While we can admire the sleek lines of a Corvette and the power of a Mustang, we shouldn't forget this nation was built with pickup trucks. From construction sites to farm fields, trucks deliver. Generations of young people learned to drive either grinding the gears of a pickup on a forgiving country road or traveling with a relative to job sites with the sun just peeking over the horizon.
David "Bud" O'Shea, chief executive officer of Harold O'Shea Builders, is from the generation that learned to drive in a truck, and his appreciation for that workhorse of a vehicle continues. When the opportunities came up for him to buy some vintage pickups, a 1946 and a 1947, he took them.
"I have been attracted to trucks since I was a small boy," he said. "My grandpa would take me to his construction job sites when I was 4 years old. I always liked being with him and riding in his old truck."
He said it was a great treat to go along when his grandfather picked up his new 1939 Ford truck. "He knew how much I enjoyed riding in the truck, so when the traffic was light, he would let me sit on his lap and steer. As the years passed, I got to push the gas pedal and change gears with the floor shift while he worked the clutch and brakes."
During World War II, O'Shea said that construction slowed way down in Springfield, so his father went to work for Henry Nelch & Son Co. as a concrete superintendent. "In the summertime, when I was about 9 years old, he would take me to work with him and put me in a concrete truck with a sandwich for lunch. I would ride all day long with a driver," O'Shea said.
He said he would ride with different drivers and come home after a long day covered in cement dust - his passion for building fueled.
By the early 1950s, O'Shea said he had his driver's license and he was allowed to drive his father's new Chevrolet truck to school. "Dad was glad I could drive because every day after school, I would pick up building materials for him to take to job sites the next day."
He actually bought his 1947 Chevy ¾-ton pickup before he bought the '46. But after he bought the '47, he said he purchased a 1/16 replica of a 1946 truck and promised his wife he would be adding a full-size '46 to his truck collection some-day. "She just smiled," he said.
Both trucks are blue, a popular color, in addition to Brewster Green, in the mid-'40s. Chevy offered two similar blue shades. The light, medium or heavy-duty trucks came in Boatswain or Export Blue. The '46 truck has a sportier look. The front has a stylized grille and chrome accents on the side.
All the trucks in the Chevy line had chrome trim. O'Shea's '46 also has black fenders. Most of the trucks came with what manufacturers called black-dressed fenders.
The windshield had one window wiper, on the driver's side, and it could be cranked open at the bottom for air flow. "That was the air conditioning then," O'Shea said with a laugh.
Neither truck has very plush interiors. "They are loud, and the ride is not what you would call comfortable," he said, "but I love 'em."
The bed of the '46 is much shorter than the '47 and also narrower. O'Shea said he thought the bed on the '47 became longer and wider to accommodate changes in construction materials - bigger and wider sheets of drywall and Sheetrock.
Trucks in 1947 had undergone a major overhaul. The fronts were rounded, the cabs were larger to accommodate three people. It was the first year that "Chevy" was stamped into the metal of the back tailgate, and the windshield is larger.
The larger windshield no longer could be cranked open, and the windows on the sides and the rear were also larger. This was the first year that Chevy added the option of rear quarter windows, which O'Shea's '47 has.
The bench seats that year could be adjusted for height and for leg room, and the bottom cushion could be lifted to give access to a toolbox. In both models, the spare tire is mounted on the underside of the truck. Not too practical, O'Shea concedes, when driving over raised, uneven terrain.
O'Shea's trucks are nice, but they are used and bear their minor dents and dings proudly. "I have enjoyed the ownership of both trucks," O'Shea said. "My grandson, David III, and I will occasionally each take a truck out on the back roads near the our office to give them some running time," he said.
O'Shea said at first his grandson couldn't drive a floor shift and a clutch, but he's mastered the art of "the truck." David O'Shea III took the '46 to a truck show, and it was awarded the Mayor's Trophy. That trophy is proudly displayed in the senior David's office.
Times and trucks have changed. "Our company now owns 18 trucks, and most of them I have not ridden in, much less driven," O'Shea said. Antique trucks still make him take notice, he said. "I always turn my head when passing an antique truck - either parked or traveling on the road. It's always a thrill to me, driving these old trucks."
Story published Friday, March 5, 2010 ( Volume 5, Number 2 )