Home-Built Hero: Randy Nelson’s ’52 Chevy Pickup Truck

How often has coincidence led you to a project car? Many times, we can be at the right place at the right time, and presto, we own another project. Such is the case when Randy Nelson happened to be at a family function.

“It started as a coincidence when I happened to be with my grandfather, Ivan Grooms, as he went to look at this 1952, 3/4-ton, five-window truck for sale at the West Union Fire Department in Adams County in 1972,” Randy states. “We were visiting him and Mamaw on our last vacation as a family before we were to go with my father who was being stationed overseas. Granddad, as we all called him, bought the truck for $300 to use on his farm.”

Chevy truck

The truck was treated to a complete restoration by the Nelson family, allowing for some great bonding time for father and sons.

Around Christmas time in 1975, Randy and his family returned to the states, and that’s when he learned the truck wasn’t running and the brakes didn’t work. “My father, CMSgt William Nelson, fixed the brakes, got it running, and offered to buy it off Granddad, but he ended up giving it to him,” quips Randy. “My dad drove it nearly 600 miles back to McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey. Back then, with the inline-six and the truck four-speed, the top speed was roughly 55 mph. When he got it home, it was his daily driver as an EOD Master Blaster until he retired from the Air Force in the late ’70s. After his time in the service was complete, he returned to Ohio where he would drive it without issue. At times I would take my now wife Sharon out on dates in the truck. Eventually, it was driven less and less until it basically sat idle.”

Chevy truck

This former fire truck gives real meaning to the term, “Fire Engine Red.”

In the late ’80s, Randy acquired the truck when dad moved to Indiana to pastor a church. “The floors had rusted out by this time,” says Randy. “It had a few other problems, and it wasn’t safe to drive very far. I finally began the frame-off restoration in 2015. The current original mileage is 37,176, but that number will grow as I enjoy the truck with my wife, kids, and other family and friends.”

This truck’s rebuild was a true family affair, as it was completely rebuilt by Randy, his brothers, his father, and several friends. “My dad has always been a mechanic, but through this labor of love and his passion to see it done, he learned welding, bodywork, and painting,” Randy states. “The frame-off restoration allowed him to literally be part of every stage of the rebuild.

“As for the restoration, the largest problems to overcome were finding a frontend so that we could run disc brakes (we found a ½-ton GMC chassis I bought for $200) and a rearend in order to do better than a top speed of 55 mph. The welding/bodywork/paint was also an issue. Dad wanted to do as much of the work as possible in-house, in-house, so he asked for friends/family to help/teach him rather than just pay someone to do the work.”

Randy continues, “during the rebuild, the best memories are of my brother and I working with Dad and sharing fun stories about granddad. Granddad only used it a couple of years on the tobacco farm, but dad used it a lot in the military. One time, he drove out to a call about a briefcase left at an on-base airport. Being the head guy on the EOD team, he took charge and got the briefcase, drove it out to an open field, set a charge, and then detonated it. Turns out it was full of maps, compasses, and other navigational gear. The officer/pilot that owned it wasn’t too happy, but grandpa, an enlisted man, told him he should keep better care of his instruments.”

Chevy truck

In 1952, this was the height of luxury for a truck.

It’s unique that it was used for 20 years by a fire department, spent a couple of years on my grandfather’s tobacco farm, then was used for several years by my father in the military. The truck went from civil service to farm use to military service. I can’t think of any vehicle that has served in all three capacities such as this one has.”

Do you want to read about more Home-Built Heroes? All you need to do is click here. If you own a Home-Built Hero, we want to hear about it. Since I’ve started the series, I have received more than a few candidates, but I still want to see more — I can never get enough. If you want to see more cars built by you the readers, send a few pictures of your car showing the engine, interior, and exterior, along with all of the pertinent information, and I’ll make you Internet famous. You can send your submissions to [email protected].

About the author

Randy Bolig

Randy Bolig has been working on cars and has been involved in the hobby ever since he bought his first car when he was only 14 years old. His passion for performance got him noticed by many locals, and he began helping them modify their vehicles.
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