Omahan’s Studebaker moves Studebakers

By Jeff Barnes

John Caskey is a prolific Studebaker collector – he has one for every day of the week. But the one that he’d always wanted was a hauler truck to get his cars from home to show. The hauler was something for which he’d been looking for a long time, and was even starting a build his own from a cab and chassis he’d found in Indiana.

But Caskey saved himself some work when he found his 1938 Studebaker cab-over-engine hauler in 2007 south of Kansas City. You could almost call it a “Chevybaker” since it was made with the running gear of a Chevy bread truck.

Given its rarity, that’s OK – there really aren’t that many around. “They were used as trucks and used hard,” Caskey said. “They’d often end up with farmers and since most of them never had a barn to go in, the farmers would stick them around back when they got tired of them and just leave them to rust and rot. That’s the main reason I wanted to get one – most people have never seen it.”

The rotting, pointed out by his son Steve, is from the wood framing of the Studebaker including in the doors of the cab. It probably harkens back to the founding of Studebaker in the 1850s as the country’s most prominent maker of wagons.

dsc_0197Caskey added that the trucks are difficult to take to shows since they are larger than cars, and in his case, it would be somewhat ridiculous to use a transport to transport a transport. For that reason, it’s essential that this truck be road-worthy for its purpose of hauling other Studebakers.

The truck was underpowered when he got it, with a top speed of 40 miles per hour. Caskey replaced the engine with a 454 Chevy so it would be able to pull the weight of a car on its bed; now there’s a problem of the truck not being geared very well. His son’s now dismembering a Chevy van to get another 454 with fuel injection, an automatic transmission, and better electronics to get the job done.

The other change to the transport was cosmetic. The cab is actually that of a 1936 truck, but Caskey didn’t care much for the grille of the 1936 and replaced it with that of a 1938. It’s thus licensed as a ’38 to reflect its appearance.

Studebaker was known for its quality and reliability, but not for a constantly updated design. Like a lot of small independent auto manufacturers, they kept current by making superficial trim changes while Chevrolet and Ford brought out new models and redesigned current models.

The cab-over-engine (or cab-forward as Studebaker called it) was a bit ahead of its time, however. The trucks were part of the company’s “M” series, which stood for Metro which was short for Metropolitan. They were meant to be used cities where turns into alleys and other tight spots could be easily handled with the design. They continued as just the “M” series when Studebaker found out that International-Harvester had already trademarked the “Metro” name for its delivery trucks.

On this particular day, the Caskeys loaded the 1963 Avanti on the flat bed. In addition, his Studebaker collection also has a ’53 Hardtop, a ’56 Golden Hawk, a ’60 Lark convertible, a ’63 Lark, and a ’39 Coupe Express that’s still in restoration.

dsc_0178Asked if the car shows appreciate seeing the collector car coming in on a collector hauler, Caskey deadpanned “I think most of them like it, unless they’re dead or something… No, they think it’s cool.”

(Originally printed in the Omaha World-Herald, April 9, 2016)

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