- The Washington Times - Friday, July 5, 2002

When Steve Pieper was in high school he drove an old Model A Ford pickup.
Years later, when that truck was just a distant memory, Mr. Pieper recalled his high school wheels and lamented the reality that he had no old Ford truck.
In 1995 he took action to fill the void in his garage. For three years he looked for an old Ford pickup. Whenever business would take him to a different part of the country, he would scour that area for that elusive pickup in restorable condition.
"I must have looked at 10 trucks," Mr. Pieper said, "and none of them was worthy."
Finally, he found an all black 1940 Ford in California. That was the first model year in which Ford incorporated passenger car lines by styling the front fenders, hood and grille along passenger car design.
He purchased the truck sight unseen in 1998 and had it trucked home to Virginia. All was not quite as advertised, but there was no rust.
The frame had been surgically altered and several other parts were not correct, including the gearshift lever on the steering column. The shift mechanism had come from a passenger car to replace the original floor shifter. Additionally, an incorrect V-8 engine occupied the space under the hood.
"I ended up buying three trucks to make this one," Mr. Pieper notes.
A correct 85-horsepower flathead V-8 was found in Knoxville, Tenn., along with a needed factory-installed sway bar. Two other similar trucks, one from Oregon and one from Virginia, contributed much-needed parts. The major organ donor came from California. Mr. Pieper found a complete and straight frame for his Ford.
The truck was dismantled down to the last nut and bolt and the restoration began with the goal of turning it into a show winner. Mr. Pieper didn't realize the project would stretch into 2 1/2 years. He documented each item as correct before installing it on the truck during reassembly. His painstaking efforts at authenticity would pay off later.
Records show this particular truck left the factory with a single windshield wiper and one sun visor. The distinctive headlight rims are painted instead of being chrome-plated. Rectangular parking light lenses are incorporated into the uppermost part of the headlight rims.
The bumpers on the 15⅓-foot-long truck have no bumper guards, the rear bumper being a $4.15 optional extra. The 7-foot-tall cab provides an abundance of headroom beneath the $2.50 optional cardboard headliner.
The beat-up bed was replaced with an authentic reproduced version manufactured in Missouri. The original tailgate remains on the truck with the Ford script and V-8 stamped in the steel.
On the right side of the truck the spare tire nestles in the indentation on the right rear fender. An optional lock, with two keys, to secure the wheel to the truck cost 95 cents .
In rubber-rationed 1940s America exposed spare tires could be stolen off wheels. To thwart thieves, a steel loop was offered that was incorporated into the wheel lock. The loop of steel surrounded the spare tire, with the short side selling for 55 cents and the long side of the band being a bargain at 40 cents.
Mr. Pieper concedes that he is lucky because the two-spoke steering wheel is reproduced along with the bumpers. Amazingly, so is the glove compartment handle.
The plastic windshield wiper knob atop the dashboard is original. The round rubber clutch and brake pedals are replacements.
Mr. Pieper, who initially had difficulty in replacing the two splash pans under the engine, was ultimately successful.
Inside the cab, in the red dashboard, is the 100 mph speedometer surrounded by the fuel, oil, temperature and battery gauges. Below the instruments are three knobs, from the left they control the throttle, headlights and choke. The starter button is at the far left.
As the restoration approached completion, the wheels became a concern. The correct wheels were made only for the 1940 model year and supported 6.00x16-inch tires, with white sidewalls being a dealer-supplied option.
Mr. Pieper had almost-correct wheels as the date of the national Ford meet in Connecticut neared.
A week before the New England gathering he drove to Charlotte, N.C., to pick up his son's race car. It wasn't quite ready so the shop owner suggested that he go to the speedway flea market to kill a couple of hours. "At the second of hundreds of booths," Mr. Pieper said, "I found five 1940 black wheels."
Because his vehicle was parked a mile away he gave the vendor a deposit and hurried off to buy a wagon to transport his newfound treasure.
When Mr. Pieper returned, the wheels were gone and he was certain the vendor had succumbed to a better offer. No, the vendor said, so many people showed so much interest in the wheels that he had placed them inside the trunk of his car for safekeeping.
Mr. Pieper gratefully took his wheels home, had them cleaned and painted the matching cream color of the pinstriping.
While the finishing touches were being applied to the wheels, he was concerned about the steering column drop. The bracket beneath the dashboard determines the angle of the steering column, and after several miscues, the correct version was found. It was painted in a black crinkle finish and installed
With the handsome red Ford pickup restored with black fenders Mr. Pieper, gingerly stepping over the five-rib running board, set off in his 85-horsepower pickup rolling along on its 112-inch wheelbase to the Eastern National Early Ford V-8 antique show in Westbrook, Connecticut in 2001.
When the trunk underwent the scrutinizing of the judges, the odometer had registered 2/10 of a mile. After microscopic judging the judges informed Mr. Piper that his truck was perfect in every way except for the exterior mirror. The back, they explained, was chrome-plated instead of being painted black.
Mr. Pieper had a library of documentation concerning his truck that he was happy to share with the judges. "I could show chapter and verse that the back of the $1.70 mirror could be either painted or chrome," Mr. Pieper said.
Consequently, he was awarded a 1,000-point Dearborn Award, an honor rarely given. The truck had a retail price when new of $610.
For others restoring any antique vehicle, Mr. Pieper advises patience and perseverance.
"You can't stop," he said.
"You have to keep looking."
The result of his dedication is his handsome 1940 Ford pickup truck with slightly more than 100 miles registered on its odometer since the restoration.


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