NEFERTERI Part Nine
In this, the next to last episode in the Neferteri saga, our Forrest Gump tackles the challenges of scaling down the full figured Cadillac of Trucks.
Larry Pointer found himself a survivor of Y2K, retired, a widower, and a more or less empty nester. He needed a project. In this series, he shares his passion for all things “Streamline Moderne”, and how it all turned into a 13-year labor of love, to create “Neferteri“, his custom Diamond T truck.
By Larry Pointer with Rik Hoving
Neferteri, Part Nine
In this, the next to last episode in the Neferteri saga, our Forrest Gump tackles the challenges of scaling down the full figured “Cadillac of Trucks”. Those sleek smart ads of streamlined Diamond T trucks stylized by graphic artist Storr Baldwin would be his fount of inspiration. Inspiration, he would find, also can come in the most unexpected moments, and from the most unexpected places.
Diamond T front fenders were, well, HUGE. Charles A. Tilt wanted substance. His early motto was “The Nation’s Freight Car”. He also was deeply into streamline styling. It was said that “all Diamond T designs are personally originated and carried to completion by C. A. Tilt, President of the Diamond T Motor Car Company.” A familiar quote of his was, “A truck doesn’t have to be homely.”
C. A. Tilt, President of the Diamond T Motor Car Company.
Tilt also was into boats in the era of Gar Wood, Chris Craft and Hacker. In 1939, he had Mandell Rosenblat, a naval architectural firm, design a 107-foot yacht, “Trouper”, built by Robert Jacob and Sons, City Island, New York. He didn’t get to enjoy it for long, as it was commissioned by the US Navy as a submarine chaser in 1940. As PC-457, the vessel tragically sank north of Puerto Rico after accidentally colliding with the freighter Nortuna. C. A. Tilt would later have a second, smaller 44’ sport fishing boat of strikingly similar, scaled down design built for him in 1942 by Hubert S. Johnson of Bay head, New Jersey.
The Mandell Rosenblat, designed 107-foot yacht, “Trouper”, built by Robert Jacob and Sons, City Island, New York for C. A. Tilt.
Credit for industrial styling often was accredited to the head of a company or styling studio. How “hands-on” Tilt was in Diamond T design isn’t clear. In the case of Tilt’s first “Trouper”, a letter to Mandell Rosenblat, due credit was given:
Thank you for designing for me the most beautiful yacht in the world.
C. A. Tilt”
The fenders of “The Handsomest Truck in America” were being die-formed by the mid-Thirties. Their exaggerated pontoon forms were pointed up in advertisements of the day as “sweeping lines flowing from the wide center drop bumper, in deeply skirted fenders.” Advertisements of the day were illustrated by Storr Baldwin, in long, low forms, tweaked in artistic license to pattern the patter of the text. “The styling leader among trucks.” “Striking a brilliant style”. “Extremely fast and extremely good looking.” And, if all that was lost on anyone: “Beautiful.”
Diamond T huge front fenders…
The pontoons that graced my 1936 model were the first of the “fat fendered” styling. Like the rest of the assembled “Cadillac of Trucks”, they were outsourced. The cabs had been built by McLaughlin Body Company, of Moline, Illinois. But I never determined if those fenders were part of the McLaughlin supply line to Charles Tilt’s assembly line in Chicago. What I did discover is that other makes of the Depression era shared some of Diamond T’s body parts. Various fire engines, and the Autocar trucks of the decade…themselves assembled back East in Ardmore, PA…also sported these self-same “beautiful” front fenders.
“Beautiful”, the pontoon pantaloons I fished out of the back lot of Buzz and Jerry’s Rod Shop, were not. Under an ancient dry sea bed of cracked Bondo mud, they were pretty solid, I consoled myself. Save for the expected tatters from vibrations over many roads, and the whumps and bumps of ¾ of a Century of use, abuse and neglect. Repairs were expected, and the next order of business.
The fenders on my truck were, well used and abused, and in need for a lot of love. The inset photo show the similar fenders used on an Autocar truck.
But why just repair and restore, when all else was being restyled? I always admired the Packard cars that were restored by Conquistador Gary “Slim” Richards, and his protégé Blaine Murphy. The round bead that smartly outlined the wheel openings especially seemed classic. Why not use this accent to point up the smartness of the wide openings of the Diamond T?
Did I say, wide? I mean WIDE, accommodating 20-inch Dayton wheels with commercial grade balloon tires, back in the day. Besides, those tatters and tears would best be repaired and stabilized with the added strength of round rod. Industrial strength, 3/8” round rod. Arrrr!
Minneapolis-Moline Tractor with beautiful body created at the same factory where the Diamond-T bodies came from.
McLaughlin Body Company, in Moline, also sourced body parts to the Minneapolis-Moline Tractor Company. When I looked head-on at the pair of Dumbo ears that flanked my Auburn styled grillework, I have to admit it. They looked like they would have been more at home with Minneapolis Moline down the corn rows, than announcing the handsomest truck in America.
The repaired and restyled with added center peak, front fenders on my truck. In bare metal on the left, and later in red oxide primer on the right.
I studied the classic cars of the era in earnest. What often caught the eye in a full frontal view of these frankly massive motor cars, was a subtle styling line. It was called the “bow wave”, borrowed from speedboat prows. A slight peak to strike a divide over the curved fender form. It was just enough of a break to give “snap and life” to their sweeping shapes.
Yep, I welded a length of 3/8” rod dead center, up and over each pontoon fender, and, trusty grinder in hand, massaged my own bow wave accent where no Diamond T had gone before.
A better look at the fenders I created with the added center peak.
I also scored a “wide center drop bumper”, in two pieces scrounged off the bumper pile at Buzz and Jerry’s Rod Shop. I have no idea what it graced originally, but something really, really wide. Once I welded the two face plate pieces back together, I had to fabricate side extensions to my frame with heavy square tubing to line up and hold their hefty irons.
I can still hear Buzz counseling me, “If it was easy, everybody would do it.”
Samples of the skirted bedside on the 1930’s trucks I liked so much and wanted to use for my truck as well.
Today, even Storr Baldwin’s handsome illustrated Diamond T ads are actively collected. As attractive as were the distinctive cabs, the overall integrated sweep of streamlining from front to rear is simply mesmerizing. The McLaughlin cabs were paired with a variety of commercial bodies supplied by yet another Moline-based company, Maremont. Stake, panel, and van bodies were illustrated in attractive color combinations, “but unlike anything that has been seen before,” the ads chirped. “Instead of rough and exposed chassis under the bed or platform, this area was skirted or enclosed by a drop panel. Neat, streamlined fenders swept over and around wheels. Upper stake sides of the body were flush with the top of the cab, to form a continuous ‘flow’ or ‘streamline’.”
Before I created the bed in metal I made numerous sketches and designs, figuring out the best way to create the design I had in mind.
That drop skirt panel, riding evenly with the running boards, did much to clean up a commercial work-a-day truck body. Too, the beltline, flowing through hood, cowl, door and cab, was continued in a sweep down the entire length of the truck body. “Brilliant”.
The fact that Maremont’s truck body design matched a Diamond T cab, line-for-line up to the roof horizon, did not go unnoticed. C. A. Tilt’s early attempt to keep secret their construction coup was to no avail. He had scored a scoop, but…grinning like Alice’s proverbial “Chessie”… that cat sprang out of the bag. Streamlined truck bodies soon were all the vogue. Every marque boasted its own trucks of progress. With the repeal of Prohibition came smartly styled “Beer Bodies”, rolling billboards for a burgeoning beverage industry. Van sides were adorned in sparkling streamline lettering that accentuated their stylish form. Cargo everywhere was carried in smart style. It was “modern”; it was the “future”.
I wanted Neferteri, my tribute to the era of streamline styling, to express this same feel. That drop skirt. Lines that flowed in a continuous sweep from front to back. Once my drawing captured the look I was after, next came the hard part. Reality.
“What was I thinking?”
Measuring tape in hand, and graph paper at the ready, I laid out the options for dimensions of the truck bed. What I discovered right away was that the realities of my GM chassis didn’t fit that long, low Storr Baldwin graphic I coveted. The bed length in front of the wheel opening was quite longer than that from the rear wheel to the rear bumper of my donor truck. To esthetically balance my bed length fore and aft, I saw I needed to extend Neferteri’s derriere a full 19 inches. So, I did.
Now: How was I going to create a truck body behind the cab, to continue those forms and lines that would carry on through its shape? First, I fabricated a ladderwork superstructure of square tubing to ride over the chassis frame. Over this tubing “armature”, the sides of the bed would be formed from sheet metal. Rounded corner caps at the front would come from lengthwise slices out of exhaust tubing. I had a metal shop roll skirts of sheet metal to mimic the outline of the running boards.
I fabricated a ladder-work superstructure of square tubing to ride over the chassis frame.
That all seemed straightforward. Clamp. Weld. Grind. But how to create the top surfaces of the low bedsides? Remember those all-important sideboards I had drawn? Those handsome panels needed a wide, flat surface from which to rise up, slip through the air stream, and fall away to the rear. Hold on there, Buckwheat! Great idea, but I’d drawn my cartoon into a corner. Blast!
It was 2005. My son Rick and I were in Phoenix, Arizona, backseat passengers on our way to the annual NASCAR race, our first to see in person. My daughter navigated, as son-in-law Grant cut NASCAR maneuvers through traffic. In such situations, attention deficit can be a blessing. A pickup was towing a dual-axle trailer, hauling a car down the Interstate beside us. At that moment I glanced over. Voila! There, rolling mere inches from my wandering eyes, was the answer to my design dilemma. Trailer fenders! They had the perfect form to top off my streamline truck bedsides. Eight inches wide, I would find, with rolled edges. Solid construction of strong sheet metal. Back home, I bought six of them. And began whacking them into lengths and curves to match my dream design. Six panels became seven, as I created the “cloud lift” over the rear wheels, to accent the arc of the rear fender design.
Trailer fenders, the base for my streamline truck bed sides.
Fabrication of the bed sides over the square tubing frame work I made.
To cover the seam between the top and the flat panel of the bed side, I again got out the 3/8 “ round rod and began a marathon run through tanks of welding gas and spools of wire. The precept of “a good grinder gives grace to pucky-doodle welds” was driven home again and again, down that streamline sweep line. Held at a 45 degree angle to the seam, the grinder worked even better. Thanks for the advice, Ron Tesinsky.
By this stage of things, I had that inner armature structure built up of square tubing to hold each bedside in place. A regular Erector Set. The floor now could ride level, between the sides. To finish off the bed interior, I found diamond plate aluminum for my Diamond T. Floor surface, and inner fender panels were trimmed out. And, turns out, it was “period perfect”. Diamond plate, I discovered, had come into vogue at the same time as the streamline moderne movement. Not only conspicuously on fire engines, but in a variety of applications throughout the trucking industry.
Diamond plate aluminum, as used in vintage fire trucks would form the floor and inner fenders on my truck.
Here, on the flat floor of the bed, also would rest a handsome Potter trunk of the classic car period. I had discovered it nesting quietly under a table at the local antique store. This smartly outfitted trunk would hold, not matching leather Gucci luggage for madame, but a hidden tank of Ethyl to serve my Queen, Neferteri.
The aluminum gas tank for Neferteri which I would “hid” in a Potter trunk which I found at a local antique store.
I searched and agonized over locating the perfect teardrop shaped rear fenders, to continue the streamline theme. But it didn’t turn out to be a quick trip to the repop store. Pickup fenders of the era just didn’t serve up quite the right continuous curve. Panel truck fenders would have fit the flat side panels, but they were scarce as hen’s teeth. I even scored some really swoopy rear fenders off a vintage bus. But they were pancake flat.
Early stages of the rear fenders, 1937 Plymouth units.
I finally found the shape most like what I was looking for: the rear fenders on a portly Plymouth, 1937 vintage. Perfect in every way, only… The flat lip pressed into the wheel opening was, well, flat. Not to worry, there always was the old 3/8” round rod to rescue me from that quandry.
Then, when I draped the found fender over my artillery wheels for a look-see, it turned out to be too short for those sweeping bedsides. Blaine Murphy came up with a longer pair of 1939 Chrysler pantaloons. My son and daughter threw in together and got me an English wheel for Christmas. I was off and running, cutting, wheeling, welding, grinding. It took seven assorted pieces, finally, to create each of the long teardrop rear fenders, to mimic and match their front counterparts.
Might I here digress to pass along a word of caution to the budding English wheeler? There’s but fingernail room…no full finger accommodations… between those rollers. You might could come away with the finger pads of a tree frog. To paraphrase the wise sage, “I may not be a smart man, Jennie, but I know what pain is!”
And that 19” bed extension beyond the chassis frame? It served up the perfect location for a step, just like those for firemen of old, hanging onto the hook and ladder trucks in answer to the alarm. I would find it the perfect bench seat for striking Rodin’s “The Thinker” pose, in contemplating how to solve each next challenge I’d created for myself.
On the theme of fire trucks, or boats, or oil and gas tankers, or tow trucks…or funeral flower cars some might add… a pipe and ball rail was an accent I always thought looked sharp. I’d already committed to swoopy sideboards, but now with the step-down at the rear, I could accent the transition with a “tail gate”, a literal drop-down gate of pipe. Round metal balls were added to cover each intersect. Johnny Sprocket found the orbs for me and drilled them out to allow assembly. His shop also would mill the base plates for the gate’s uprights, as well as for the stanchions I needed to support those exotic wood sideboards.
Skirted bed sides topped of with the cut and refitted trailer fenders.
The Plymouth rear fenders with the new skirted bed sides. This is an older photo and the front fenders had not been restored and restyled yet.
With some fresh coats of primer.
The teardrop sideboard extensions in wood first were patterned in cartoons on butcher paper. The forms then were transferred onto Masonite for rigidity in mock-up, before attempting those forms in sawn and sanded walnut. Finally, it was the moment of Truth. And I couldn’t bring myself to do it. What if I butchered those precious, pricey boards of walnut? Ron Daigle, a friend with finish carpentry skills, stepped up to do the honors. Once cut, I was able to sand to my heart’s content, smoothing out the edges, bringing out the grain. And what beautiful grain it played into the light, as I waxed and buffed each gorgeous board by hand.
Those stanchion base plates fashioned by Johnny Sprocket next came into play. The uprights, three per side, were cut and assembled of round tubing. An inner leg was cut to length, then a series of slightly bigger diameter tubes were slipped over this core, punctuated with O-rings between each joint. Square channel was then hung horizontally at each of those breaks, to cradle the precious walnut panels.
Side board stanchions.
Each stanchion was capped in regal style, through another chance “Aha” discovery. At Scott Clark’s shop was a humungous hydraulic Piranha punch. When Scott would pop holes through thick metal, the resulting plug that was cut out had a unique dimple, created dead center by the force of the punch. One of those dimpled plugs would come to cap off each sideboard stanchion.
In my original drawing of 2003, the tail lights I has sketched in were of a teardrop shape, like on mid-Thirties cars, and mounted at the end of the bedside surface, before it dropped over to meet the rear bumper. That carbuncle concept mercifully never made it off the drawing board.
One day as I was driving home, a motorcycle passed me. As it braked for the stop light, its tail light lit yet another little “Aha” bulb in my fevered brain. What was that motorcycle? That teardrop tail light was the epitome of “streamline moderne”! I had to have it.
It was a 2003 Victory Vegas, and it was not cheap. Twice that, over the parts counter please, for a pair of them. They were all plastic, no metal bezel adorned them. Never mind, I had to have them. Soon, I was cutting a hole in the slope of each rear fender. I cut and filed, very carefully, until the plastic bucket slipped into place.
2003 Victory Vegas bike taillight lens was the base for the taillights on Neferteri it fitted by dream design perfectly. The taillight lacked a bezel, so that I had to create myself.
That done, I next addressed the naked truths of those naked red lenses. First, to be a proper period concept custom, a teardrop bezel was essential, I was musing. Second, came the disappointment of learning motorcycle lights were not of your garden variety 12 volt auto light bulb. Not to worry, off to Dietz salvage to pirate a pair of 1157 bulb receptacles. Out came the trusty Dremel tool and into the resulting hole went the receptacles. A little JB Weld and mission impossible was complete.
But I still hadn’t solved the bezel bamboozle. I graphed out a pattern, then cut a base plate out of 1/8” steel plate, to snugly surround each Vegas lense. For more definition, I then bent ¼” round rod to ride atop the base plate, further defining the opening for the lense. A lot of hand filing went into the finish, before those bezels were ready for the chrome plater. Before I broke my arm patting myself on the back, I chanced upon a magazine feature on the Ridler Award winner of that very year. You guessed it: the tail lights on that car were none other than 2003 Victory Vegas motorcycle lights. I wonder if they JB welded 1157 receptacles in their application? Not saying, but just saying, somehow, I doubt it.
Where was I? Oh, yes, chrome plater. Tail light bezels were ready. The dippy front bumper was welded together now. But what to do about a rear bumper? It was time for another “Aha” moment of discovery.
Nothing available seemed to turn my crank. Then, one day while tripping through the Dietz auto and truck salvage yard, what did my wandering eye discern? The bumper of my Neferteri dreams! Voila!!
Well, you really had to look, to see what was there. I was ogling at the rear bumper of a school bus. You know, those ribbed, guard rail road barrier-like bumpers? The ones engineered to protect precious screeching cargo from impact with incoming scuds of the belated screeching brake kind?
The school bus bumper was pressed into three horizontal ribs of industrial strength steel. If I were to have Scott Clark slice those ribs apart with his trusty plasma cutter, why, I would have three choices of bumper stock to select from. So, we did.
And I had my bumper. As a finishing touch, I cut rectangular notches in the lower edge to either side for placement of the exhaust tips (more recycled rectangular tubing), and detailed the openings with ¼” round rod.
The school bus bumper that formed the base for the bumper I created. The bus bumper was cut in three horizontal sections, of which one was used, cut to size, and reshaped with exhaust tip notches.
Now my Neferteri pieces were ready for a visit to the chrome plating shop. All that was left was, well, lots of things. And a paint job. One panel at a time in a home-made paint booth, of sorts, in my driveway. That, and more, as they say, in our next and finally final episode of Neferteri.
Neferteri in the Labor Day Parade, 2012.
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