Car of the Week: 1949 Chevrolet pickup

1949 Chevy pickup returns to the brewery it first served.
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Car of the Week 2020
6 1949 Chevy Point Brewery washed Mihna

For years, a mural showing a lineup of long-gone brewery trucks has been painted on the wall of the Stevens Point Brewery. Now, one of the brewery’s trucks is back where its image was painted during its absence.

In late January, the Stevens Point Brewery in Stevens Point, Wis., learned that the 3/4-ton 1949 Chevy 3600 pickup that it bought new had been found. For decades, the truck was hiding in the trees just a few towns away. Until it was recently discovered, the only evidence of its existence was a couple old black-and-white photos — one showing the truck and driver Mike Mansavage, who worked at the brewery from 1933 to 1976.

Mike Mansavage, a Stevens Point Brewery employee from 1933-1976, with the 1949 Chevy 3600 pickup. The Stevens Point Brewery is the third-oldest continuously operating, privately owned brewery in the United States.

Mike Mansavage, a Stevens Point Brewery employee from 1933-1976, with the 1949 Chevy 3600 pickup. The Stevens Point Brewery is the third-oldest continuously operating, privately owned brewery in the United States.

Credit for the truck’s discovery goes to Old Cars reader Josh Mihna of Amherst, Wis., who stumbled upon the pickup last fall after inquiring about a similar weathered relic visible from the road.

“There was another truck that I had an eye on for a while and finally stopped to ask if they would sell it,” Mihna said. “When I walked around their property, I saw this and asked if it was also for sale.”

The owner of the two Advance-Design Chevy trucks wasn’t sure if she was interested in selling them since they had belonged to her late father. She told Mihna that she or her husband would call him if they decided to part with them, however.

The 1949 Chevy 3600 as it appears today outside the Stevens Point Brewery

The 1949 Chevy 3600 as it appears today outside the Stevens Point Brewery

Leaves, tree trunks and dirt obscured the faded brewery logos on the 1949 Chevy’s blue doors, making Mihna initially unaware of the 1949 Chevy’s important local history. “I didn’t even know it was a Point truck when we found it,” he said. “I just have to have every old truck I find. I just saw that it was a 3600 and it was pretty solid.”

When a call came from the owner of the trucks saying Mihna could buy them, he and friend George Spieker pulled out the brewery truck first since it was easier to extract. That’s when he discovered its secret.

“When I went back, I said, ‘It’s an old Point Brewery truck!” Mihna recalled. “I knew it was original because the logo paint work was done so nice. I went online and did some research, but it didn’t come full circle until I called the brewery and said, ‘We found this truck — do you have any history or pictures of it?’ Then they sent me the picture of when it was new and I said, ‘This is definitely the same truck.’ Even the front tires were the same.”

Josh Mihna, who found the truck, replaced the glass, headlamps, tailgate and other bits to make it complete after pulling it out of the woods where it had been hiding for decades

Josh Mihna, who found the truck, replaced the glass, headlamps, tailgate and other bits to make it complete after pulling it out of the woods where it had been hiding for decades

At just 41 years old, Mihna’s specialty is getting old cars and trucks running perfectly for himself and his circle of friends. He began honing his skills before he became a teenager and eventually came to work at a Chevrolet dealer by day. By night, however, he immersed himself in his true love: tinkering with 1930s-and-newer cars and trucks. Many of them were bought out of fields on a young hobbyist’s budget, and Mihna often had them running just hours after trailering them home.

After developing health issues resulting from a bout with Lyme disease, Mihna has had to quit his day job. However, he still loves dragging forgotten cars and trucks from barns and forests and making them run again when his body is up to the task.

The Chevrolet emblem still intact

The Chevrolet emblem still intact

After he had the first Advance-Design truck running, he turned his attention to the blue brewery truck. The engine was stuck and it was missing a few pieces, including the tailgate. Mihna turned to his parts stash and his other derelict Chevy trucks to make the brewery truck complete.

“The taillight lens was busted, the glass was broken and the headlights were missing,” he said, “but I put on all of those little detail things.”

Mihna also freed up the engine valves and brakes, welded areas where the metal was cracked and pounded out dents. He spent two days scrubbing and wet sanding the truck’s original paint to remove the decades of dirt that had accumulated.

The truck in in "rough" around the edges from the years of sitting in the elements.

The truck in in "rough" around the edges from the years of sitting in the elements.

While he was working on the old brewery truck, Mihna went back to the seller to learn how it came into her father’s possession. “She just said that she didn’t remember when it arrived there,” he said. “She was pretty sure her dad got it for free and they probably drove it in there and probably didn’t give it another thought until we came along. She said her father had no affiliation with the brewery. It was pretty much abandoned there, or somebody gave it to him for work or something like that.”

Mihna planned to completely free up the engine and get the truck running, but before he could, Mike Drechsler, a friend who owns Old Country Store Antiques in New London, Wis., talked Mihna into selling it to him. Drechsler soon found someone at the Stevens Point Brewery who was interested in buying back the truck and it returned to Stevens Point.

“The brewery started back in 1857, a year before the city of Stevens Point was established,” said Melissa Wysocki, social media manager for the Stevens Point Brewery, “and there is so much history of how the brewery has changed over time. We repurchased the truck because it connects us to that history. There are so many stories and important moments in the brewery’s timeline that we want to remember. The truck is one of those memories that we wanted to bring home.”

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The ’49 Chevy is currently parked outside the mid-size brewery’s malt barn, and Wysocki said many of the brewery’s 60 employees enjoy seeing the weathered old pickup parked outside. She added that the truck has also been welcomed back by the community.

“It is amazing to see how excited community members were to stop in and check out the truck,” Wysocki said. “Many have shared stories from when the truck was up and running, and it’s awesome to see how impacted the community is through the brewery over the years.”

A long-term plan for the truck hasn’t yet been determined, but the brewery expects to eventually use it for parades and displays, either restored or in its current state of patina.

“Some people want to fix it up all the way and get it to run, while others want to keep the antique look,” Wysocki said. “We are hoping to find a middle ground.”

After a long career, few retirees return to bask in the workplace where they completed their yeoman duties. For the Stevens Point Brewery’s 1949 Chevrolet pickup, its original job site couldn’t be a better place to live out retirement — whatever that might entail.

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