NORMAN — Ron LaPratt’s 1950 General Motors truck is arguably the finest pickup in Oklahoma.
It may not be the biggest, fastest or strongest, but it has undeniable personality-plus from having been restored as a labor of detail-focused love. And with only a minor addition for modern safety considerations, the GMC half-ton truck was refurbished to be exactly as it was when it rolled off a Michigan assembly line.
LaPratt first learned about the truck several years ago from deer hunting buddies. It was owned by a Kansan and stored in a Wichita shed from which it hadn’t moved in more than 17 years.
As soon as LaPratt saw the old truck he knew he was going to buy it. The Kansan’s plan had been to restore it as a first vehicle for a 16-year-old, but all he’d actually done was turn the truck into a true basket case.
“We used a Jeep to pull it out of the shed and three wheels were just sliding,” LaPratt said. “They were locked up tight.”
He had to jack the truck up and break the rusted brakes free from the drums. Many of the parts, such as the original radio, seats, bumpers, hood and fenders, were in the owner’s basement.
“The engine and drive train were still on the chassis,” he said.
LaPratt towed the GMC back to his rural northeast Norman home on acreage and began removing every nut, bolt and screw. He took upward of 400 photos to document the process of tearing it apart and to help him remember how to reassemble it.
“I wanted to put it back together exactly how it came out of the General Motors factory,” he said.
Part of the desire to accomplish it in that manner may be the fact that LaPratt retired after decades working as a skilled trades carpenter in GM plants both at Pontiac Plant No. 6 in Michigan and Oklahoma City Assembly.
If a rusted bolt broke during disassembly or was worn-out, LaPratt searched for a replacement in the original style.
“I’d estimate the truck is 95 percent exactly as it was in 1950,” he said. “The only modification is the truck didn’t have turn signal blinkers and I added those for safety.”
LaPratt removed the leaf springs, broke them down and sandblasted them. He gave them a PolyGlide treatment that completely eliminated any creaks or squeaks rolling down the road.
“I used every source to locate original parts,” LaPratt said. “The spare tire carrier was the most difficult. It took over three years to find one.”
He would attend swap meets and buy specific parts cannibalized from other people’s cars and trucks of the era. The GMC’s sheet metal parts were damaged but not beyond repair. There was a rusted-through area on the passenger side floorboard from a water leak in the Kansas storage shed roof.
“It took me four days to form that metal by spot welding and making it fit,” LaPratt said.
He rebuilt the original 228 cubic inch in-line 6 cylinder engine, single barrel Zenith carburetor and 3-speed manual transmission.
LaPratt went back to school at Gordon Cooper Technology Center in Shawnee to learn how to spray paint the truck himself. The GMC’s glossy black lacquer with clear coat paint job is one of its most remarkable features. It appears to be much fancier than it would have been new. As a carpenter, LaPratt already had spray guns and years of experience applying stain and varnish to wood.
An instructor at Gordon Cooper, who he’d been acquainted with since the man was a boy, gave him invaluable guidance on using the right spray gun tips for shooting metal. Black is a difficult color to paint because flaws are immediately obvious, but LaPratt took his time and did it right. He installed all new glass and broke a few pieces in the passenger door learning to do it.
The Kansas owner had had the vacuum tube AM radio rebuilt by a California expert, so that was one chore LaPratt didn’t have to accomplish. Making it play correctly in the truck was another matter.
“I put it in the truck, hooked it up and couldn’t get it to work,” he said. “I checked wiring, fuses and everything.”
A fellow Canadian River Cruisers car club member had the solution and happily provided it. LaPratt had painted the truck’s dash with an extra coat that wasn’t allowing for good electrical ground, so that situation was promptly remedied.
In 1950, all new GMC truck amenities were options and most installed by the dealer rather than ordered from the factory. This included the cabin heater, rear bumper, cigarette lighter, radio and right side rear view mirror. LaPratt’s theory is that his truck survived the time before he got it in no small part because it had been a lightly-used farm truck.
“I think the 80 year old original owner before the guy I bought it from had just used it to go to church and get groceries in town,” he said.
LaPratt may be correct. He grew up on a farm near Caro, Mich., and knows the demands put on a working truck.
“We raised corn, beans and wheat,” he said.
LaPratt claims he started the nearly five year GMC truck restoration project because his wife wanted him out of the house. More likely it was the farm boy in him that wanted a truck like the ones used to haul grain in Michigan’s “thumb” region of his youth.
Have you seen a cool vehicle around town? Writer Doug Hill’s always on the lookout for future Dig My Ride columns. E-mail him at Hillreviews@hotmail.com.
Breaking news, severe weather alerts, AMBER alerts, sports scores from The Norman Transcript are available as text messages right to your phone or mobile device. You decide which type of alerts you want to receive. Find out more or to signup, click here.