A lot of folks picture California as a state of wall-to-wall urban sprawl, where the 12-lane freeways and brown clouds never end. But the truth of the matter is that the Golden State has far more deserts, mountains, and forests than it does urban jungles. And believe it or not, farming is still a thriving industry in the state, especially in the fertile central valley. Out there you're a lot more likely to encounter walnut trees and vegetable fields as you are gang members or corner strip malls.
Considering the farming economy and relatively dry climate, the central valley is a prime hunting ground for vintage trucks. That's a fact that Visalia resident Gene Roeben can vouch for. Actually, it was Gene's father-in-law who bought the '51 Ford from a farm worker back in the mid-'60s. He drove it as a work vehicle for the next three decades, finally handing Gene the keys in 1995. Soon after, the transformation from workhorse to street cruiser began.
Fortunately for Gene the truck was a prime candidate for rehabilitation. For starters, it was a Five Star model that still wore the extra trim and accessories that came with its designation. On top of that it had also been well maintained over the years, leaving the body in very good condition. "It had been undercoated in the early years," Gene reports, "and when I removed the undercoating the bottom of the cab, fenders, and firewall were like new. Although it was a dirty, messy job, the pristine, rust-free metal made it a joy to work with."
While Gene enrolled in a local vocational class to learn a few bodyworking basics, Roger Hart was busy modernizing the truck's primitive chassis by adding a Mustang II-style independent front suspension, 9-inch Ford rearend, and Budnik wheels on Michelin radials. Defecting to the GM camp for motivation, Gene installed a ZZ3 crate engine and Turbo 400 transmission. The chassis was dressed up with powdercoating and polish, while the engine was adorned with Billet Specialties brightwork and a coat of body-color paint.
With the chassis rolling and Gene fresh out of body shop class, the next logical step was to start working the pickup's sheetmetal. Gene got some assistance from Craig Weidner, and together they tackled such projects as smoothing the firewall and drip rails, filling a few seams, and generally making the body as straight as possible. The original bed was beat-up and rusty, so Gene got a new one from Sacramento Vintage Ford and proceeded to remove the tailgate chains (replacing them with a custom latch) and add a filler panel between the tailgate and bumper. Guy Evans designed and built the custom wood chest that sits in the bed, and was also responsible for spraying the custom-mixed PPG red paint.
The pickup's office was finished off in a similar vein as the exterior-a pleasing combination of original and contemporary elements. The stock dash was filled with restored gauges (converted to 12-volt), a Custom Autosound stereo, and vents and controls for the Vintage Air system. A Chevy van tilt column and Budnik wheel also found a home under the dash. Upholstery by Brent was called on to build custom door panels and recover the stock seat with gray leather.
Like any home-built project, Gene's F-1 took years of sweat, money, and spare time to complete. It also took a lot of help from friends-people like Guy, Craig, and Roger, as well as neighbor Mike McCulley, who Gene says was always around to lend a helping hand. With their assistance and Gene's persistence, the ol' Ford has become a sharp-dressed street cruiser. It still resides in farm country, but something tells us that this truck's workhorse days are long gone.