- The Washington Times - Friday, March 20, 2009

Late in 2000, near the conclusion of husband Ed’s tenure as governor of North Dakota, Nancy Schafer learned that the health of her father was failing.

During the next five years, Mrs. Schafer visited him on the Montana farm where she had grown up. On one of those early visits, she spotted a childhood friend, a 1955 Chevrolet pickup.

Mrs. Schafer recalled the winter day in 1954 her father came home from a trip to Minneapolis driving the new 1955 pickup. In those cold winter months, father and daughter would load the truck with hay and drive out into the pasture to feed cattle.

Mrs. Schafer said with the truck in first gear, her father would pull out the choke, climb into the bed and as the truck crept along at walking speed he’d toss hay to the livestock. At the same time in the cab of the Chevrolet, Mrs. Schafer said, “I would stand on the seat and steer the truck.”

“Those times in the pasture with him are precious to me,” Mrs. Schafer said. With that realization, she asked her parents whether she could have the old 1955 pickup. Mrs. Schafer and her husband pulled the truck out of the weeds and towed it 500 miles home to North Dakota. When her father took it out of service, the truck had been driven about 54,000 miles - most of them on the farm.

A restoration plan was formulated for the old Chevrolet.

“Every single piece of the truck was taken apart,” Mrs. Schafer said.

The dirty, rusty frame was sent off to be refurbished in Jamestown, N.D. The Thriftmaster six-cylinder engine was overhauled in Fargo. The rest of the restoration was primarily completed in Bismarck.

As the Chevrolet was being reassembled, Mrs. Schafer said, “We tweaked it a little bit.”

A single-barrel carburetor still sits atop the engine. The original grille and bumpers - all painted white - were sent off to be chrome-plated, providing a much dressier appearance.

When her father first brought the truck home, the only accessory was a heater under the dashboard. During restoration, the front suspension was modernized and a power rack-and-pinion steering system was installed. Power disc brakes from a Mustang ease the task of stopping the 3,145-pound pickup.

The cab is made more comfortable with the addition of air conditioning and a radio/CD player. The bench seat was reupholstered with fabric matching the original color and pattern. The headliner and door panels also were replaced.

Mrs. Schafer said the dashboard with the 80-mph speedometer was repainted in what she admiringly called “the original dentist’s office green.”

While the interior of the cab was undergoing rejuvenation, a suggestion was made to Mrs. Schafer to replace the well-worn knob on the gear-shift lever that sprouts from the floor.

She wouldn’t hear of such a thing. “That was a knob my dad touched,” she said.

Running boards painted black aid access to the cab and the sides of the bed. The original wood slats forming the floor of the bed were replaced with finished oak flooring.

A new tailgate replaced the original. During the reconstruction, Mrs. Schafer was careful not to over-restore her Chevrolet.

“I don’t want a truck I can’t use,” she said.

In fall 2004, the restoration was complete when new chrome hubcaps were popped onto the freshly painted wheels. The larger-than-original tires now feature wide, white sidewalls, which the truck never had before. “It’s such a treasure,” Mrs. Schafer said.

The first trip the Schafers took in the restored pickup was to the Montana farm to show her father the finished product.

Mrs. Schafer’s parents were surprised and thrilled to see their old pickup looking so good. Mrs. Schafer encouraged her father to drive the truck, but he was reluctant because of his weakened health.

“I will!” Mrs. Schafer’s mother, Clarice, said.

With her mother at the wheel, Mrs. Schafer and her parents went for a drive.

“I was transported back in time,” she said. They hadn’t driven very far when her father decided he could muster the strength to drive his old truck. “It was a thrill to see the joy on his face,” Mrs. Schafer said. He died the following year.

In 2008, the Schafers left their truck in North Dakota when they moved to the nation’s capital after then-President Bush appointed the former governor as secretary of agriculture. Now that a new administration is in place, the Schafers have returned to Fargo and are reunited with their 1955 Chevrolet pickup.

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