Liberty is a part-time job |

Liberty is a part-time job

24-year-old mechanic, blacksmith restores WWI-era military truck

Collin Smith
This is the Liberty truck as it looked soon after it was hauled into the Wyman Museum warehouse.
Hans Hallgren

If you go

What: Military Vehicle Preservation Association 2009 Transcontinental Motor Convoy

Where: Carbon County Fairgrounds in Rawlins, Wyo.

When: June 28 and 29

— It’s taken nine months of part-time work for Dalton Reed to undo about 90 years of history’s wear and tear.

The 1918 Liberty truck literally is a shell of its former self, sitting in a warehouse behind the Wyman Museum, under the careful attention of Reed, a 24-year-old Steamboat Springs man who has a college degree in auto restoration from McPherson College in McPherson, Kan.

He has until June 28 to finish restoring the Liberty, otherwise known as a World War I Standard B.

Then Reed and other Wyman Museum officials will take the truck to Rawlins, Wyo., for a stop on the Military Vehicle Preservation Association 2009 Transcontinental Motor Convoy.

The convoy will retrace the path of the original military vehicle tour led by then-Major Dwight D. Eisenhower before World War I.

Terry Shelswell, convoy commander for this year’s tour, said the trip has allowed him and some 400 others to see America a new way.

“We’re seeing the heartland of this country at 30 to 35 miles per hour, because that’s all these old vehicles will go,” he said. “We have a chance to look people in the eye.”

The Liberty was a major part of the original tour, having just come off the assembly lines of about 15 different car companies to carry troops and equipment across Europe in the defense of America’s allies.

Reed’s Liberty looks every bit the part of a turn-of-the-century mechanized wagon, right down to the wheels’ wooden spokes.

“Now, you have to remember, this is the truck that leapt the wagon in the military,” Reed said. “When this came out, it was the next best thing. That’s what I like about it – it kind of shows the transitions over the years.”

Reed is somewhat of a gear head. That is, he likes things with actual gears, not the computerized, officially-licensed-tools-only engines found in the modern descendants of older cars.

“They’re fun,” he said. “They’re different. They’re simple. I have a car built in every decade from the teens to the 90s.”

How long did it take to accumulate all that, a collection that includes a 1915 Maxwell, 1929 Ford Model A and a 1949 Ford truck?

“Not near as long as it’s going to take to fix them all,” Reed said. “This has been a nine-month restoration, and that’s quick.”

In that time, he’s done a little of everything that goes into making a car. He’s sanded and painted the frame, rebuilt the engine and manufactured some of his own parts when he can’t find an existing one. Reed can do that because he’s also a blacksmith.

“That, blacksmithing, it was something I was always fascinated by, but I never thought I’d do anything with it,” he said.

Reed then fetched a knife he made himself. It was one solid piece, and had a twisted handle grip.

“I like it because I can make stuff out of trash,” he said.

Between the cars and the blacksmithing, it can seem Reed is stuck in the past, working trades already forgotten.

“I think a lot of those dying arts should have people to keep them alive,” he said. “I know with the blacksmith stuff, like this knife, there’s more time in it than it’s worth. That’s just a hobby really. But with restoration, there will always be a market in that, with collectors and everything.”

Reed just got the Liberty’s engine running Tuesday. It’s a mammoth 425 cubic inches, but it packs only four cylinders, 55 horsepower and a top speed of about 14 miles an hour.

To start it, Reed uses a hand crank sticking out of the front of the truck, like a pilot might do with an old propeller plane.

A loud, proud, rumbling noise filled the warehouse and everyone’s ear.

“I’ve got to put a muffler on it, too,” Reed said with a smile.

The only thing left for him to do is add some cosmetic accoutrements.

“I didn’t know if we really seriously were going to get this truck ready for the show, but it looks like we will,” said Lou Wyman, founder of the Wyman Museum.

Reed has been working for Wyman the past five years, mostly in the warehouse that now holds the Liberty truck, and he has a line of projects to keep him busy for the foreseeable future.

Studebakers, Ford Model Ts and rarer cars, such as the 1915 Stevens-Duryea, a seven-passenger carriage made by one of America’s first car companies.

“He’s 24, but he already knows more about cars and all this than we do,” Wyman said, motioning to himself and Richard Estey, a man who has taken a special interest in the project and who has photographed it from beginning to now.

“He’ll start forgetting it, though, when he gets as old as us,” Wyman quipped.

Until then, Reed will keep swinging wrenches, part time at the Wyman Museum and part time for his own restoration business in Steamboat Springs, happy to be in the midst of fenders and engines, gathering dust for now but waiting for him to cast his attention their way and keep them alive.

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