How Time Flies When You’re Having Fun

Summer cruisin’ almost here!

Apologies to all. Been way too long, I mean WAY too long since I put up a post on Mel. He’s been quietly waiting for me to do so and what with all the news to report I’ve decided to make it so.

First, some history. Mel is 57 years old this year. A riddle. You tell me Mel’s VIN based on the following clues and I will reward you with a free ride to the nearest McDonald’s for a cheeseburger! The clues:

– Built in 1955 in Oakland, California (yes, he is a beach boy)

– 3100 series

– He was Number 2379 rolling off the line

Hint: click here for dechiphering hints.

Ready to Roll and Rock

OK, now back to the business at hand. Yes, did I say Road Trip? (!). For the past year Mel has been moving around Lake Forest Park, no highway and mostly local trips to Ace Hardware, taking Claire to her friends’ houses, picking up a friend’s lawnmower or getting gas. He was getting bored, albeit dutifully serving his chores with steadfast support.

Spring of ’11 came, then summer and we realized we would not be able to fit him with a new set of tires. New tires are essential for getting Mel anywhere. The rubber he was riding on was ancient and I could not stomach a blowout on I-5 that might damage him or his occupants, not to mention the cost of having to replace all tires at once since the old bias ply tires can’t be matched with new radials. So he spent the summer at home.

Fall came and with the occasional drive I was content to leave him as is, occasionally taking him out for a spin around town. Winter came and Mel spent the time peacefully dreaming of his days long ago in Pasco, when the sun was shining and the roads were flat and long.

Spring rolls around and I realize, WTF (shorthand for What the Ford), that my old Chevy needs a new pair of shoes. I go down to Earl’s and a few other locales to price tires. They’re steep but I just can’t stomach the alternative of not taking Mel down to Herron for his Big Coming Out Party (4th of July parade on Herron Island – check local listings for dates and times).

Me Ready for Herron Island!

Finally I settle on a set of Cooper H/T all season radials to put on his rims. I go back and forth quite a bit, many many conversations with various folks on whether to paint the rims before mounting new tires. In the end I decide to keep the old look. No sandblast or paint. Keep everything original is what I keep hearing from folks. No sense calling attention to new buttons on an old coat.

The folks at Earl’s give me a good price on the tires and agree to clean the rims and seal the inside rivets (yes, old rims were riveted together).  New tires I think, new shocks. I love Mel but riding on those old tires and shocks gave a close approximation of what it must have felt like on a Conestoga wagon heading for Missouri. And bias ply tires love to follow whatever rut in the road calls their name, often requiring heroic efforts on the steering wheel to overcompensate while my ever-lovin’ blue-eyed daughter Claire looks at me wondering with the clearest expression in her eyes, why does this truck have no seat belts?

Susan and I swallow the prospect of another chunk of change for the old boy. On the other hand this guy is getting ready for a real road trip to Herron, at long last. Seems we have had him forever but Mel hasn’t even been here two years.

We’ve come a long way in the past couple years. Lots of repairs and now getting him ready for Herron, what a treat. Thank you Aunt Bernie and Uncle Mel.

Of course Mel has something to say about all this. I take him down last week to get the new tires, drop him off. Typical Seattle weather. Tim asks if it’s ok to leave Mel outside and I agree, yes of course. He’s running like a top when I bring him to Earl’s. Me and Mel have a procedure of getting going in the morning. Three pumps on the gas pedal. Push the magic button. Chugchugchug…no. One or two more pumps of gas. Chug…whumpffh yeah I’m awake baby! Nice fast idle, then slow him down. Then off we go.

They change the tires, everything is cool. I go to pick him up the good folks at Earl’s tell me for sure he will ride better and I am looking forward to that ride. Just one problem…

These Cooper H/T all seasons will last and they look good on Mel

I go start and he chugs and huffs and damn if I barely get him home. He loves Earl’s so must have decided to throw a fit to get back. Dammit. I call Earl’s. Of course they didn’t do anything on the motor. I figure two things: leaving the old boy out in the spring rain downpours and not starting him up properly with the due respect his old choke deserves. Or maybe because he hasn’t had a tune-up in 30 years?

I fire him up again and decide, time for new sparkplug wires and plugs. I change out the wires. Not much improvement but some. Cracked plug but overall they look good, nice and tan, no sign of bad burning or oil. I change out the plugs and still not the same. Tune up time.

New plugs and wires to keep the ticker happy

Check out the new plugs, wires, distributor cap and rotor. Doug the mechanic at Earl’s was amazed at the age of the components and original heater hoses. Slowly but surely.

Spent some time with Doug as he installed new points, rotor, condenser, distributor cap and timed Mel to purr with some carb adjustments. This guy was amazing. Even made a special part to get a distributor bolt

Newly repainted transmission

off. Used to own an old GMC dumptruck of same vintage that belonged to the Boeing family. Amazing stories that Mel brings home.

Now Mel is running like a champ again, except (new carb fix imminent). Always something, right?

A few extra shots of recent improvements:

Nice rear end! (newly painted differential with new seals)

The heart of Mel: 235 ci 6 cylinder with oil bath air filter

Next stop Herron. Here he sits on a spring day awaiting the trip. Will assemble an emergency kit (in case of radiator hoses blowing, etc.).

I think we’re pretty ready to roll. New colleague at work knows these old trucks and we’re going to continue on with new repairs – fix the gas meter float, change the valve cover gasket and adjust the valves, price out new interior, change out radiator fluid, thermostat and hoses, the list goes on….long live Mel.

Note the apple sticker; Mel and Steve Jobs born same year

Where all the magic happens

New set of tires and ready to roll

Looking forward to next chapter with Mel

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4 Responses to How Time Flies When You’re Having Fun

  1. Barb says:

    Hi Joseph, love reading about the truck. In all the years it sat in the garage in Pasco, I don’t recall seeing the hood open and the engine underneath. Interesting. I went to Ryan’s school carnival a couple of weeks ago, and a local toy store had donated a model 1950 Chevy truck to their silent auction. I couldn’t resist, so I wrote down a bid for half the stated value. No one else bid, so I got it. I’ve got it wrapped up and will send it to you when I have time to stand in line at the PO. I thought you could practice on the model before you tried anything out on Mel, if you need to. Or try out different color schemes…. Your cousin, Barb

    • 55truck says:

      Hi barb, glad to have your email…and sense of humor. I got the plugs and wires changed w/o mishap but very glad to have an experienced mechanic on the tuneup. Even he hit a few unique challenges and he marveled at the originality of Everything. Oh and I learned how to check an oil bath air filter – for some reason no longer approved by EPA.

      Alas, the consensus seems to be to keep the paint, everything (except maybe reupholster the seat) The Same. So I guess i’ll have to paint the toy to look like Mel! Yikes.


      Sent from my iPad

  2. Barb says:

    Hi Joe, glad you saw my post. Can you repaint Mel but keep the same color? That would spruce it up. Barb

    • 55truck says:

      Hi Barb,

      A survey of 10,000 households that I recently commissioned with the Gallup Group and Car Talk indicates nationally a split tie on whether to repaint Mel (within +/- 3% at 95% confidence interval). Aficionados (aka car guys) say it’s better to keep original for maintaining value and authenticity, some even going so far as to recommend clear coating the existing paint! The reason one said for preserving as is was a comparision to an older gentleman aging gracefully (Paul Newman?). Others like you recommend a new paint job because it reflects on what he once was. Of course if we do paint did it would be in the current color. One friend even recommended a little metal flake inpaint which would be pretty nice.

      The next repairs will be mechanical as I mentioned in the post. The next improvement will be the interior; recover the bench seat, the doors, seals and floor. I am currently working with a Hollywood agent to get Mel into some films to defray these costs.

      When (if) it comes time to painting I want to make sure it is done right. I will ask around at a couple auto shows in Seattle this summer.


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