Old Truck A Member of Family For 65 Years
by Terry Kohl
Dean Byers Rodgers was born June 18, 1916, on a dairy farm in Springfield Township, PA. In those days, although far from idyllic, life was certainly moving at a slower, less frantic pace. Chicken's were raised, not only for food but for "egg money," usually saved in a hidden jar for purchasing special things; a bolt of cloth for a coveted new dress; new buttons to use on an old shirt, a trip to town for a sweet treat. Dairy cows were raised to provide income and automobiles were few and far between in the '20's and '30's. If you were fortunate to have a truck, it was strictly a "work horse."
In 1938, Dean's younger brother, John, purchased a used 1934 Flat Head V8, 8-cylinder Ford Dump Truck from Slater's Garage in Sandy Lake, PA. He paid $300 for it, a huge amount in those days. The purpose for this hefty outlay of cash was to go into business hauling coal to the river barges in Erie and limestone to the farmers who used it as fertilizer.
This particular truck had a history of hauling. Prior to John purchasing it, the truck was used in one of Franklin D. Roosevelt's recovery programs called the Work Progress Administration (WPA). Roosevelt created this national program, which Congress approved in 1935. This work/relief agency was one of the most important of the New Deal programs and between 1935 and 1943 provided nearly 8 million jobs to the vast legions of unemployed in this country during the Great Depression. A dump truck obviously made delivery of coal and limestone easier on entrepreneur, John. The hydraulic truck hoist, manufactured in Detroit by Wood Hydraulic Hoist and Body Company, was first used by Ford in 1934. Having this feature on the truck was a huge plus as before it's invention by the famous hydroplane racer, Gar Wood, you had to hand shovel out any of the trucks content.
World War II disrupted John's business venture as he was called to serve. Dean was needed at home on the farm and as a result, was not drafted. He also worked at Westinghouse in Sharon, PA making torpedoes.
Before leaving, John sold the truck to his father for the same amount he paid, who in turn sold it to Dean. All during the war Dean hauled coal from the Bowie, Mcfarland, Gilson Coal Companies to the local residents. Since most homes were heated by coal, this kept Dean and his truck busy. In the summer he also trucked limestone to the farmers. There was an old wife's tale belief that limestone sweetened the soil for the wheat to grow. "Like sugar on cereal" was how the saying went. The limestone had to be loaded in Hillsville, PA, on the far side of New Castle. If you are familiar with this neck of the woods you know of the hills. There was a particular trip Dean never forgot. He was receiving a load of lime when the scale mechanism stuck giving him two loads instead of one. Unaware of this overload until he got to the hills, he soon realized that going any further was not going to happen! Dean sat until a good Samaritan came along and gave him a ride home. He and a friend then went back to shovel off enough limestone into another truck so that they could get both loads home. Getting stuck in the snow was also a challenge, but not for the resourceful Dean. He carried a post and a pile of burlap bags in the truck. When the snow got the better of him he placed the post under the rim of the tailgate to raise the back wheels, and threw the bags under the wheels for traction. Worked like a charm!
After John returned from the war the brothers bought chain saws. They hauled logs from the family acreage and cut them into rough lumber. The truck had a short wheel base and on one occasion the logs, nearly 14 feet long, tipped the entire truck off the ground.
Sometime in the 40's the truck was retired to an old lean-to at the farm where it sat for nearly 50 years until Dean began cleaning out the old building. The floor was dirt and he found that half the horse drawn machinery also stored there had been buried several inches into the ground over the years. Although rusty, the truck was in good enough shape for renovation and was moved into Grove City where Dean had a garage. With his wife diagnosed with Altzheimers, he needed to be close by. Restoring the truck was a perfect hobby while caring for her. Dean rewired the truck from a 6 to 12 volt, wire brushed all of the rust off by hand and hand painted it with black rustoleum paint. He found a 1934 motor block in Ohio, rebored it and put in oversized pistons. The engine was rebuilt by Gabana, in Mercer, PA. The same original heads were used and Dean had the seats reupholstered. Dean comes from a family of carpenter's. He built a storage bin on the back of the truck with sliding doors to store his two old sets of jacks. The lid serves as a seat. One of the original doors was replaced at a cost of $300 the same amount John paid for the entire truck in 1938. The original door had been removed back in the 30's. In hot weather, doors came off offering the driver and passenger's nature's air conditioning. Being used for hay hauling at the time, the driver got stuck and pulled the door out of the back to use as traction. Of course, the spinning wheels trashed the door.
Dean realized that it was important to protect the time and money he spent on his nearly life-long companion, so with the restoration complete in 1993 he decided to insure his truck with American Collectors Insurance. American Collectors specializes in collector vehicle insurance and agreed to insure the truck for $10,000 -a value that reflected the truck's true collector market value. Dean's American Collectors policy cost less than $100 and the "Agreed Value" coverage it provided guaranteed that Dean would be paid $10,000 in the event of total loss. (American Collectors continues to provide collector vehicle insurance nationwide and offers online quotes at AmericanCollectorsIns.com.) Dean insured the truck with American Collectors until 2002, when he decided to pass the truck, and the wealth of history that went along with it, to his daughter, Carol George. Carol continues to insure the truck with American Collectors. As a child Carol has many memories of the truck. Often, the only way she could spend extra time with her dad was to go along with him to work on her grandparents farm. She would mow the lawn and sometimes drive the tractor. She recalls many rides in the truck. The gas tank was under the seat so passengers would have to get out of the truck on trips to the gas station. Jumping down from that high seat was quite a leap to a young girl. She also remembers that in the hot, summer months when hauling hay, her dad would take the doors off to improve circulation. The entire family would take turns riding in the choice front seat rather than in the back with the hay. This old truck may not be up to the restoration standards of the sleek, modified vehicles of todays car show circuit and it will win no awards at Pebble Beach but it has a very special place in the hearts of the entire Rodger's family. Dean, now 86 years young, still works on his truck when he can and his treasure has been in several parade's including the bicentennial parade in Grove City. In 1999 it was used to carry Dean, then 83, and his new bride, Jean, 77, to the Extra Years For Zest dinner where all three were a huge hit. You can be sure that wherever Dean and his truck go, heads turn, camera's snap and stories are told and retold. Carol's plans? She doesn't plan on driving the truck herself as she never learned to double clutch and according to her, it's too late now.
She will continue to offer it for local parades and rides to those who want one. Of course, tell this old truck's stories to all of the future generations.