Story and photos by Brian Earnest
Frank Schneider was only 12 years old when he learned to drive a 1950 Chevrolet pickup. He never figured it would take so much work to have his son, Joe, learn to drive one, too.
“It was a 1950 half-ton Chevy that a neighbor on the farm had,” recalled Schneider, a resident of rural Sherwood, Wis. “And his brother had a ’49 1-ton that had a 9-foot box. The half-tons only had a 6-footer. We used to haul grain in that, and I was fortunate, I lived next to the farm. The other guys were down the road a ways so when we were combining you always wanted to get there first and get the [half-ton] because you only had to shovel a 6-foot bed off the back. If you got [the 1-ton] you had almost twice as much to shovel! he laughs.”
About 35 years later, young Joe — who was only about 11 at the time — was getting eager to drive. His dad joked that he would need to learn to drive on a ’50 Chevrolet pickup like the old man had. “A couple weeks later in the [newspaper], lo and behold, there was a ‘50 Chev for sale,” Frank chuckles. “That was in 2000 we got it. A guy up the road that had a repair shop hauled it home with his wrecker, and I think that was the fastest the truck ever went. Well, we brought it home and I thought, ‘Uh-oh, this is a lot of work’.”
The old 3100 Series half-ton pickup had clearly been a work truck for at least one business in its past, but it had long ago been put out to pasture — literally. The Chevy had last been licensed in 1970, and Schneider figures it probably sat outside for about 30 years without moving. “I think he was going to make a rat rod out of it…It had sat out behind their place for all that time. It was in pretty rough shape.”
It didn’t take long for Schneider to accomplish his main goal, however. He got the truck running and let Joe learn to drive in the field behind their house. “I think there were two stuck valves in it, but once we got everything loosened up she popped right off,” he says. “The boys put over 100 miles on it out here in the cow pasture over the years,” Schneider says.
Schneider finally convinced himself that he wanted to restore the ’50 hauler shortly after he retired in 2013. He was pretty handy and fixed small engines on the side. He had also done plenty of repairs and maintenance to his work vehicles over the years as a local and county highway department employee. Restoring a rusty old truck that was older than himself was not going to be an easy feat, though, and Schneider knew it.
It took him more than 3 years, working in a cozy 20 x 26-foot shop space he had previously used for his small engine repairs. Finally, in 2016, he had the truck finished — restored from bumper to bumper and finished in a beautiful coat of Cape Maroon paint with rich pine woodwork in the deck and box rails.
“It was a long project. Everybody says, ‘What’s next?” Schneider laughs. “But I don’t know. I don’t really want to tackle anything like that again.”
Advance-Design Trucks: Year 4
The post-World War II vehicle buying frenzy began to slow down a bit in 1950 as consumer demand and dealer supply began to become more aligned, but Chevrolet didn’t do much to tinker with its wildly successful Advance-Design pickups, which it first launched in 1947. The Advance-Design series was a big leap forward over its predecessors and kept Chevrolet at the top of the light-duty truck building world. The trucks were simple and rugged, yet modern and more stylish than anything General Motors had built previously.
The new cabs were larger, more comfortable, had bench seats that could fit three adults, had better visibility, and were easier to get in and out of. Passengers no longer had to crank open the bottom of the windshield to get ventilation. Outside air came in through a louvered cowl vent on the passenger side, a flip-open vent on the driver side and a vent on the cowl. The seats were more comfortable and could be slid forward for shorter drivers, and new telescopic shock absorbers made for an improved overall ride.
The Thrift-Master models, as they were called, included the 3100 series half-ton trucks; three-quarter 3600 Series; and 1-ton 3800 haulers. All 3100s had improved seat cushion padding and larger 56-inch wide seats. The Suburban and Carryall with panel rear doors were reintroduced. Forest Green was now the standard color for all models. Among this year’s other refinements were improved Rochester B carburetors and a new circuit breaker lighting system. A revamped version of the Thriftmaster six was standard in all 3100, 3600 and 3800 models. In addition to its new “Power Jet” downdraft carburetor, it had larger exhaust valves and a straight-through muffler.
The unchanged grille again had five broad horizontal bars topped by a hood ornament with a cloisonné blue (metallic) bow-tie emblem and vermilion Chevrolet lettering on a chrome background. Rectangular parking lights were again placed in chrome housings between the ends of the uppermost pair of grille bars. A painted grille was standard equipment on all models, except Suburban Carryalls. The outer grille bar assembly was again done in body color. The inner bar assemblies retained their Waldorf White finish. The outer bars were not striped.
A chrome radiator grille package was standard on the Suburban Carryall and optional on other models. Rear corner windows on cabs were again included in a Deluxe equipment package. On trucks with rear corner windows, a different rear roof panel section was used. A two-piece, flat windshield was used. It had a black rubber seat and polished stainless-steel divider bar. Polished stainless steal windshield reveal molding was now standard on all models.
The gas tank was again located inside cab models. Its filler came out the rear right-hand corner of the cab, just behind the rotary chrome door handles. The fuel filler was just ahead of the rear wheels on single-unit body models. Both cab models and single-unit body models had one belt molding stripe.
The options list included rearview mirrors, chrome grilles, Deluxe equipment, a spare tire carrier, heavy-duty clutch and oil bath air cleaner. The dealer options list was extensive for buyers who wanted more add-ons than they could get from the factory. The base 3100 pickup price of $1,243 could become inflated in a hurry before a buyer ever left the lot, if they wanted their dealer to install goodies such as: a rod-type radio antenna, door arm rests, locking gas cap, seat covers, gas filter, license plate frame, bumper guards, recirculated air heater, spotlights, fog lights, under hood light, directional signals, hood ornament, Delco radio receiving set, windshield scraper, radiator insect screen, electric shaver, right-hand sunshade, running board safety tread, tool kit bag and tools or a windshield washer.
It all added up to a banner year for commercial truck sales at Chevrolet, with 494,573 units built for the model year, including 265,515 light-duty trucks with a GVW of less than 5,000 lbs.
The Long Road Back
Schneider has never done any in-depth detective work to figure out where his truck had lived in its early years, but he got some obvious clues when he started to peel away what was left of the exterior paint. “Somebody had taken blue paint and done a brush paint job on it, and you could kind of see names on the doors,” he says. “So I had my son take a wire brush to it because the paint had just flaked off it … We found the lettering on it was from an electrical contractor in Las Cruces, N.M. [1,500 miles away]. We got his phone number, his address, his New Mexico electrician’s number [laughs]. If it was parked in ’70, it may have come up in the late ‘50s or early ‘60s. It might have been somebody who worked the fields in Wisconsin borrowed the truck in New Mexico and drove it up here … Or there was a big military discharge base in Las Cruces, and the guy who owned it, I found out, was in the Korean conflict. The guy might have been discharged down there and bought it and drove it home. Who knows? But it was not a New Mexico rust-free truck. Most of its life was spent up here in the great state of Wisconsin with salt and winter.”
He figures the ’50 Chevy also belonged to a plumbing company at some point after it arrived in Wisconsin. “It had a big heavy-duty channel iron bumper on the back and a place to mount a pipe vice like the plumbers had,” he noted.
Schneider knew it was going to take time, patience and a lot of replacement parts to get his truck back to a road-worthy condition, let alone show quality. The truck hadn’t been on the road for at least 43 years when he began to disassemble it in 2013, so all it needed was just about everything.
“I tore the chassis all apart. That was probably the first thing,” Schneider remembers. “It had all loose springs and the brakes were all tired, so it was all gone through completely. The ’50 was the last year they used the huck-style brake. In ’51 they went to the Bendix brake style that everybody used. It’s not self-adjusting. You have to go under there and adjust the brakes now and then … I used to take care of all my old beaters, and when I worked for the township we took care of our own equipment, so we put clutches in 5-yard dump trucks and changed a couple rear ends and transmissions and stuff. So I was [comfortable]. And thank God for Mr. Google. I visited with him and lot and really learned a lot. There were so many people that posted stuff online that they did and anytime you had a question, my God, the answers that would come up.”
Schneider says his biggest worry was figuring out how to salvage or repair what was left of the body. He wasn’t sure if it was structurally sound enough to even use. That’s when he says he got his first real stroke of luck.
“The body … it was tough. When we got at it, I thought, what am I getting into? But I came across a junk yard in Fort Atkinson [Wis.,], and I think the newest stuff the guy had in there was probably from the ‘60s. It was huge … There must have been 15 or 20 of these old Chevys sitting there.And there was this [‘51] cab; somebody must have re-done it at one time and it was all much more structurally sound than the one that I had. I got that and a pair of doors and the front fenders. I thought, ‘Boy this guy is going to want a bunch, and the guy said, ‘If you have 150 bucks, take ‘er all home.’”
Schneider was able to put in a new floor pan and piece together the new cab, even replicating the cowl vents on the passenger side. “It was probably 6-8 months just getting that cab squared up,” he says. “The only straight parts on the body are the bed sides, everything else is all curved. That’s why they call it the Advance-Design. There were a few places you could use a machine on it, but the rest was all hand sanding (sighs). I bought a wire feed welder, and there is probably a good four spools of 23/1000ths wire in there. The only new metal in the thing would have been the front of the box, and the tail gate and the running boards. Everything else is all original stuff and a lot of patches welded in — not lap-welded. I fitted everything together and butted it. ... The whole floor pan assembly, thank God they started making them. When I first started you could buy cab corners and stuff. Now the only thing you can’t buy is the metal trim around the windshield. You can buy a complete cab with doors now that’s about 8,000 bucks.
“Everything was done myself. The only thing I didn’t do was set the glass which I’m glad I didn’t do … The only glass that is original is the corner windows … And I had got an upholstery kit for it, and I was going to do it myself, but I took it up to Chilton Upholstery in Chilton [Wis.] and the guy really overdid it because he’s got a little foam padding in it. Because of that old suspension that wasn’t made to ride very good. In the seat they had burlap over the springs and then maybe what started out as an inch of horse hair. That’s about all that was in there for upholstery.
“The bed is a kit that I got from Classic Parts … they are in Kansas City. And I got parts from Jim Carter in Kansas City. That’s yellow pine. In researching stuff, a lot of other people put oak in there and they stain it nice. But I was trying to stay original and General Motors last used oak in a truck bed in 1937. They used southern yellow pine after that, probably because it was cheaper and it was strong. Mine has red chestnut stain on everything.”
Schneider left the four-speed transmission and inline six in stock condition, and only added a few minor upgrades elsewhere to make the truck more drivable. “It’s not what you’d call numbers-matching. The casting number on the block is from a month later than the body, so somebody must have changed the engine once, it’s a month newer. But the tranny and rear end match up,” he noted.
“My goal was to make it nice looking, make it drivable, and keep it as original as I could. I knew there was no way I could do a concours restoration. If you look under the frame, yeah, there is rust pitting and stuff. But I had a lot of fun …. Even if we hadn’t have gotten the truck together, my son and I had so much fun scrounging parts! We collected parts for a lot of years. It started when he was 11, and he’ll be 31 in January.”
When it came time to pick the color for the truck,Schneider says he had second thoughts and changed his original plans of making it Omaha Orange – in partbecause of objections from his wife, Marlene. “Well, I worked for a township highway department and highway department for a total of 37 years. When I got to thinking about it, I said, ‘Well, I’ve been looking out at orange hoods for 37 years now, nah, we’re not going to paint it orange.’”
He settled on Cape Maroon which was a factory maroon. The most common color of the day was the default Forrest Green, but Schneider already had a newer metallic green truck at home. “I went to Automotive Supply in Appleton and [they] helped me out a lot with the paint,” he says. “It’s finished with acrylic enamel with what they call a wet look hardener in it. Because the cab was painted in November of’14 an the last fenders were painted in July of ’15, people told me don’t use base-clear, because just the little difference in the air pressure or if something is a little off, your colors are going to be different. Several body men told us to use the acrylics, and it worked out good.”
One of Schneider’s proudest moments with the truck so far came when he stopped at the place where he had bought it. There he found the son of the woman who had sold him the truck back in 2000. He recalled the time the woman had driven by Schneiders’ house, saw the truck and requested a ride someday if he ever got it finished. Frank agreed, but the woman passed away before the Chevy made it back on the road.
“We called the truck Ruth, because that was her name. You know, people re-do things and they always have to have a name for things.” he says. “In the cab in the back, we have her name in there. In the last year or so I stopped back there and her one son was re-doing the place, and he was pretty happy to see it. He remembered the truck sitting out in back in the trees. He looked a little teary-eyed when he saw his mom’s name in there.”
What started out as bit of a father-son lark has turned into a family treasure and a big part of Frank and Marlene’s summer fun. The truck has been part of wedding photos, become a regular at local car shows and after 30-plus years of abandonment and numerous owners before that, has found a permanent home in the Schneider garage.
“I’d be sleeping out in the garage if I sold it,” Frank jokes. “I told my son, ‘By the time you are my age the truck will be about 100 years old and there will probably be turbines or electric or something, and you can do what you want with it. But while I’m here we’re gonna keep her around.”
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