When grown men sit in the shade and philosophize, there’ll likely be a strange outcome. I remember one such conversation my friend Fred Williston and I had when we were speculating about truck driving - the open road - being paid to travel. I was thinking of dawn breaking across the Midwest while I rolled along on near-deserted interstate highways, pulling well-behaved loads with shiny new trucks in perpetually perfect weather. Fred evidently had other ideas.
In a working life spanning more than half a century, Fred has turned his hand to many occupations. From halibut fishing in the North Pacific to electrical work in a distillery, he has a vast experience in many trades. He started an appliance repair business out of the trunk of a 1963 Ford Galaxy and turned it into a successful operation in Burnaby with annual sales well into seven figures. But, in all that time, he’s never been a truck driver.
Nevertheless, last spring Fred bought a 1958 Mack H67 cab over highway tractor after reading an advertisement in a vintage truck magazine. The first challenge was that the truck was over 50 years old - the second was that it was in Huntington, Indiana.
In June, Fred flew out and found Mack pretty much as expected for a truck that hadn’t seen a job site in over a decade. To be somewhat roadworthy, the truck needed work on the exhaust, wipers, horn, lights and a couple of new wheels and tires. Fred got it ready and headed for home, but not before taking in his first truck show in Richmond, Indiana.
After stocking up on the essentials, including a foamy mattress so he could sleep on the tiny bunk in the cab, Fred headed west. It was 35 degrees Celsius and humid. The truck’s electrical system couldn’t keep up with demand, so Fred bought a cheap generator and battery charger, which he strapped onto the truck behind the cab and ran when additional power was needed. A digital voltmeter duct taped to the windshield monitored the system. The louvers over the radiator weren’t operating properly so a system had to be devised to keep them open in the sweltering heat. Additionally, hot air off the engine would blast into the cab raising the temperature even more.
"I'll be forever grateful to Paul, a mechanic, who was able to donate the old winter coat that I slipped down over the shifters,” says Fred. “It kept out [of the cab] the heat and fumes from the engine."
This truck was assembled in New Jersey and spent its working life hauling concrete products in the eastern United States. The first Mack trucks were built in the early 1900s. The company supports owners of their older trucks by providing a copy of the original assembly orders together with an owner’s and a shop manual.
Mack has hundreds of thousands of miles on the clock and is a truck from another era. Somewhat underpowered by today’s standards, Mack has 15 forward gears and two gear shifts. Fred says the truck is easy to drive but difficult to drive well, and he admits he “polished” a few gears during the trip. It doesn’t have power steering making manoeuvring it in tight places all but impossible. Cramped parking lots are best avoided.
Vintage cars always attract a crowd and vintage trucks even more so. Fred and Mack were frequently photographed by passing cars on the freeway, and it wasn’t unusual for a few enthusiasts to drop by to kick the tires and swap a few truck stories whenever Fred parked.
Although Fred wasn’t pulling a load, he still had to keep a driver’s log just as professional truckers do and have it available for inspection, particularly in Haugan, Montana, where the weigh scale operator pointed out he’d driven too many hours and had better plan on a longer rest stop, which he did that night in Idaho. The next day, he was held up by Washington State transport officials who weren’t sure if he needed a permit to cross the state but, if he did and didn’t have it, the fine was $285. Two and a half hours later, Fred had his $25 permit and spent that night with friends in the Seattle area. Getting through customs at Port Angeles and again in Victoria took a full day, but Fred rolled up his driveway at dusk on Saturday June 27. With more than 2,500 miles [4023 km] behind them, it was a long drive for Fred and his Big Mack.
"I am a very grateful guy as a whole lot of things could have gone wrong and didn't,” says Fred. “Think positive and take a little risk. All in all, a great mini adventure and we have a very cool truck to play with."
DECEMBER 2009 SENIOR LIVING VANCOUVER ISLAND
Readers interested in vintage trucks might visit:
American Truck Historical Society www.aths.org
Old Time Trucks www.oldtimetrucks.org
Vintage truck shows are held each summer on the Island - check local listings.
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