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- June 2009
By: Randy Nelson
“Go get Ol’ Red,” is one of the first phrases I associate with this 1965 Chevrolet custom C10 truck. I was around 12 years old when I began driving on the farm in South Dakota. My first lesson – like my brother, sister, and cousins – was given in a corn field during the harvest. We would walk the fields and pick up the corn that the combine missed and throw it in the back of a pickup truck. Waste nothing. As we slowly progressed down the field picking up corn cobs, someone had to move the truck along with the walkers. The corn field was suitable for lessons as the corn rows guided the steering wheel; we could concentrate on trying to see over the steering wheel and controlling the speed. Farm kids got to drive early in South Dakota on a “Farm Permit” starting legally at age 14.
Ol’ Red was one of a few Chevy pickup trucks on the farm... and certainly not the easiest to drive. Three-on-the-tree, no power steering and soft drum brakes are ingredients for trouble when you’re just starting out. The truck was a workhorse; several of the young Nelsons, in addition to many others, used the truck while on the farm.
As a fleet side, Ol’ Red had plenty of cargo capacity used for hauling hay bales, corn, rock, fuel, etc. It was the standard all-purpose farm truck that worked every day. I’m not exactly sure when, but around age 14, Ol’ Red became mine for the most part. I drove it to school and actually to driver’s education classes. The town kids were a bit envious of the farm kid’s driving ability at that time. Farm life had some great perks; early driving was just one.
I recall washing Ol’ Red with a tan wash mitt, and at the end of the wash, the mitt would be pink from the oxidized paint coming off the original 1965 paint job. It looked a faded red but was reportedly painted the Chevrolet “Hunter Orange” from the factory. One cold night on the farm we decided to give Ol’ Red some style by painting black racing stripes on the hood. My cousin Paul and I carefully placed masking tape on the hood and proceeded to spray with the black paint. We had a lot of fun and thought it looked pretty sporty. That same year I got some white spoke wheels, which made a world of difference. Off to school we drove.
I left the farm – and Ol’ Red – in the mid ‘80s for a job at the motorcycle shop in Brookings, a degree at SDSU, and a career in the Army. Ol’ Red remained on task at the farm for years of good service until it was replaced by a newer model and sold locally.
Fast forward to the spring of 2011. My dad – Allen Nelson of Volga, South Dakota – calls and says he thinks he found Ol’ Red. I laughed as it had been many years since I’d seen the truck. We were stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina at the time. My niece Brianne was getting married in Volga that year, so we hatched plans to go see the truck rumored to be mired in the mud at Corlen’s, a local salvage yard. The truck had been used hard over the years and retired – like many old farm trucks – in the trees outside of town.
The day after the wedding, we drove out and sure enough there was Ol’ Red. Seeing the truck that I had cared for so much at the age of 14 all rusted and damaged was rough. You could tell it had done years of faithful service on the farm but was given a seemingly unfair end. “Are you sure this is the truck?” someone asked. We chuckled and said, “Oh yeah, this is Ol’ Red.” I spent a lot of time on dirt bikes as a teenager and the glovebox of the truck was still adorned with JT Racing, Do it in the Dirt, and Canby VoTech decals. This was Ol’ Red.
My brother Greg found out who owned the truck and facilitated a buy-back for a solid $50. Yes, Ol’ Red was back in the family. Now what to do with it? My wife Celeste and I were set to fly out that next day but had the opportunity to meet with my wife’s sister Mary and her husband in Sioux Falls prior to going to the airport. Celeste’s sister was married to the late Vern Eide of Vern Eide Motorcars in Sioux Falls. Over a nice lunch, we discussed the wedding and our visit to my hometown of Volga. Eventually, the conversation turned to our discovery in the salvage yard. We explained the background of the truck, and while we were getting ready to head to Joe Foss Field, Vern said “We should get that running again.” We laughed and thought that would be incredible.
That statement put into motion a two-year frame up restoration of Ol’ Red, beginning with Greg and my dad staring at it in the mud. They wondered how the heck they would get it out without causing more damage – much less on a trailer for transport to Sioux Falls. Somehow, they were successful, and the truck was soon pulled to Sioux Falls for assessment. “What the heck is that?” The mechanic asked. I guess not many 1965 pickups get pulled from the mud and taken to the new car dealer. Vern used a combination of his internal talent at the car dealership and the team at Genesis Autobody outside of Tea, SD to get the job done.
“Get it running again” morphed into full-up restore. My dad, Vern, Vern’s son Bruce, Greg, and Mary all monitored progress. I was able to get back and see it for myself on two occasions. Auto restoration is not for the faint of heart; it is a serious combination of sweat, art, and science.
Meanwhile, my wife and I had moved from Fort Bragg, spent a year in DC, and moved again down to Williamsburg, Virginia. It was then we got the word: after two years of arduous labor, Ol’ Red was done. My dad and brother went down to pick it up and drove it home to Volga. Sadly, Vern Eide passed in 2012 – months prior to the completion of the project. He accompanied me on both visits to see the progress. That was classic Vern – a big heart and always making time for others. He would have enjoyed a ride in that truck.
After a number of “test drives” and a few reported runs on the 1/4-mile strip outside of Volga right down the gravel road from Nelson Farms, Ol’ Red was broken in and ready for delivery. The truck got to visit the farm again with a new look – a fresh coat of paint and beautiful oak wood inlaid 6-foot bed. New parts included a rebuilt Chevrolet 350, automatic transmission with four-barrel Edelbrock carb, cam and dual exhaust. My dad said it actually performed a bit better than the old “three-on-the-tree” inline six! No more rocks, corn, or fuel cans in the back for Ol’ Red, though. He had done his part.
So, how to get the truck from Volga to the east coast? Greg had many contacts in the trucking industry and thought he could swing space on a hauler to get it from Volga down to Williamsburg. In true Greg fashion, he called one evening and gave me the price and tentative date. “Are you ready?” he asked. We just moved into our house and the garage was ready. “Absolutely!” I said.
My parents happened to be in town for a visit that week, so my dad and I headed to the linkup point just off I-65 on the west edge of Williamsburg. It was a warm, humid evening that eventually developed into a heavy rain. Like clockwork, the truck came rolling into the large parking lot. The guy quickly unloaded the truck as we stood there in the rain. Truthfully, it felt like Christmas morning watching the truck roll off the hauler. Then we were off for home.
Upon retirement from the Army, we now live and work in Tampa, Florida. Local “cruise-ins” are plentiful in the Bay area, providing a venue to share the truck’s story with like-minded old truck enthusiasts. I meet the inevitable “Did you do the work yourself?” question with a hearty laugh... “No sir.” I keep the truck clean and cared for, respecting the significant time, effort and craftsmanship that brought Ol’ Red back into action. Whenever family or friends come to visit, we rumble around a bit down memory lane in the old truck – often met with an approving wave from fellow motorists. Though we’ve given her new disc brakes to keep pace with traffic, we’re holding off on power steering. “Good for your arms” my dad says.
There any people to thank for transforming Ol’ Red into the street cruiser it is today. My dad Allen Nelson, Vern and Mary Eide, brother Greg, and the teams at Vern Eide Motorcars and Genesis Autobody. The truck will certainly stay with our family and provide a lasting connection to Volga’s Nelson Farms and all the memories that were made there.