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    • Dave Ambrose

      Board Maintenance   03/14/2019

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Posted (edited)

In 1961, a beat up '34 Ford pickup was handed down from farmer Ed Johnson Sr. to his son Roger, who had just gotten his driver's license. Roger was grateful for his newfound freedom and a free set of wheels. Well... Roger did title the truck in his name, as well as purchase his own plate and insurance, even though Ed had told him it would be OK to keep it in the elder's name. Being a responsible kid and wanting to prove that he was at least somewhat capable of being a responsible adult, Roger insisted on taking on the financial aspects. But the truck itself was free. Roger also would foot the bill for gas and any repairs the truck might need... and initially it did need a few. Ed was a "run it til it dies" kind of guy. Ed's wife, kids, and friends were frankly shocked that this truck had lasted almost 30 years... the last fifteen of which had been under Ed's ownership. 


In 1961, pickup trucks were the realm of farmers and poor folks. Pickup trucks weren't daily driven luxury barges like today, they were mere work vehicles, and if you used a pickup truck as a daily driver people assumed that you were too poor to buy a proper car. Even in a small Michigan farm town, being a young kid with a pickup made you something of a social pariah. 


Not being one to look a gift horse in the mouth, however, Roger decided to have fun with his beater. He'd been picking up (no pun intended) Hot Rod and various "little pages" for as long as he could read, and he figured he might be able to do his part to make pickups cool, at least in his little corner of the world. Many custom pickups had been built, after all, and a '33-'34 Ford pickup wasn't exactly a bad starting point. 


Roger started small. Steel disc wheels and hub caps from a '53 F100 were added. The bumper was replaced by a unit from a '34 Ford car. Along the way, Roger spotted a junked Massey Harris tractor and was able to purchase the grille shell, and it was fitted to the little Ford. Painted (or rather, primed) to match the rest of the truck, Roger got a kick out of people trying to figure out what it came from, even people familiar with the tractors. Roger didn't get ribbed too hard for driving an old pickup from his schoolmates, though that may have been due to his easygoing nature rather than anything he'd done to customize the old Ford. Ed, on the other hand, would just shake his head and wonder what on Earth his middle child was thinking. 


However, on the way home from the last day of school that year, the old Ford's four-cylinder gave up the ghost, about a mile from home. Ed and Roger towed it home, and Roger debated what to do. His younger brother Ike, who was also developing an interest in the rod and custom scene, suggested wheeling it into an unused shed on the farm and redoing it. 


What began was a month-long thrash session, as the two teenagers dismantled the old pickup and set to work making it into something worthy of the hot rod and custom magazines of which they were fans. For that time, basically every spare moment and nearly all of their income was pooled into the old Ford. Ed just shook his head and stayed clear. He, like many fathers then, before, and now, just didn't understand his kids. He wasn't keen on the idea of them making a mess of the shed and blowing all their money on a junky old truck, but seeing how enthusiastic and focused his boys were with the project helped put his mind to ease. At least, Ed reasoned, if he wanted to know where they were, he knew the first place he'd need to check. 


The basic chassis was more or less left stock, though the front end was lowered about two inches by "removing a couple of leaves and farting around with the shackles" as Roger recalled years later. A junkyard 390 was secured, and to this was fitted a supercharger fitted with three two barrel Webers. The supercharger and carbs had been the first parts the boys had ordered for the project, and were the last things added to it. The truck sat about 99% completed while they waited for the parts to arrive. The F-100 wheels remained, but the truck was fitted with gold-stripe whitewall Firestones. Later, after the truck had developed something of a reputation, a local tire shop supplied the boys with a set of Firestone slicks for shows. 


The cab was channeled six inches, sectioned two inches, and chopped three inches. Their younger sister Sheila stitched up the green tuck and roll interior panels. Only a speedometer was displayed in the center of the dash- an oil pressure gauge, temperature gauge, and a fuel gauge were mounted to a small sliding rail where they could be hidden from view up underneath the dash when the truck was on display. That was Ike's idea, and Roger was struck by it, even though it served no practical purpose and they pretty much did it just because they could. A similar sliding plate was fabricated for the ignition and headlight switches. The bed was shortened, and Ike made the tail fins using steel cut from a scrap grain bin Ed had sitting out back. A '57 Pontiac donated it's front bumperettes, which were fitted with '59 Cadillac tail lights and pressed into service at the rear of the truck. The brothers lucked out when they found a piece of corrugated steel with a pattern that almost perfectly matched the interior pleating, and it was used to fashion a hinged bed cover. They'd planned to have Sheila do a padded cover for it, but the eleven year old sewing whiz had worked hard on the dash and door panels, and they didn't want to "work the poor kid's fingers off, even if she did enjoy the task immensely" as Ike said.  The '34 Ford car front bumper remained, as did the Massey Harris grille, but the latter was mounted down lower, and the front fenders were flattened at the front and fitted with canted '59 Chevrolet headlights. The spare tire well on the passenger's side fender was also filled. While the boys waited for the supercharger to show up, they fabricated the exhaust system, from the "log" exhaust manifolds to the curved smokestacks. 


Playing off the "farmer" stigma of pickup trucks, and the fact that the thing had a farm tractor grille, Roger came up with the name "Hay Fever". The boys picked the brightest shade of green they could find and hosed off the truck with a borrowed spray gun, after lining the interior of the shed with about 400 newspapers. The name Hay Fever was then hand-painted onto the tailgate. 
As stated, the actual build took a month, but the duo spent the better part of the year working the bugs out of the truck. Being first-time hot rod builders, they made several mistakes and oversights which needed to be rectified later on. Though Ike was about a year off from having his license, he did take the truck out for a spin or two when the local fuzz wasn't looking. As far as Roger was concerned, Ike had just as much effort and input in the truck as he did, and he was effectively "co-owner". And of course, it was settled that eleven year old Sheila, who was something of a sewing maistro even at that young age, would get plenty of wheel time when she got her licence for her efforts with the upholstery, though things ended up not working out that way. She did get to ride in it numerous times, and nicknamed the truck "booger" due to it's bright green finish. The brothers entered the truck in several shows, and it began to garner quite a bit of interest. A locally published little book called Wheels, headquartered in Saginaw, did a four-page feature on the truck in their October 1961, and it was featured in full color on the cover along with a fetching young lady named Mary. It was, as far as the brothers know, the only time the truck was published in full color. The feature, of course, was black and white. The show displays got elaborate- the truck would be displayed behind velvet ropes, surrounded by fiberglass hay bales, with a banjo leaning on a tire and a straw hat casually hung from a corner of the front bumper. The brothers began getting requests from people to do work on their vehicles, and after mulling it over for a few months, the brothers opened their own custom shop. 


As for Hay Fever? By 1963, the stock banjo axle had been torn to shreds by the blown 390, and along with the display props, the truck became a trailer queen. It wore several different sets of wheels during it's time retired from the road. At it's final show in 1965, it was wearing a set of Ansen slot mags and narrow white walls, as the brothers were selling Ansen accessories out of their shop by that time and used the truck as something of a billboard. It sat behind the shop under a lean-to until about 1966, when a local drag racer bought it. He'd planned to refurbish it and use it as a tow rig for his dragster, but as typically happens, the truck sat in a barn until 1980, when it was passed onto a nephew, who himself stashed it in a barn and did nothing with it other than occasionally dust it off. At some point the original Firestone whitewalls and later Firestone slicks, on the old F100 wheels, were reunited with the truck. And after all these years, Roger still had the original 1961 plate. He'd kept it because he was amused that the first two letters were RJ- his first and last initials. It's back on there now. As you see it in the photos, this was pretty much how Hay Fever looked when it was dragged out of mothballs and purchased by Ike's grandson Scott in 2019. Eventually Scott plans to do a full restoration, but for now he's enjoying the old hot rod as-is. Roger and Ed are shocked at how well their paint and body work has held up- aside from some cracks in the fenders, some splits in the leadwork, and heavy surface rust, the truck has aged well, and Sheila's upholstery job, while showing signs of wear, is otherwise near pristine


Not too bad for a couple of know-nothing teenage farm kids, huh?

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Edited by Chuck Most

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Nice story. Nice truck.

steve

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I love the background story line. This best describes the model and helps those who have never skinned a knuckle or two working on an old car with nothing more than what you could scrounge up for parts.  

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Very cool truck. Gotta love an overkill blown engine in just about anything. Great work.

Jeff 

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Great story and excellent job on the build!

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Great story and cool truck'!

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