Montpelier Urban – March/April 2012 Cover Story
Pete Costisick

1951 Montpelier Urban

The 1951 Montpelier Urban that appears on the cover of the March/April 2012 issue of Vintage Truck magazine was rescued from an Idaho prairie by local historian Alan Benjamin who commissioned its restoration to Body Works of Montpelier, Ohio. It was his way of honoring Montpelier Manufacturing’s former workers and calling attention to a manufacturing concern that was a vital part of the local economy from 1927 to 1965.

What else is in this issue?

Features

Departments

  • Notes from the Corrosion Lab – Paint Stripping Bares All
  • Chevy Talk – 1970 Wrecker
  • Triple Diamond Treatise – Old Truck Buying, Part One
  • Wagon Wheels – 1964 Mercury Comet Station Wagon
  • Model Maker’s Corner – Ute Tales, Part 2
  • Tailgate Talk – Written Information
  • Tech Tips – Electricity on Demand
  • For Ford Fans – 1959 F-100

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Back Home Again

1951 Montpelier Urban

By Pete Costisick

Perhaps you know a local historian who is intensely proud of the community in which he’s spent most of his 70-plus years of life. If so, then you might have an inkling of what motivates Alan Benjamin, Montpelier, Ohio’s foremost local historian. Alan’s hours of tireless research provided the material for a 600-page book that documented major milestones in Montpelier area businesses from 1845 to 1995. Without his time-consuming research and assistance in coordinating personal and phone interviews, completion of Anything That Rolls on Wheels*, a book covering the 38-year history of the local delivery truck body builder Montpelier Mfg., would not be in print.

With Montpelier Mfg.’s history in book form, it would seem plausible to find Alan putting the pieces together about other facets of Montpelier and Williams County history. However, in 2008 when he was alerted to the existence of a 1951 Montpelier-bodied delivery truck that had been sitting on an Idaho prairie for more than 30 years, Alan was determined to buy the truck and have it restored as a way of honoring the company’s former workers and calling attention to a manufacturing concern that was a vital part of the local economy from 1927 to 1965. Alan describes the project as follows:

“I received an email in early 2008 that told of a Montpelier-bodied truck for sale in Castleford, Idaho. The sender suggested that someone from Montpelier should buy it and have it restored, and I thought about who might be interested in taking on that project. I felt that it should be preserved as a historical item for the town. As I was not able to think of anyone who might put the money, time, and effort into having the truck restored, I figured that I would personally take on that task.”

“In high school a good friend of mine was a member of the family that owned Montpelier Mfg. Over the past 15 years, I had become interested in Montpelier history, and the project sounded like something that I would like to do for the community.”

“I had never really been that interested in old classic vehicles, so I went into this restoration somewhat blind, not knowing what it would involve. I set a price in my head for what the total cost might come to, not realizing at the time that I had underestimated the costs by about half. But once I had made up my mind to have the truck restored, I knew that whatever the cost, I would see it though to the end.”

Alan’s truck is a frame-off restoration of a Montpelier Model No. 8 Urban body mounted on a Chevrolet 3/4-ton 3742 forward-control chassis with a wheelbase shortened by Montpelier employees to 100 inches. With the exception of the roof, windshield frame, and grille, all exterior sheet metal is new, fabricated and installed by Ron Rummel and co-workers at the Body Works, a collision and restoration shop in Montpelier. The original doors were rusted beyond repair, so Ron fabricated new side and rear doors from an aluminum and plywood composite material. Alan had Ron paint the truck in a pattern that was identical to a Montpelier Urban prototype truck built in 1947. The colors match the current school colors of Montpelier High School. Signage on the truck’s side panels duplicates the script used on Montpelier Mfg. letterheads of the early ’50s, and Alan makes it a point to inform cruise-in or parade attendees that the truck’s original body was built locally.

The engine is a period-correct 235ci Chevrolet six that originally powered a Chevy pickup. The Urban’s original engine provided the updraft carburetor and intake and exhaust manifolds that were unique to Chevrolet’s forward-control chassis. A dry air cleaner element replaces the original oil-bath unit. The electrical system was upgraded to 12 volts and uses an alternator with an integral voltage regulator for battery charging. Braking was upgraded by means of new hydraulic lines and a dual-circuit master cylinder. The chassis came with Chevrolet’s optional four-speed transmission and a standard 5.14:1 full-floating rear axle. The truck’s original kiln-dried hardwood floorboards were numbered and used as patterns for new oak boards finished in clear polyurethane.

Enough of the original paint remained underneath at least two repaints of the heavily rusted body to reveal that the truck initially served as a door-to-door delivery unit for a Jewel Tea Co. salesman. Montpelier Mfg. built several hundred Model No. 8 Urbans for Jewel Tea in the early ’50s.

Alan’s Montpelier Urban is a monument to the hard labor of former Montpelier Mfg. employees. Grateful for the opportunity to keep local history alive, Alan said, “I’m glad that the truck was restored by a very detailed person who wanted to make sure that it was done correctly, and I was very happy with the outcome.”

The Power Behind a Restoration

From the perspective of a mechanical engineer (or gear head, if you prefer), power is the rate at which work is accomplished. For those contemplating a challenging truck restoration, such as this Montpelier Urban, thought must be given to several forms of power before a committing to such a project.

Financial power is necessary to fund each and every phase of the restoration from start to finish. Alan Benjamin, the owner of the Urban, discovered that the cost of acquiring the truck in its deteriorated condition was a little more than one percent of the total restoration cost. Knowledge power is a vital asset because it gives the unrestored truck’s owner a good idea about what needs to be done to bring the truck back to like-new condition; however, it is inadequate without skill power, or the ability to know exactly how to do the actual work. The power of time factors into the challenge, too. If the demands of life leave little time to work on the truck, the project will never be completed. Perhaps the most vital power needed to see the project through to completion is willpower, a dogged determination to keep working with all of the powers-that-be until the job is finished.

Alan’s comments in the accompanying story show that his patience, willpower, and financial power, combined with the knowledge and skill of Ron Rummel and his staff at the Body Works in Montpelier, Ohio, were more than enough to restore what may be the world’s sole-surviving Montpelier Urban in a little more than one year. Before starting a similar project, determine if you and those who will be working with or for you have all of the necessary power that you need. The restoration photos provide a prime example of the power that it takes to get the work done.

Urban Restoration Hurdles

After Body Works received the truck, owner Ron Rummel and his co-workers soon found that the side and rear doors on the Urban, originally made from sheet-steel skins wrapped around a plywood core, were way beyond repair. The tasks of fabricating new doors from modern materials, incorporating replacement glass and available weather stripping, and mounting hardware were some of the more difficult challenges Ron faced. Fabricating new exterior sheet metal panels was intimidating at first, but Body Works found that the task was well within its capabilities. Mechanical parts for 3/4-ton Chevrolet trucks weren’t as widely available as the more popular half-ton trucks of the same era, and that stymied chassis restoration on a few occasions. Ron felt that the remaining work was straightforward and fairly routine for a capable restoration shop.

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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