By Brian Earnest
Phil Teslow isn’t sure if Al Capone ever really spent any time behind the wheel of a Model TT Ford truck. It’s certainly possible, though, that some of Capone’s law-breaking mafia family knocked around in the durable Ford trucks while they were pedaling beer and booze back in the Capone gang’s 1920s heyday.
But chances are that if Capone and his cronies ever piloted such a vehicle, they never had one as nice as Teslow’s splendid Ford flatbed stake truck. And they almost certainly didn’t drive around with a sign on the door of the truck announcing who they were.
“I always had the idea for a truck like this, and I knew it was the kind of truck Capone could have used,” said Teslow, who’s wonderfully restored and reconstructed 1926 Ford wears a sign that reads “Alphonse Capone 2nd Hand Furniture” on the side — a nod to Capone’s actual business card from the day. “This one doesn’t look like it came out of the factory. The paint is not flat or matte — it looks like a working truck and that’s kind of what I was after.
“Capone wasn’t going to be driving any shiny truck around with his booze in it!”
Teslow was a Ford Model T and prewar car buff who had been dreaming about such a truck for years. He had kept his eyes open for a vehicle that he could apply his “Capone” vision to and hadn’t been having much luck until his fortunes turned around about three years ago.
“I had been looking for a truck for some time, because they are not quite as common [as Model T cars], and I had this idea in the back of my mind about the bootleg connection,” said Teslow, a resident of Scandia, Minn. “Then I found out about this truck, which belonged to another club member from our Model T club [the T-Toddlers]. He was from a town called Ogilvie, Minn., and I gave him a call and he said to c’mon up and take a look. Well, it was everything I wanted and the price was right and we did the deal.”
Perhaps the best news of all for Teslow was that the Ford was already complete and restored. The previous owner, Don Koll, had taken pieces from three trucks to complete one complete machine, but after driving the truck for a while decided it needed a new home. “As part of our little Model T club, sometimes they do touring, and the truck unfortunately has such a low rated gear,” Teslow said. “It’s rated 1-ton, and the top speed is about 15 mph, although this truck does have an auxiliary transmission added to it so you can get a little bit more speed out of it. The truck can go 25, almost 30 mph almost flat out … but 20 mph is more like you should drive it so you can be kind to the truck.”
The Model TT was in its 10th year as Ford’s rugged mid-size truck by the time the 1926 model year rolled around. The 1-ton rigs were again available as a chassis only, or with a closed — the second year Ford offered a closed-cab truck — or passenger compartment. Ford also offered a “platform express” or “curtained canopy” style for the back.
Under the hood was the carry-over 176.7-cid 22-hp inline four-cylinder that was used in the Model T autos. The TT chassis, however, was stretched to 124 inches — 24 more than the Ford car chassis. The same two-speed transmission also returned, although the rear end of the truck used a worm gear setup that worked better for heavy loads, if not for speed. Options included a windshield wiper, front and rear bumpers, rearview mirror, electric starter, an oil cowl lamp, and oversized rear tires. Balloon tires became standard midway through the year.
Buyers could pick up a TT chassis for a mere $365 and more than 228,000 of the trucks rolled off the Ford assembly line for 1926. Apparently three of them were eventually combined to make Teslow’s truck. “I think he needed three by the time he found one with good engine block, one with a good frame and one with a good body,” Teslow said. “He built the stake bed himself out of red and white oak and did a beautiful job. The guy’s a real craftsman.
“He rebuilt the engine and put in aluminum engines. He went through the transmission… and brought everything to as close to new as possible. Then he built that beautiful wood stake body for it … Those closed cabs were notorious for rust under the doors … if you go one of the major Model T parts catalogs they all have a patch panel that you can cut out and weld in It took him a while to find a rust-free body, but he did and that’s what you see now. It’s turned out to be just like the way I would have wanted it if I had built it myself.
Teslow has had a little fun coming up with magnetic signs for the doors and rain barrels for the back to complete the truck’s bootlegger look. He has a few bullet hole decals that might make their way onto the side of the truck as well.
“One thing I have thought about doing — the radiator is painted a nickel color … when it came from factory it would have been black like the rest of vehicle,” he said. “And the red spokes would probably have been black. I might change those two things, but right now my wife wants me to leave the red spokes the way there are. She says it looks good the way it is.”
If anybody ever needs him to haul a load of beer, he’d probably oblige, but it would take a while for the load to get there. The retired Teslow and his slow-moving rig are rarely in a hurry together. Parade speed is just about right for the old Ford, and Teslow admits he hams it up a little when such an opportunity arises. “We have a couple of plastic tommy gun reproductions that I hand out to my buddy the local parade every year,” he chuckles. “We have some fun with that.”
Teslow hates to see the TT lonely in his garage, however, and he’s starting to look around for a companion. In the past he’s had a 1923 Model T coupe and a 1924 Hudson two-door sedan, so he figures his next purchase will follow suit and be a pre-war car. “I’ve always kind of thought, personally, I was living in the wrong decade,” he concluded with a laugh. “I do appreciate when things were made with a little slower pace and with a little more care and a little more workmanship. That’s what appeals to me."
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