- - Thursday, October 13, 2011

In 1940, as young men are wont to do, Bob Burke was enjoying life and driving a nearly-new 1936 Ford coupe with three fenders. That was the sort of car that captured the young man’s attention.

Never in his wildest dreams did he imagine that one day he would spend a quarter century restoring a 1940 Chevrolet half-ton pickup truck.

Life has a lot of strange twists and turns. In 1975 one of Mr. Burke’s sons, Michael, was preparing to move to the great Southwest part of the country and was ridding himself of items he didn’t want to take along. One large item he didn’t want was a 1940 Chevrolet pickup.

As good fathers often do, Mr. Burke bought the 16-foot, 1-inch-long truck from his son with the idea that perhaps he could find some use for the vehicle.

The truck was 35 years old when he took possession and after driving it to his Vienna home he gave it a thorough examination. “Everything on this truck was worn out,” he says in amazement.

He let the truck sit for five years on its 16-inch wheels supporting the weight on a 113.5-inch wheelbase. During that time he would gather parts and information on the vehicle for use in an eventual restoration. In 1981 he began the restoration undertaking. How difficult can an old truck be?

“Looking back,” he says, “it was a mistake to take it completely apart.” A much easier frame-on restoration would have sufficed.

“I had a heck of time putting it back together,” he says.

Mr. Burke went to a lumber yard and purchased six red oak boards and trimmed and finished them to form the six slats for the floor of the bed. There are 78 inches of usable load space in the bed with the tailgate closed. The bottom part of the tailgate as well as a few other parts of the truck had rusted. Mr. Burke had the cancerous parts cut away and healthy steel welded it.

The same hubcaps that were used on Chevrolet cars in 1940 were also used on Chevrolet trucks that year. A spare tire rests in a cradle beneath the bed and is accessed from the rear of the truck by cranking down a sling supporting the tire.

The trusty old 216.5-cubic-inch stovebolt six-cylinder Chevrolet engine got a new lease on life and nestles in the engine compartment behind the two-part grille, 16 horizontal bars on either side of a vertical center bar. When Mr. Burke bought the truck, several of the bars were missing. He found a next-to-perfect grille on a trip to California and, after carefully hand-painting a red stripe on each of the 32 bars, installed it in the truck.

Mr. Burke has located records that indicate his 6-foot, 2-inch-tall truck has a 16-gallon gasoline tank, a 14-quart cooling system and a crankcase that holds five quarts of oil. There is no oil filter. Such an extravagance was an extra-cost option that the original owner thought he could live without.

The truck had no mirror inside the cab and only the outside mirror on the left. “I put the one on the right side,” Mr. Burke says.

Likewise, he says, “The truck only had one wiper on the left and I put the other one on.” The right wiper was an option that the original owner rejected. “They are not synchronized,” Mr. Burke says, “so it looks strange coming down the street in the rain with the wipers moving at separate speeds.”

When Mr. Burke tackled the cab of his truck, he found that for the first year Chevrolet used the same dashboard that was used in the 1940 Chevrolet automobiles. Viewed through the three-spoke steering wheel in front of the driver, the horizontal instrument panel had the same guages clustered about the 100-mph speedometer, just like the automobile dashboard. Near the center of the dashboard, below the bar separating the two-piece windshield, is a hand crank that when turned pushes out the bottom part of the windshield.

At the far left of the dashboard is the control for the headlights. Near the center of the lower dashboard is the ignition. To the left is the hand throttle and choke followed by a blank where a cigarette lighter would have gone.

The ashtray is centered below those rudimentary controls.

Unlike Chevrolet automobiles, both the handbrake and the gearshift lever sprout from the floorboards.

“There was a lot of down time,” Mr. Burke says about the restoration. “The hardest part of the restoration was finding someone to do something I couldn’t do.”

Those who have restored antique vehicles are the first to say the task is never done. However, as far as done can be described, Mr. Burke says the completion date of the truck came on Mother’s Day 2006.

The best part, he says, “Is that it only took 25 years.”

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