of the road or in parking lots. But they prevailed; the truck was driven home every mile — it was never towed or trailered — although it may have been pushed a few feet down the road.
The success of this build is proof that the hobby is still alive and thriving within swap meet events. Enthusiasts within the Hagerty team and the surrounding spectators and vendors all pulled together in support of watching this truck come back to life and witness its first drive on a public road in, what was thought to be, over 50 years. The team hopes that this build will inspire further rescues for the other classics that are in a deep slumber, deteriorating outside and just waiting for someone to come along and bring them back to their former glory.