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Now, This is Unique!
By Tom Olsen
In the world of the car hobby there is no shortage of unique ideas and creative ways to build your dream car. For some it’s a factory correct restoration, for others it’s a rat rod, and for others it might be an over-the-top all out race monster; the possibilities are truly endless. For Al Schoffelman, it’s the finely crafted creation in red oak which you see here.
Al’s truck has been on the road for two years now. I first saw it at a local cruise night earlier this summer. Amongst a full parking lot of street machines, this vehicle is hard to miss…it caught my attention right away. The two times I’ve seen it at a cruise night, there were always people looking it over. It appeared that Al kept busy explaining what it was all about to people the entire evening.
The truck started out life as a 1979 Ford Econoline conversion van. The van originally belonged to Al’s father-in-law and, after his passing, Al knew he wanted to do something to preserve the legacy of the van. It was the sentimental value of the family owned van that prompted the project.
Several years ago, Al had been to a car show where he saw a two ton truck that had a nicely done wooden stake bed. Al liked that look, as far as it went, but he figured he could improve on the idea. Cabinet making has been one of Al’s hobbies for the past 20 years. Armed with that experience, Al knew he could build a unique vehicle out of wood that would showcase his woodworking skills. And that’s how it all began. Over the course of seven winters, and with roughly 2000 hours involved, Al created his custom oak truck.
Al started by stripping the van down to the frame and running gear. The 150,000 mile 351 Windsor engine was partially torn down and found to be completely serviceable. The heads were freshened up, an Edelbrock 650 carb and Hooker Headers were added, and the engine was good to go. The original C6 transmission and 9 inch limited-slip rear end from the van completed the powertrain. Several modifications were made to the frame including centering the engine in the frame. (The engines in this model are 3¾ inches to the right originally...who knew?) One inch steel tubing and oak supports were built for various areas of the chassis to support and attach the body as Al fabricated it.
The entire truck is Al’s own design – no plans off the internet here! Being totally of his own design, Al acknowledges that there were challenges along the way. “There were a few times when I just had to walk away and think things through for a few days, before tackling it again.”
The body, inside and out, is all solid red oak construction varying from ¾ to 1 inch thick, depending on the area of use. There is oak plywood used under the cab floorboards and the bed for additional strength and rigidity. All the wood is finished with marine grade “spar varnish” for the long-lasting protection it provides. “Up to nine coats are used in some areas, all applied with a foam brush,” says Al.
The interior is created the same as the exterior. The slat seats are all wood as is everything else, but Al mounted them on springs to cushion the ride. Al’s wife, Gina, uses an additional cushion on hers for a little extra comfort when cruising. Other features in the interior are Omega instruments, an AM/FM/CD radio, and a B&M shifter. The doors use an inside door latch, and there are no side windows. (Al has no intention of driving this in foul weather.) Even the steering wheel is crafted from oak.
Everywhere you look on the truck, the workmanship is amazing. There are multiple angles throughout and very few fasteners are seen anywhere. The more you look at this vehicle, the more detail you notice.
In the short time that the truck has been on the road, it’s received a lot of attention. Al took the truck to the Midwest All Truck Nationals in Kansas City this September where the truck received plenty of looks in a special display area. Russ Evans, from the “Under the Hood” radio show, featured the truck in a video on their Facebook page and that really got things going. As of this writing, that video has had 24.6 MILLION views on Facebook. The truck has also been featured online by Truck Trend magazine and a magazine feature story is in the works.
Even though the truck has been out for two years now, Al says it’s “never finished.” There’s always another detail he wants to add to take the truck one step further. The visor above the windshield, as an example, was added after the first year of use. (And, I would note, those years of use aren’t extreme; the truck has seen 700 “fair weather” miles in the last two years.)
The whole project has been a labor of love for Al, Gina, and their two sons Chad and Chris. Gina had some ideas for the project over the years and lent a hand many times when needed. Chad and Chris were always there to help out whenever called upon and were both used for some of those areas requiring a little extra muscle during construction. A comment from Chad during construction was the inspiration for the receiver style trailer hitch; all in oak, of course.
You may see Al with his truck at a cruise night or car show from time to time. The next time you do, look the truck over and visit with Al a bit; there’s some impressive workmanship here. Under the heading of unique, this one certainly gets a thumbs-up.