In 1954 Russ Gjerset went down to the Chevrolet dealership in Pasadena, California, to buy a new work vehicle. He found a suitable Chevy panel truck that would fit the bill. This was a big purchase for Russ, one that would have to last him many years as he hauled paint and wallpapering supplies from job to job around Arcadia, Monrovia, and Pasadena, but he'd get his money's worth.
Arthur Major became good friends with Russ years later while Art was in dental school. Art even hired Russ to paint his first dental office in '73, and that's when it all happened: Art got his first ride in Russ' aging panel truck. There was something about that first ride that sunk deep into Art's mind and would never leave him. Maybe it was the worn-in steering that allowed them to drift between the lines on the road, or the vintage 235 six-cylinder's tired yet still smooth power, or maybe it was the whine of the gears in the three-speed tranny. Art wasn't ever quite sure what "it" was, just that "it" was there.
Somewhere in the late '70s, Art made it clear to Russ during his last ride in the truck that if he ever sold "Old Blue," he was to be given first dibs. In '80 Russ and Old Blue retired from the painting business. Russ parked the '54 out back under an avocado tree, and that's where it sat for the next 23 years.
Russ picked up the phone over two decades later and gave Art the call he never expected at this point, "You still want Old Blue?" There was only one logical answer at this point, so Russ told Art to figure out what she's worth and bring that along with a trailer to haul the panel home. The next weekend Art found the Chevy hidden under the now monstrous avocado tree in Russ' backyard, which had to be pruned to release the '54 from its clutches. Russ kept everything that pertained to the panel since he bought it all those years ago, and soon the back of it was filled with a bunch of extra goodies, including the original motor that had given way to a healthier six from a '59.
Getting down to brass tacks, Art offered up the $5,000 he held in hand for Old Blue. "Too much money!" Russ immediately responded, and the two went back and forth for a few minutes on the matter until Russ finally said in frustration, "Don't you get it? I'm giving you the truck!" Art was dumbfounded. Russ told him to take the money and restore it the way he wanted to, but physically couldn't anymore. Needless to say, it was a touching moment for both the old friends, one that would further cement their future friendship.
Over the next three years, Russ was a great source of information for Art, Jim Sterritt, and Art Bates as they put all the pieces back together. The restoration was just that, a restoration. Under the circumstances, Art didn't have much choice but to bring the truck back to its showroom condition, so there aren't any deviations from the way it was when Chevrolet shipped the '54 out West. The original transmission was rebuilt by Howard's Klein Works in Santa Maria, California, just down the 101 freeway from Art's home in the Central Coast town of Nipomo. The Chevy's stock underpinning was freshened up by Art and company. Les Levey of Levey's Top Shop stitched up the bare-bones stock interior and hung the replacement cardboard-type pieces, while Corky Dahle at National Auto Glass swapped out the shabby time-fogged glass for nice, clear stuff, including the first-year wraparound front windshield. Art Bates was responsible for Old Blue's new coat of blue thanks to a custom mix of DuPont paints he whipped up after finishing the bodywork on the acres of sheetmetal that come with a panel truck. Amidst all the commotion, one of the factory optional fender moldings was tossed since it seemed too mangled to use, but that was before they knew how rare they were, so they are still on the same hunt, as are many of you out there, for this elusive piece of brightwork. Speaking of rare parts, another item the '54 was equipped with is a factory radio; love hearing those tubes warming up. An appropriate set of 6.00-16 Firestone whitewalls round out the package with their stock steel 16-inch wheels and painted hubcaps.
A fitting end to the beginning was when Russ was in town on a Friday for some dental work in Art's office. Unbeknownst to him, Art had entered the good-as-new Old Blue into a car show in nearby Pismo Beach. Art took him to the show, where Russ and the Chevy were reunited for a nostalgic ride. Russ' initial comment was that the '54 never did look that good! Is that a bad thing?
Facts & Figures
1954 Chevy Panel
|CHASSIS ||Frame: stock |
Rear suspension: stock
Rear brakes: stock drums
Front suspension: stock I-beam
Front brakes: stock drums
Steering box: stock
Wheels: stock 16-inch
Tires: Firestone 6.00-16 whitewalls
|DRIVETRAIN ||Year and make: '59 Chevy 235 |
Valve Cover: stock
Manifold / Induction: stock / Rochester 2B
Ignition: Delco points
Transmission: stock 3-spd
|BODY ||Style: 1/2-ton panel delivery |
Fenders Front / rear: stock with S.S. molding
Bodywork and paint: Art Bates
Paint type/Color: DuPont / custom blue
Headlights / Taillights: stock
|INTERIOR ||Dashboard: stock |
Stereo: optional AM radio
Steering Wheel: stock
Steering column: stock
Upholstery by: Levey's Top Shop