Sand Hills Survivor

Omahan rescues a rare ’57 Chevy HydraMatic pickup from western Nebraska pasture

By Jeff Barnes

“There’s gold in them thar hills” goes the rallying cry; Patrick Schmid found his gold in the Sand Hills of western Nebraska, but this metal had a decidedly turquoise tint.

Although not yet at the end of its frame-off restoration, Schmid nonetheless has revealed a beautiful 1957 Chevy 3100 half-ton pickup from the hulk he rescued north of Gothenburg. The previous owner in 1979 removed the engine from the truck and put it into a car that his wife could drive. From that point – parked in a pasture among the cattle – the truck sat for thirty-five years waiting for its rescuer.

Better than a typical ’57, however, the truck had a very rare “HydraMatic” automatic transmission. It was about 15 feet from the truck when Schmid first went to view the truck, indicating someone tried to steal it before its weight made him give up.

This wasn’t the first Chevy pickup restored by Schmid, a service manager at Sealand Marine. Right out of high school he bought a very rough ’56 half-ton that he completed himself over three years. His father owned a service station there in Grand Island, “and one of the proudest moments I’ve ever had in my life was hearing him tell my mom that I did a great job on it and made it look brand new,” he said.

Schmid sold the truck, however, to pay for a move to Omaha and rent on an apartment with his girlfriend and future wife. The marriage didn’t last, however, and even though he was able to move on from that, he couldn’t forget that truck.

He eventually remarried and told his wife if he ever found another Chevy pickup to restore, he’d buy it. “She told me my old truck was ugly, but said to go ahead if I ever found one,” he said.

That opportunity came around four years ago when attending an auto swap meet in Lincoln. Schmid didn’t buy anything there, but wandered into the last building and started looking at ads posted on a wall. One of them was a photo of the rusting ’57, sitting in a pasture.

The owner wanted $1,500 for it – ironically, the same price for which Schmid sold his restored ’56. This one was missing an engine, hood, and other components. “He knew it was rare, though, and that explained the price – I wasn’t about to quibble with him,” Schmid said. “The HydraMatic is so rare it’s not even funny.”

Chevy just did not make that many pickups with automatic transmissions in 1957. “The Cameo was rare (a little more than 2,000 built in 1957), but they made fewer of these than the Cameo,” Schmid said. He hasn’t been able to track down the exact number built, but it’s certainly much lower now.

The difference between this truck and the equivalent manual transmission truck is around $20,000, he said. An acquaintance well familiar with the brand says he probably has around a $55,000 truck, although Schmid said he hasn’t and may never get it appraised.

Unlike his first truck, Schmid this time farmed out the engine, transmission, and upholstery; everything else he did himself. That included things he didn’t want to do, such as restoring the spare-tire mount option on the left-rear fender. Most trucks don’t have and isn’t as visually appealing, but he wanted it as close to original as possible. Schmid also doesn’t like green but there was never a question that he wouldn’t repaint it as the original Indian Turquoise.
The truck gods have obviously taken a shine to Schmid for his restoration. He went to the same Lincoln swap meet a couple years after getting the truck and found a dealer selling used license plates. He found a set of 1957 Nebraska plates with the number “1-1957.”

“I got them restored to put on the truck,” he said. “I’ve been offered five hundred bucks, but I wouldn’t sell them.”

(Originally published in the Omaha World-Herald, March 29, 2014)

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