Reo Master Flying Cloud – March/April 2014 Cover Story
Patrick Ertel

22-1 cover

The 1930 Reo Master Flying Cloud that appears on the cover of the March/April 2014 issue of Vintage Truck magazine was restored by Tom Van Steyn for current owner Michael Kisber. The interior of the cab is opulent beyond anyting seen in any pickup truck of the era, and the gauges are set in an engraved brass plate that depicts the clipper ship Flying Cloud cresting on a wave at sea.

What else is in this issue?

Features

Departments

  • Delivery Designs – Boyertown’s MP-6 and Minivans
  • Model Maker’s Corner – A Duo Of Dodges, Part 1
  • Skinned Knuckles – Spark Plugs
  • Chevy Talk – 1929 Chevrolet International Series AC
  • Triple Diamond Treatise – Technical Service Letters
  • Wagon Wheels – Rambler American Rambles On
  • Dodge Garage – 1957 Dodge W100 Power Wagon
  • Notes from the Corrosion Lab – A Restoration Report
  • Tech Tips – A Joker and Two Jacks
  • Tailgate Talk – Stuck

If you can't find Vintage Truck on a newsstand near you, call 800-767-5828 or visit our Gift Shop to order current or back issues. To subscribe, call 888-760-8108 or click here.


Flying High

1930 Reo Master Flying Cloud

By Patrick Ertel

When Tom Van Steyn found this truck in southern California, he and his father bought it because of their interest in orphan trucks. Mechanically, the Reo was running and fairly complete. It had been repainted and had some extra pinstriping on it. The gas tank was rotten, but the truck was functional enough to be run up and down the street. “I think the previous owner had come to the same realization that we eventually did,” said Tom. “This was a very special truck that deserved bigger time and money commitments than we were prepared to give it.”

Tom enjoys the process of restoring classic vehicles more than owning them once complete, so he advertised it on an online auction site with hopes that someone would buy it and restore it the way it deserved to be restored—and maybe they would want Tom’s shop to undertake the restoration. Michael Kisber of Memphis, Tennessee, bought the truck and, to Tom’s relief, spared no effort or expense to make it perfect.

The previous owner said it had been in his family for some time but could not trace any more history than that. REO historians expressed doubt that REO ever built anything like this truck for production. In those days it was not unusual for manufacturers to assemble trucks for internal use, and that is possibly how this truck came to be. It could also have been a prototype, either made by REO or made for REO by another company. “The workmanship is too nice for it to have been made in someone’s garage,” said Tom, “and we found another truck that is a year earlier but the bodywork is virtually identical.” The chances that two different people would make such similar trucks are pretty slim. It seems likely that these trucks were built by an unnamed coachbuilder, though no one knows who or why.

Michael Kisber initially had the Reo shipped to him in Memphis. He got the motor out and discovered that the engine was too badly worn to rebuild, so he bought a complete original unrestored Reo Flying Cloud sedan to use as a parts car and a blueprint for the restoration of the truck. Michael also contacted Jay Leonard, technical advisor to the REO Club of America, and sent him the information from the truck’s data plate. Leonard confirmed that the truck was a 1930 Model C Master Flying Cloud. The Flying Cloud was built in five body styles, and they determined that Michael’s truck was derived from the Brougham body style. The original colors on the truck appeared to be Woodbark Buff and black, which are Flying Cloud Brougham factory colors.

“Mike and I had been talking back and forth about our shared obsession for these old trucks. Eventually Mike decided to commission our shop, Full Circle Restorations, to undertake the restoration of the REO,” Tom recounted.

The biggest challenge was making things fit better than they originally did. The woodwork for the structure of the cab had to be remade from scratch, and it was quite a challenge to get everything shaped to fit right. “The body parts didn’t fit precisely on these old cars even from the factory, and it took a lot of time to make everything fit together perfectly—better than new,” said Tom.

Another big challenge was finding information on the original truck design to make Michael’s truck authentic. The truck had been tinkered with over the years and some parts were missing. “The Flying Cloud parts car was worth its weight in gold in that regard,” explained Tom. “Having an untouched vehicle with original paint to use as a blueprint for the little details that were missing from the truck and having it as a source of parts was priceless.”
The engraving and detail work on the Reo is spectacular. The brass gauge cluster is elaborately engraved with a scene of the Flying Cloud mascot cresting a wave at sea. “It is one of the prettiest gauge clusters I’ve ever seen,” said Tom, “and it’s on a truck.” Tom sent both sets of gauges to John Wolf, who used the best pieces from each one to rebuild the beautiful gauge cluster on the truck. The control levers on the steering wheel presented their own challenge because the truck and parts car combined could not muster a full set. “I was concerned about what we were going to do about that. But I found someone who’d had them recast in stainless steel complete with all the little scrollwork and detail,” said Tom. “We needed door handles too, and I found a company in Australia that specializes in door handles and such and we got the door handles from them.”

Finish Line Interiors of Santa Clara, California, did the upholstery, and Full Circle did the bodywork, paint, woodwork, and mechanical (except for the engine rebuild) and electrical work. Everything they made for the truck was patterned after something typical of other trucks of the era in order to make it period correct. Tom had an original 1936 Federal pickup at the shop and copied some construction techniques, such as the bed strips. The Reo’s bed panels were banged up, and though straightening them was possible, Tom and Michael chose to simply have new panels made. The roof had been covered in fabric down to the beltline when they received the truck. It was determined that no body builder of the 1930s would have done that, so only the top of the roof was recovered.

The project demanded endless attention to detail. For instance, the bolts used by REO did not have SAE markings on them, and the heads were taller than those of modern bolts. Using modern bolts to assemble the truck would have been faster and easier, but not authentic. Full Circle combined bolts from the truck and the parts car to assemble a full set of correct fasteners for Kisber’s truck. “We sorted and cleaned them and got them ready to be sent off to be cad plated,” Tom explained. “We discovered that the outer wheel rims had been cad plated originally, so we got them ready too. The cadmium plating used in those days was duller than what you get on today’s hardware, so we had to find a plater who could match the old look. I asked my local chrome shop if they could suggest a good place, and they didn’t know anyone at all who could reproduce the dull cad plating. They just don’t do that kind of thing anymore.” They eventually found Queen City Plating, Inc. of Mukilteo, Washington, which still does the original-style cad plating.

“Restoring this truck was a fun job because it is a one-of-a-kind truck,” said Tom. “Mike and I are very detail-oriented, and this truck lent itself to a very detailed restoration.”

Tom Van Steyn is co-owner of Full Circle Restorations, LLC. For pictures of more of their projects visit their website at www.fullcircleresto.com.

SIDEBAR:
REO named its luxury car after the Flying Cloud, a famous clipper ship that set the world’s record for a sailing vessel on the passage between New York and San Francisco (89 days 8 hours). She held this record for 135 years, from 1854 to 1989. The choice had a double meaning. It implied that the Reo was fast like the ship and as comfortable as riding on a cloud. Initially, the image of the ship appeared frequently in ads, but the ship gradually disappeared and left the easy-riding cloud image to impress buyers.

ABOUT THE OWNER:
Michael Kisber, Truck Connoisseur

Michael Kisber is a truck enthusiast, deeply dedicated to the preservation and historic restoration of important and unique U.S. vehicles. He keeps his extensive collection of rare orphan trucks in a beautifully restored, historic building in downtown Memphis.

I sat down with Michael, and he told me the story of his interest in trucks and historic preservation:

I started collecting trucks when I was 16 years old. This fellow used to come into my father’s auto parts store, his name was R.R. (Doc) Clark and he restored cars, so he was always buying oddball stuff. He invited me over to his house one day because he was having an engine party. He was restoring a 1920 Packard and he was going to put the engine back in. I went over and helped get it in, and we popped a bottle of champagne and had a great time. From that moment on I was absolutely hooked.

Doc sold me my first antique truck when I was 16 years old; it was a 1958 Dodge Sweptside. I worked on it from the time I was 16 until I went off to college. My father was angry that I spent all my money restoring that truck, but I loved it.

When I came back to Memphis in 1993, I started collecting trucks again. I was interested in orphan trucks—trucks made by companies that don’t exist anymore. I’ve spent a lot of time scouring the country trying to find these great American vehicles, restoring them, and keeping them as original as possible. In the last 10 years, I’ve found some really rare trucks. The rarest is probably this 1930 Reo.

I bought the 1930 Reo online from Tom Van Steyn. Tom has helped me with two Reos and I’m working on a Durant Rugby now. He and I both did a lot of work to make this unique truck authentic. We did a lot of research, used the best of everything, and consulted the REO club in an effort to make the truck as original as possible. It took five years to complete the Reo, and it is my favorite of all the trucks in my collection.

I keep my collection in a building in the Historic South Main District of Memphis. My family came to Memphis in 1917 and started an auto parts business on Second Street in downtown Memphis between Union and Beal. I have an emotional tie to the area where my family ran its business, and I wanted a place for my collection that was near where my family started. I found this building on Mulberry Street and restored it in 2009. The building was built in 1926 and housed the Jolly Cab Company. I bought the building in dilapidated condition; the rafters were caving in, there was a huge hole in the back wall, and the windows were boarded up. While restoring the building, we took every effort to preserve its architectural integrity; however, we did install heavy-duty parking lifts so I could fit all the trucks inside. Our efforts won the 2009 ABC Award for Historic Renovation.

My youngest son, Gabriel, just turned 18 and has a real interest in the trucks. He enjoys learning all of the history and driving them. Hopefully he will carry on the tradition. When you get behind the wheel of a properly restored vintage truck, you step back in time. There is nothing like it.

You can view Kisber’s complete collection online at
www.kisberenterprises.com

If you can't find Vintage Truck on a newsstand near you, call 800-767-5828 or visit our Gift Shop to order current or back issues. To subscribe, call 888-760-8108 or click here.

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