The Norman Transcript

May 4, 2013

Sturdy truck still running after six decades on the open road

By Doug Hill
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — After over six decades, Bob Thompson’s Dodge half-ton “job-rated” pick up isn’t going to win any beauty contests, but she’s not out of the race either.

“What I like about this truck is that it’s nearly

seventy years old and still runs,” he said. “People have suggested turning it into a hot rod but I don’t want to do that because it’s just amazing as is.”

The vehicle’s simplicity also appeals to the owner/operator of the Midway Grocery and Market, 601 W. Eufaula St. Even in its day the Dodge would have been considered unadorned. But in the 21st century, when some new rides have 30 pages in the owners’ manual dedicated to wireless connectivity, the 1947 truck is downright Spartan by comparison.

“There are no bells and whistles on it,” Thompson said. “It’s just a functional truck.” The cabin boasts a heater, a few essential gauges and a deep glove box. Top mount windshield wipers are vacuum-assisted. They’re nostalgically cute but would be useless in a downpour. Turn signals were added sometime years ago, back in that quaint period of time when vehicles had to pass street-legal inspection in Oklahoma to be licensed.

“It’s just rock-stock and geared low to do work,” Thompson said. It starts getting insufferably loud at 35 mph or above.

The old Dodge is lucky it’s not slowly rusting away in a rural pasture.

“My father-in-law Oscar Carpio bought the truck years ago before I met his daughter Maricha,” Thompson said. “The truck had been sitting out in a field.”

It didn’t have wheels or a bed but the motor ran and Carpio would start it on a regular basis. He restored the electrical system and the Dodge became a work in progress. Thompson admired the Dodge’s art deco body style and one day ten years ago Carpio bestowed it on him. New brakes, a relatively modern rear axle and new paint brought the truck back to life.

“It makes a great parade truck for the Midway,” Thompson said. “We’ve got it running pretty smooth.”

The flathead in-line six cylinder 230-cubic-inch engine hasn’t required any overhaul or major repair. It runs fine burning non-ethanol unleaded gasoline. The vehicle ID plate reads, “80 certified net horse power at 3200 rpm. Dodge Trucks built by Chrysler Corporation, Detroit U.S.A.” It’s from the same foundry of freedom that helped win two world wars.

Many of the car’s fundamental features are unrecognizable to modern drivers. A floor-mounted ignition switch is operated with your foot. The windshield cranks open slightly from the bottom to allow a breeze through. Its air filter is an oil bath type and the engine oil filter is a removable metal screen designed to be cleaned and replaced. The twin section hood lifts separately from either side for easy access to the entire engine.

“We had new seats done at Bob’s Seat Covers on Flood,” Thompson said. “It’s had a bit of a political career because some friends have used it in their campaigns.”

This day the Dodge was sporting signs for an incumbent’s city council race.

“Al Atkins used to work on it but doesn’t live in town anymore,” Thompson said. “We miss Al. Now, Eddie and Gene at Master Tech work on it.” Atkins taught Thompson how to take the one barrel carburetor apart and put it back together.

“I’ve never been able to do that before,” Thompsons said. “That’s how simple it is. I could have been a mechanic … maybe.”

That mechanical minimalism reminds Thompson of an earlier time in his life. He grew up in Bemidji, Minn., but had his first taste of living in Norman while working here as a young man in 1974. Thompson was employed at his grandfather Abe Martin’s Phillips 66 Service Station, 402 E. Main (now Ole Town Gyros). Martin wasn’t comfortable with his grandson not having a ride while here and hooked him up with pal Reg Cotton, who had an old car for sale. Thompson bought a cherry 1957 Oldsmobile Holiday Coupe that had been sitting unused in a garage.

“Reg couldn’t imagine that anybody would want it and sold it to me for $100,” he said. “It was a beautiful car with 50,000 miles and plastic covers still on the back seats. When I drove it back to Minnesota nobody could believe it was rust-free.”

That experience gave Thompson an early affection for old vehicles. Undoubtedly it also contributed to his part in making the Midway Grocery and Market headquarters of the Canadian River Cruisers Car Club.

“It’s fun having those Saturday morning coffee meets and car shows here,” he said. “They’re such a great bunch of people.”

The Midway is a somewhat unstructured operation, which makes it a natural fit for the Cruisers and their decided lack of convention. They’re the best kind of club, who are proud having Thompson’s 1947 survivor Dodge parked alongside the elegant Rolls Royce autos and exotic Italian sports cars gathered at their meets.

Have you seen a cool vehicle around town? Writer Doug Hill is always looking for cars to write about for this column. Contact him at hillreviews@hotmail.com.