The Tale of Vintage Don and a 1948 Willys pickup

Vintage Don

Well Oiled
All-Star
Oct 9, 2017
1,831
Medina, Ohio
First Name
Don
Willys Model
Pickup
Willys Year:
1948
(I am writing this Build Thread - at least the first big chunk of it - “in retrospect”. I want to try to tell my whole story, in one place and complete - instead of my "shotgun posts" here in the forum - which have been written kinda helter-skelter as I have asked questions while I worked to bring this poor old abandoned truck back to life, piece by rusty piece. I plan to add to this thread by importing (some of) those previous posts, and restoring the photos where they've disappeared - and maybe cleaning it all up to flow a bit better.

So travel back with me to the Fall of 2017…….)


I wasn’t looking for a ’48 Willys pickup…. Didn’t need one, didn’t want one, didn’t really know much about them….but I liked JEEPS, and old vehicles… And I thought the early flat-face trucks were just, well - cool looking, I guess. I never said it was logical. Cause of course, it's not.

I’ve had several Jeeps through the years. I actually bought a new one 25 years ago, when they went back to the round headlights on the Wrangler. And we’ve had several big Grand Cherokees through the years for our family car. That’s still what I drive, and this current one even has a Hemi! It’s great. And I’ve been messing around with old cars for my whole life - started out with a Model A Ford in 1969 - in High School, in partnership with my Dad (his money, my enthusiasm! haha). I have restored a lot of them since, to one degree or another - mostly Chevys, mostly from the 1910’s to early 1950’s - rebuilt a few engines, puzzled over a few transmissions, even managed to get through painting a car or two that came out looking pretty darn good. But it has always been a hobby and a passion, never my job. As years passed, I even restored some to national award winning Trailer Queens, other ones just to drive reliably. Have had dozens and dozens through the years, but seldom more that 2 or 3 at a time. Get one, fix it up and enjoy it, then get the bug to sell it and do another one. Endlessly. It’s a disease, I know that.

But in all those years, and all those old vehicles, this one is somehow special. Maybe it’ll be my last one, maybe not. But it is certainly a case of it needing every experience, skill and every tool - for every aspect and system of a vehicle - ALL needed on this one! Needed real bad! haha

So I’ll start at the Beginning.

One evening in early October 2017 - totally innocently - I was surfing around on eBay to see what was out there, just to look, killing time………. And here was this decrepit old Willys truck, smiling at me. I got to studying the photos. The seller obviously didn’t know very much about what he had - didn’t know what year it was, what engine it had, what it needed, and so forth. He just knew that it was For Sale. Some of the photos made it look kinda decent, but pretty tired. Some showed that it was really beat to death. He wanted way too much money for it, I think he had $3,000 on it for a "Buy It Now" price. Wasn’t nearly worth that much… and, it was in central Oklahoma, and I was in northern Ohio. That’s about a 1,000 miles, not exactly next door local.

Well, I made the mistake of sending a message and asking the Seller about it. He came right back, and we ended up having an email conversation. He didn’t have a Title. That’s a Big Problem in the modern world…. But I found I liked the guy, enjoyed talking with him. He was in his 60’s, and his name was Sam. The truck was actually his MOTHER’S! She was pushing 90, and had inherited it when her husband passed away 10 years or so earlier - it was just junked on some property she inherited. Sam (the Seller) had “come home” and was helping clear stuff out for his Mom. There were assorted other derelict cars he had listed on eBay, mostly from the 50’s. The pickup was part of the group. He had gotten a cousin to drag them up out of the brush with a skid steer, up by the house, so he could take photos for eBay. The tires were rotted off.

2.jpg

I found out it had been his step-dad’s, and it had been parked (maybe we should say “junked”) - since about 1962. Yes, Nineteen Sixty-Two - 55 years… The last license plate was 1960, and it was still on the truck. That’s pretty long…. But that also meant, it was mostly all ORIGINAL. I liked that aspect. A lot.

We had a few conversations over the next few days. I helped him figure out what engine it had, and helped him figure out what was good ("W-O" tailgate) and what was bad (pretty much everything else). But it was real, real original.

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The interior was pretty scary. Only later would I learn that that was the wrong steering wheel - one of the very few things that had been changed out on the truck. Of course, in the photos you can't tell that you can see through the floorboards. I don't think they would have supported your feet without falling through.

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Nobody ever did bid on it. He kept talking to me, told me one guy had offered him $1,400. Sam told him if he would make that $1,700 he could have it. The guy said No Thanks. (He was smarter than me, I reckon). The auction ended, the old truck was un-sold, no bids at all. So I tried to just forget about it.

Then I heard from Sam! He found out they COULD get a new Title, they just needed to do a bunch of paper work and submit a Death Certificate from the old man. Said he wasn’t going to spend that money and effort unless a Buyer wanted it, though. He thought he would put it back on eBay again. I kept thinking about it. But in late October, I told him I had come to my senses, and was going to “pass” on it. He thanked me for my help, called me a friend, and wished me the best.

And I kept thinking about that damned old truck….

He put it back on eBay, and again nobody bought it.

And I couldn't get it out of my head....

So in early November, I emailed Sam and told him I would do his $1,700, if he would get a valid Title. He said sure. I mailed him a Deposit, and started trying to figure out my next moves.

< to be continued.... >
 
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Vintage Don

Well Oiled
All-Star
Oct 9, 2017
1,831
Medina, Ohio
First Name
Don
Willys Model
Pickup
Willys Year:
1948
Well then, I needed to make a Road Trip to Oklahoma and bring home my new Treasure! I love a good Road Trip! No problem, I had an enclosed car trailer and the Big Jeep to pull it with. I talked an old High School buddy (car guy) into riding out to Oklahoma with me. Just drive out there, load her up, and drive back. Take it easy - 500 or 600 miles a day, cheap motels, and possible adventure around every turn... Or not.

The Willys was in Stroud, Oklahoma, roughly in the middle of the State. Right on historic Route 66. The computer told me it was just over 1,000 miles.

I had to match up schedules with Sam (the Seller), and figure out when we could make the run. Wanted to get out there and get back before Winter snuck up on me, and be home before Thanksgiving. We ended up heading out early on the morning of November 18, 2017 - below freezing, snowing, and blowing gale force winds - sideways to the highway. No big deal, but that big empty trailer swinging behind me kept me on my toes for that first 400 miles or so. Things quieted down after we crossed Ohio, Indiana and into Illinois - and we rolled on, through St. Louis and into Missouri, and got to a room I had reserved in Cuba, Missouri. I’m getting old - I don’t do 1,000 miles nonstop with a trailer any more! Haha! And my buddy didn’t do ANY of the driving (either direction) - he was afraid of the trailer I think. But that’s fine, he kept me awake and helped pass the time.

So I had been thinking about the fact that the Willys didn’t have any tires left on it - it was just sitting on bare, rusty rims. That would make it kinda hard to winch it up into the trailer…. I had tried to talk to Sam about helping to solve that problem, but he wasn't keen on plunging into what all that might involve...

I was a New Guy here on OldWillysForum, but I started looking around and asking - hoping to find a set of rims with tires that would hold air, at least long enough for loading.

That’s when I first discovered Harry at Midwest Willys. That was kind of on my route going out - I hoped maybe I could get 4 rims and tires from him, throw ‘em in the trailer, and swap them over when we got to Oklahoma. Well, Harry didn’t have a set... But - talking to him, I found out he DID have a correct front seat for a ’48 pickup, with the 1/3 - 2/3 split arrangement. Which I learned are fairly hard to find. (Cost about 1/4 of what the truck did....)

from Harry.jpeg

So I planned to stop there on the way home and grab those - since the old truck didn’t have any seat left in it that was usable.

But I still needed some roller wheels and tires. So I kept looking and emailing and calling people - it seemed reasonable that I could find somebody that was getting rid of a set of original wheels to “upgrade” (in their opinion) to something newer and wanted to sell their originals. Eventually, Fate smiled on me - I found exactly that guy (his name was Mark, and he used to be on the Forum here, but I can’t remember his handle) - and I was in luck! He was RIGHT ON MY ROUTE in Crocker, Missouri. A hundred bucks, and they would be mine. And he said the tires would hold air for a while, anyway. So we set everything up to meet up. (I was arranging this on my cellphone while already rolling, you understand. Not sure how things woulda worked out if that hadn't come together.)

So next morning, we hit the road to meet up with Mark. Had to stop at Burger King and have a Croissanwich and coffee. I only get Croissanwiches when I'm on a Road Trip..... and you gotta love Burger King -

Burger King.jpeg

Yeah, my buddy had to take a picture of that.....

Then we met up with Mark at an I-44 Exit, paid him, threw the tires in the empty trailer, and rolled on for Stroud OK. Fifteen minutes total.


A few times there across the rest of Missouri and into Oklahoma, we got off of the Interstate and cruised old Route 66, just because. "The Plan" was to meet up with Sam and the Willys early the next morning, so we had time to burn. Got to Stroud by late afternoon, a pretty cool little town -

Stroud.jpeg


and you could actually SEE the old Willys from Route 66 (barely) the old house where they had drug the Willys to sell was a couple blocks up a side street- but I didn't want to surprise Sam, so I just did a slow cruise past her.... I was pretty excited! Managed not to stop and get out, though. With difficulty. Snapped this photo there, on "first sighting." Tomorrow morning, it would be MINE!

first view.jpeg


So we grabbed dinner at Stroud's main Route 66 "Claim To Fame" - the Rock Cafe, right on 66. Supposedly, the author who wrote the famous animated movie "Cars" frequented the place, and drew some inspiration from it for the movie. Anyway, it was very cool - good food, very reasonable prices, cute waitress - what's not to like? haha

Rock Cafe.jpeg


And finally checked into our room for the night. I couldn't stay at one of the old iconic motels - wanted to - but the parking lot wouldn't work with the big trailer rig. So we stayed at a real nice new place - and I slept like a baby on Christmas Eve. We had arrived!

Resized_20171119_161001.jpeg


In the next installment, I'll finally lay hands on my pickup - and truly see what I had bought. Stay tuned.......
 
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Vintage Don

Well Oiled
All-Star
Oct 9, 2017
1,831
Medina, Ohio
First Name
Don
Willys Model
Pickup
Willys Year:
1948
Thanks for all that positivity there, guys! Now, where was I.... oh, yeah - I went to bed that night, and got a good night's sleep, after that 1,000 mile run.

And up with the sun on that crisp, cloudless morning of November 20, 2017 - in Stroud, Oklahoma. A hot cup of coffee, and we were off to meet Sam in person - and finally get my hands on the object of my desire.... it was only a mile or so from the motel.

I had studied the lay of the land earlier from home, on Google-Earth and the internet maps (too many times! haha), so I whipped up the (very quiet) side street, to allow me to position the trailer and rig for loading. And there was Sam, all smiles. A really great guy, just as I had figured.

And I got to TOUCH my Willys - and it was good. There was some kind of mystical magnetic-electrical energy that flowed back and forth (6 volt, I'm sure), and we bonded. Little did I imagine how dramatically this old truck would impact my life...

arrival.jpg

Sam's Mom came out to meet us, too. Here's her and Sam - her name was Willa Dean, 88 years young..... she was the actual owner, of course - since she inherited from her late husband - Sam, her son, was just the guy doing the work of getting it sold. Willa Dean brought us out some coffee (it was pretty cool outside - not much above freezing). She had her paper work all in order and ready, and was all set to go to the Bank when it opened, to get that new Title notarized over to me, and to get paid. But we had to load up first...

Sam and Willa Dean 1.jpeg

And then the work began! We started with the front axle. First thing we did was soak down all the lug nuts - which had pretty well grown into place after 55+ years. I had brought along a couple of bottle jacks, and some pieces of wood for a jacking base - to get her up in the air to swap out the wheels. But Sam had thought it out too, and had brought a couple of big farm jacks - a much better plan!

We found a piece of 4x4 - and I went to work supervising, while Sam (on the right) and my buddy Doug (left) did all the work.... (haha - that would be my long, early morning shadow, taking the photos!)

Getting front up.jpeg

Got the lifting started, and pulled off the old rims. I even remembered about the Left-Hand threads on the Driver's side lug nuts. I noticed she had the front wheels turned to the left a good bit. And wanted to STAY turned to the left...... OK, well, we'll deal with that later...

We had to jack her pretty high, to get room to get the roller tires under there. That's when I noticed that the left front main spring leaf was broken.... and that whole side was kinda sagged down onto the axle. OK, well, we'll deal with that later, too....

Front wheels going on.jpeg

Up and up, higher and higher. And finally she was sitting proud on rubber in the front. But the rear axle didn't go quite as well.....

We tugged and pulled and beat on those lug nuts. And they just laughed at us. For quite a while. (Willa Dean went back inside when the language became more colorful... ) Pretty soon, a piece of pipe was involved, making the wrench handle longer. That's when the first two lugs snapped off... (well, I can deal with that later...) I called a halt, and got down there and started really studying what was going on.

rear axle.jpeg

I finally saw it - it turns out, somebody had SWAPPED AROUND the rear hubs and drums. So the Left Hand threaded lug nuts were now on the PASSENGER (wrong) side. Damn. But that kind of explained why we couldn't get any of the 9 of them to turn.... (one was already broken off).

With that revelation, though, things started to go a whole lot better. We turned the (now very tight) lug nuts the other direction - and they came off. Hmmm. So in short order then, the old Willys was standing up on 4 tires! And aiming to the Left. And listing to Port pretty good.... But she was standing, and looked a whole lot better!

We spent quite a while convincing those front axle knuckles to go ahead and TURN after more than half a century of aiming Left. Wire brushes, WD-40, a hammer - some "verbal encouragement" - and eventually, she was aimed reasonably straight ahead. At least good enough to get her into the trailer. Something else to "deal with later." (That list would end up being 3 years long - but I don't want to get ahead of myself! hahaha)

Sam looked her over for the last time before loading -

Sam admiring.jpeg

And the loading at least went very well. It was nice to have that winch mounted up in the nose of the trailer!

And finally off to the Bank, which had been open for a while by then... Willa Dean signed over the Title - I handed over the money - (Sam had never even cashed that Deposit I had him sent a few weeks earlier) - and it was MINE!

Now all we needed to do was drive 1,000 miles home.

Made it back across half of Oklahoma, and across Missouri as the sun was setting - then most of Illinois. Got tired, and we got a room. The next morning was more of the same, and then a detour in Indiana - off on a side trip to Midwest Willys - to meet Harry and Jo, and pick up my front seat. Great folks.

aa.jpeg

Harry got up in the trailer and crawled all over my new acquisition, and gave me a pretty favorable report. He liked that Willys-Overland tailgate, and was real impressed with how totally ORIGINAL everything was - totally untouched since 1960-ish. On that point, Willa Dean kinda remembered that her late husband - Ira Stinson - had stopped getting license plates in 1960, and then just drove it around the property for another year or two. Until it "wouldn't go any more." I believe that - he definitely got his money's worth out of it!

Leaving Midwest Willys, we headed down to Indianapolis to get back on the Interstate, and made a stop at a Wendys for a nice, big juicy Double Cheeseburger and fries. Then rolled on, that last 350 miles to HOME.

It was during that leg, I believe, that I decided to name the truck "Willa Dean." I never use that when I post here on the Forum, but around the house we always refer to her as Willa Dean, never "the truck," or "the Willys." It's got a nice, vintage Oklahoma and Willys kinda sound to it..... even starts with "Will...."

So Willa Dean was finally home! Rolled her out of the trailer -

the rig.jpeg

the trailer floor was spotless when we left - so I swept out the FIRST hundred pounds or so of Oklahoma dirt and Willys rust - (there would be much, much more....)

dirt.jpeg

Unhooked, and went to bed. The epic 4 day, 2,051 mile Road Trip was over. And I had my Willys truck!
 
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Stakebed

Well Oiled
All-Star
Mar 4, 2020
2,156
Northern California
First Name
Joseph
Willys Model
Pickup
Willys Year:
1957
I like that Mrs Willa Dean was modest enough to leave when you guys colored the air blue. Old school modesty.

So much of this chapter of the story is familiar Don. Too many times Dad and I "rescued" neglected vehicles. I was really able to imagine your toils and verbal encouragements, (there goes my ideal of you being a church going man;)).

Great writing. The only problem is that it's one chapter per day. :confused:
 
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