NORMAN — Keith Reames has a photo album illustrating the restoration process of his 1953 Chevrolet 3100 series pick-up from rust bucket to cool blue truck. The Norman investment counselor started his first-ever automotive rebuilding project eight years ago.
“I saw the truck parked with a for sale sign at 24th Street near Highway 9,” Reames said. “It had four flat tires and the engine was locked up.”
The Duncan native looked at the old farm truck that hadn’t been tagged for more than 25 years and it appealed to the country boy in him.
As a 13-year-old kid, his grandparents and uncles had taught him to drive by motoring around ranch pastures in similar vehicles.
“I’ve always liked the 1950s look with nice clean lines and I just thought it would be fun to get one someday,” he said. “But I also like things like automatic transmission and air conditioning.”
His 1953 truck didn’t have those when it was new, they couldn’t be ordered from the assembly plant with those features at any price. Known as “Advanced Design” the trucks were no-nonsense load haulers intended for farmers and construction workers. The payload bed supports were wooden blocks. A Hydramatic automatic transmission became available for the first time in this series of trucks as an option in 1954.
“When I began restoring it, I had the choice of going back original but decided to soup it up a bit,” Reames said. “But even my ‘modern’ 350 engine is from a 1977 Chevrolet van that was going to be crushed for salvage.”
He had the motor rebuilt at a machine shop in Lexington. All rolling chassis components are from different, relatively modern vehicles. Now it has disc brakes, power steering and fuel injection. Reames married the refurbished power plant to a 1994 automatic transmission from a camaro. He did it himself in the two car garage of his NW Norman home. A picture in his photo album shows a posse of enthusiastic neighborhood men and boys on hand to help out and observe the operation. One red headed kid has the biggest smile you’ve ever seen. It was like a community project.
“I didn’t know how to do any of this stuff when I started,” Reames said. “With the Internet and asking a lot of questions from car guy friends like Marshall Mayes, the guys at Boyd Automotive and Palace Automotive, I just did it.”
He also called on the expertise of Reno Rod and Custom Supply Inc. in Oklahoma City to correct electrical wiring deficiencies.
“They hid some wires I had installed,” he said.
Reames also took a class at Mid America Technology Center in Wayne on auto body work.
“Taking the truck apart was a challenge because everything was rusted together,” he said.
Carrying one piece of sheet metal at a time to their work facilities, Reames painstakingly smoothed out all the dents and dings and prepared it for a fresh coat of paint.
“I had parts piled up in the dining room or anywhere I could during the process and eventually put it all back together,” he said. “The biggest challenge was working out of a two car garage.”
One peek into Reames’ spotless, well-organized garage and tool bench reveals that he’s the methodical type. It’s a model of efficient use of space.
“I also have a shed in back and put some parts back there and some in the attic,” he said.
The truck’s sheet metal is essentially the only thing original about Reames truck. Golf ball size hail stones won’t leave a mark on this tough old Detroit steel. Reames bought an air compressor and sprayed fresh lacquer on the sheet metal himself. The royal blue paint job looks terrific. It was the first time he’d ever painted a vehicle and people regularly express admiration for the old truck’s new finish inside and out.
“I’m not very good at being patient but sometimes I just had to sand off what I’d already painted and start over until I got it right,” he said. “I really enjoyed doing the metal preparation work.”
To complete the old Chevy’s modernization, the last thing Reames did was add Bluetooth stereo in the cabin.
“I have Pandora on my cell phone so I can select the Chuck Berry channel and it plays out the sound system on my truck,” he said. “If you’re out on cruise night and need the period-correct music you dial up Pandora.”
It’s a far cry from tuning in AM radio stations fading in and out on a 1953 night drive.
“I work at a desk job selling stocks and bonds,” Reames said. “You don’t really get the feeling of using your hands and taking something that wasn’t and making something that is. It gave me a lot of satisfaction going down to that class and hammering on fenders.”
Reames probably could have purchased an already refurbished 1953 Chevy for less than what he has invested in his truck.
“But I’d have a hard time placing a value on the enjoyment and knowledge I gained in the restoration process,” he said.
Have you seen a cool vehicle around town? Writer Doug Hill’s always on the lookout for future Dig My Ride columns. Email him at Hillreviews@hotmail.com.