Jim and Susie were newlyweds in 1961 struggling to make ends meet. Jim was turning out to be a gifted mechanic, and Susie was a charming car hop at the local A&W Root Beer Stand.
Jim really wanted a pickup truck. He knew it would make hauling things easier and be more practical than his 1951 Chrysler Convertible. Trucks were sought after and expensive - a used one was going to be hard to find.
One day Jim found an old 1935 International pickup truck out in the woods outside of town. It had been a Lake County work truck and it was rough - with an asking price of $60. He didn’t really want to spend that much - but the owner wouldn’t take less. Susie simply counted out the tip money she’d been saving for over a year and simply said “buy the truck.”
Jim bought it and drove it like that for a few years and the family started to grow, with 3 little boys close in age, making the truck impractical as a daily driver. In the late 1960s he started to rebuild the truck into a Street Rod as he couldn’t really imagine parting with something Susie had bought him.
Jim bartered and salvaged for treasurers for the truck - a 9 inch Ford rear end, a 4 speed Munci transmission, a pair of Mustang bucket seats, a used 283 SB Chev engine from a 1957 Bel Air he got for $10 mainly for the flywheel - then decided it was worth keeping after adding a Duntov cam. Off with the fenders and the hood. Jim always liked the looks of a 1932 Ford so when he spotted a 1932 Ford grill shell at the local dump - he grabbed it and found a neighbor with a sheet metal press who could make replacement bars for the grill. The truck became a genuine Street Rod - the more he tinkered with it, the more it took on a personality all its own.
In 1972 daughter Stephanie was born, making it a full house with 3 boys and a little princess. Life was good - but the truck remained an “eventually” project. Until one summer day in 1979 when Jim fell at work and crushed the heal of his foot. He would be off work all summer - and if Jim didn’t find something to do, he was going to drive the entire family crazy.
So off on his crutches to the garage he went, to look at the old Street Rod project. Jim taught Stephanie fractions and tools and she became the gopher. He took an old office chair and wheeled around the garage. The work was slow but consistent. The 20 year old neighbor kid was doing upholstery and offered to help. Susie stained and varnished the wood for the truck bed. A UPS driver in the area heard about a guy building a Street Rod in town and tracked Jim down. Turns out - they liked all the same things, and he happened to have the perfect headlight stanchions for the truck. Soon it was off to a friend for a bright red paint job. While most would say the crowning glory of the engine was the 3 deuce set up Jim expertly rebuilt and added to the truck - little Stephanie delighted in the “illegal Wolf Whistle” which she pulled with abandon.
Many fun summers were spent in the Street Rod. Whether it was date night with Susie or a rod run with little Stephanie and the local car club - life was good.
The years went by quickly. Jim eventually took over his father’s engine rebuilding business. The little girl grew up and moved out to find her own success. Susie passed on, and the Street Rod was parked. Jim had found a 1940 Ford Convertible to tinker with and the comfortable seating and steering with a smooth running flathead were hard to beat.
When Home Improvement with Tim Allen became a hit, Jim couldn’t help but notice Tim’s hot rod. Jim got the bug again - the Street Rod was pulled out of storage, a rotted out frost plug was replaced, and off he went. The old 283 Chevy roared to life, the Wolf Whistle still worked, and I’m fairly sure he passed a few Mustangs on his first trip into town.
Jim passed away in 2016. The car collection remains in the family, as does the family’s engine rebuilding business. Daughter Stephanie is now the caretaker of the Street Rod, with help from one of her brothers and her husband. The truck was pulled out of storage in 2017, sent off to a body shop for a buff and polish, and the 3 deuce set up rebuilt and fine tuned for today’s non-oxy gasoline. The 283 still roars, with the distinct tone only a Duntov cam can make, the Wolf Whistle still works, and the Street Rod still turns heads wherever they go.
Stephanie created a Facebook page and Instagram account called Adventures in Dad’s Street Rod so these memories aren’t lost and to encourage more families to spend time together preserving and enjoying classic cars. She will continue to tinker with the Street Rod but for the most part - it’s about preserving the truck now to the standards of the 1979 build. If you’re around Minnesota next summer, you might see the bright red Street Rod at some of the smaller shows or just simply enjoying a night at a local A&W. Jim built the truck to drive and enjoy - and hopefully it will be driven and enjoyed for many years to come.