All in the Family

1.5-Ton Dodge Farm Truck Restored to Former Beauty

(Originally published in the Omaha World-Herald, November 2008)

By Jeff Barnes

It’s sometimes a long way for a pickup truck to get from the farm to the city, but it’s even longer from if you go through 60 years and three generations.

That’s exactly what Bert Freed of Bellevue did with his 1947 Dodge WD-20 pick-up truck, completely restoring the vehicle that was bought new by his wife Kathy’s grandfather.

Freed’s truck is one-and-a-half tons, BIG for a pickup truck. “These are few and far between,” he said. “The last one I saw was on eBay in California, but it was in really bad shape. And I’ve only seen one with the stock rack.”

The truck was purchased by William Grothe Sr. in 1947 for use on the family farmstead near Emmet, Neb. “He bought it new – we still have the original owner’s manual,” Freed said. Grothe and his sons used the truck for hauling livestock, transportation and for grinding feed using the rear axle.

One of the sons, Herman Grothe, purchased the farm along with the pickup after his parents passed away. It continued duty as a work truck, but his son Herman Jr. also used it in the mid-‘60s to drive to high school in nearby Atkinson – that is, until he lost control on a gravel road and did considerable damage to the cab and driver’s side door. From that point, the truck was only used to grind feed and for odd tasks on the farm.

Retired in Hawaii from a 30-year career as a chief warrant officer in the Navy, Freed and his family returned to the Omaha area in 1986 to allow their kids to be closer to their grandparents.  He bought the truck from Herman Sr., his father-in-law, in 1993, but left it in the farm’s corn crib until Herman and his wife Lela passed away in 2003. After the Grothe siblings sold the farm, the truck (with 22,000 original miles) was hauled to Omaha that year and the restoration began.

Freed hired Marv’s Body Shop, then at 30th and L streets, for the restoration; the work began in September 2003 and was completed in June 2006. The restoration was never on a fast track, and was once almost completely derailed. A reckless driver went out of control at a high speed on L Street and slammed into the building in early 2006, causing the structure to partially collapse. “My truck was in a corner,” Freed said. “A VW that was parked next to it saved it from getting hit.”

The rarity of the truck came into play when replacing the seat, which was in bad shape itself. The upholstery shop couldn’t fix it, and a replacement seat from a three-quarter-ton pickup was too small; the solution was adding 12 additional springs to the replacement seat.

The only other things added to the Dodge truck were new turn signals to the front fenders, seat belts and carpet to the cab. “Otherwise,” said Freed, “it’s restored to its originality.”

The engine was good and not in need of restoration. “I put gas in it and cranked it, and it still has 40 pounds of oil pressure,” he said. “I overhauled the carburetor but I haven’t touched the engine.”

Freed, 70, started going to shows as soon as the truck was back. In the past two years, he’s won 14 trophies and plaques, including a “people’s choice award” at the 26th Annual RTS Mopar Meet in Omaha in September 2007.

A native of Atkinson, Freed’s lifelong interest in cars began with a little horse trading – he actually traded his saddle horse for a Model A with 18,000 miles on it. “He wanted his grandkids to have a horse to ride,” he explained, “and I wanted a car.”

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