- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 20, 2006

In the spring of 1993 David Neel, a Chesapeake Petroleum representative, drove through Manassas, Va., and spotted noticed an old Ford pickup for sale by the side of the road.

Those who sell lubricants for Chesapeake Petroleum have to cover a lot of territory. Thereafter, every trip through Manassas was eagerly anticipated in the hope of seeing the old pickup. It was always there, seemingly waiting for him.

Curiosity finally won out in June 1993 and Mr. Neel stopped to examine the truck on a more personal level. He liked what he saw and purchased the 1966 F100 pickup on the spot.

He then went home to Woodbridge, surprised his wife, Angie, with the good news that they were the new owners of an old Ford pickup, and had her drive him back to Manassas to take possession of the prize.

He drove the truck home with no need for a chase car, although it was comforting knowing one was there. The truck was painted turquoise except for the cream-colored rooftop of the cab.

The first order of business was to get the record straight. From 1965 to 1966 Ford trucks carried over the same chassis, body and front-end sheet metal. The grille was slightly different between the two years. Mr. Neel says his truck was titled as a 1965 Ford but the serial number clearly indicated that it was a 1966 model. A few letters exchanged with the folks at Ford Archives and his truck had become a year newer.

His truck is equipped with a 352-cubic-inch V-8 engine that produces 208 horsepower. With an 8-foot bed the truck rides on a 129-inch wheelbase. The inside dimensions of the bed are 98.7 inches long and 49 inches wide within the wheel wells, easily able to handle the standard 4-by-8-foot sheets of drywall or paneling.

“It had more rust than I thought,” Mr. Neel says. Still, because it had a Custom Cab, he set his sights high and strove to upgrade his truck with a Ranger package. In later years Rangers were small Ford pickups but in 1966 the Ranger package simply gussied up the interior of the cab with items including bucket seats from a Mustang and a console from a Falcon.

Eleven years ago Mr. Neel had his pickup looking pretty good and decided that would be the year he drove his Ford to the national gathering of Ford pickups in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. He set off on the odyssey but the farther he went the more oil he was burning.

He was still two states away from his destination when he turned and headed for home. He just barely made it by pouring heavyweight oil through the engine.

Once at home he rebuilt the bottom of the V-8 engine and then last year rebuilt the top of the engine, adding a dual exhaust system that produces a wonderful, throaty sound.

In the meantime he attacked the brightwork, either having the items such as the windshield-washer jets replated with chrome or finding new parts. He even located a complete set of aluminum molding, both new bumpers, and decal lettering for the tailgate.

Improvements to the truck came to a two-year hiatus in 2001 when Mr. Neel’s daughter, Monica, was married.

Restoration resumed in 2003 when he took his truck to a paint/body shop with the optimistic idea that the small amount of rust could be removed before repainting.

Then he received the dreaded telephone call informing him that there was far more rust than he had anticipated. The cab mounts had rusted away and the cab was still in place only by force of habit. Additionally, the truck needed new floor pans.

At this point, there was only one thing to do. Mr. Neel decided to muddle through and replace the cancerous metal with healthy steel. Of course such surgery ate into his budget so only the cab received new turquoise paint crowned by a Wimbledon white top. The paint shop saved the excess paint and 18 months later the bed received fresh paint.

The closest to disaster that Mr. Neel has come with his truck is when the cigarette lighter was inadvertently pushed in and failed to pop back out when heated. Some melting occurred but tragedy was avoided and a completely new lighter along with new wiring is now in place.

When Mr. Neel climbs into his Custom Cab with the Ranger package, he points out the three-spoke deep-dish steering wheel and the black padded dashboard and refers to such items as “1960s safety stuff.”

In a few years, when grandson Jonathan is old enough, Mr. Neel plans to take his grandson on a road trip to Pigeon Forge, Tenn., to a Ford pickup gathering. When that time comes, he is determined to complete the trip.

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