1948 Chevrolet 1-Ton Panel Truck aka Big Red

If there is one thing to take away from this tale, it would be to exercise caution when browsing eBay while drinking. It is not that I regret buying my panel truck - per se - but I really don't think I would have purchased it if it were not for the wine. There was a particularly complicated period in which we were convinced that we had found a miracle pairing - a certain Argentinian malbec with a Digiorno pepperoni pizza sprinkled with red pepper flakes and cooked for 8 minutes longer than the box recommended time. It was an economical choice, which lead to a period of plenty. Needless to say, I can no longer face that particular malbec and while cruising the frozen food section, I hurry past the Digionro boxes. I believe Big Red was purchased during this dark but lively period.

I am a believer in the campaign. The expedition! I believe in the weekend getaway, topographical maps, adventure in our backyards, jerry cans of gasoline,  canvas, fixed blade sheath knives, Estwing rock hammers, abandoned mine shafts with unheeded warning signs and splintered timbers, leather belts with sterling Navajo buckles, army cots, fossil hunting, 12v cigarette powered handheld spotlights, jumping cholla cactus, Coleman white gas, cresote, fanbelt snakes, binoculars, sand dunes, spare fuses, wildflowers, sidewinders, canteens full of hot water, bats, overheating, tow ropes, camp shovels, cast iron pans, canvas water bags, Hi-Lift jacks, 5 gallon Igloo galvanized steel water containers with spigot, a back-up electric fuel pump, block ice, altimeters, oil pressure gauges, buzzards, windproof matches, moving 3 yards of earth to keep your mining claim valid, mesquite, scenic overlooks, Coleman white gas, hantavirus abandoned buildings, ancient trash piles, pictographs and petroglyphs, La Siesta Press, lost treasure, Swiss army knives, abandoned Fords, Barker Ranch, coins slipped through whore house floors, rich veins of gold running through soapy white quartz, Native American artifacts hidden from missionaries in caves, 10 stamp mills, tales of mercury poisoned crazies, Bud Lite Lime in coozies, glass fuel filters, hot springs, joshua trees, migrating tarantulas, pancakes cooked in bacon grease, road building, baling wire, silk mantles, horned toads, KC Highlighters, bandanas, CB radio with illegal overpower linear amplifiers, chuckwallas, alluvial fans, Redwing boots, Beatty, Trona, Ridgecrest, Mojave, Furnace Creek, Stovepipe Wells, Tonopah and a defensible perimeter patrolled by a big dog, defined by the reach of the campfire light.

On Arrival

The missing paint was owner four's attempt to see if the original blue could be reclaimed.
Possibly, but not like that. 



Though I consider myself an amateur naturalist and would doubt that few appreciate nature's grandeur more than myself, I am not a backpacker. Just too much hassle to go through to be reduced to eating freeze dried food. My brand of adventure is more along the lines of an African Safari. I believe that when you arrive at your destination, there should be adequate ice, a marinated tri-tip in the cooler, a soft pillow and a cellar of appropriate depth and variety to support a few days in the wilds. I am not a snob, the sparkling doesn't have to be from the Champagne region. If you don't have a musician in the group, consider a (portable) Victrola.

Period photo from the eBay listing

The drive home from Montclair to Los Angeles was an adventure in itself, though not nearly as taxing as the drive from Leimert Park in the 1961 Ford Vanette. The Vanette commute was one of the longer hours of my life. Everything on Big Red was shot. There was 20 degrees of movement in the steering wheel before the vehicle responded. You could feel every missing rubber bushing in the front end as there was a satisfyingly terrifying metal to metal clunk with each pothole.

Also, Upon Arrival

The truck has had at least five owners. The paperwork trail that I have goes back to LT Gotchy in 1955 and, frankly, that is the only owner that really matters in a grand historical sense. The truck is a 1948, LT bought it in 1955 for $460. That same year he installed a brand new 1954 261 full pressure oiler 6 cylinder engine for $444.59. What a hot rod thing to do! Nearly the same price as the truck. The 261 is the Chevy 6 to have and was never in a panel truck as they were destined for big trucks - like school buses.

Jenky hose tie-down duct tape manual choke cable clamp

After LT Gotchy, there were two subsequent owners that owned it for a couple years between them. When you get an old car, you are kinda in a discovery mode like reading the rings in a tree stump. There is period jenky stuff, like a binder clip screwed into the dashboard with a wood screw - that is pure LT Gotchy. Then there is the stuff that the recent owners have done. Rather than suffer with an old 6 volt battery, just put in a 12 volt battery! No need to replace the generator, regulator or deal with bulbs and gauges. Hole in the gas tank? Patch it with glue - it will hold! It's not like gasoline is a solvent.

Unclear on cotter pin usage

Hard to believe I have had Big Red for 8 months, but that's how this crazy bing-bong world goes. Lots of competing interests and projects. Progress has been slow, with bursts of activity followed by weeks of slumber.

Newbaums cloth tape - We sell it at Coco's

Angel's dad Jose re-did the front suspension bushings, leaf spring shackles and brakes. It was a big effort as it was caked in 60 years of Death Valley dust and heavy grease.

Looks like rhino skin

Bob's Alignment did the kingpins
(see Recommended Sources & Services)


Everything in the front end was satisfyingly blown out. You were not left wondering if it really needed to be replaced.

Steering wheel wrapped, but little else at this point

Originally, a passenger seat was an option in a panel truck - an option that this truck did not get.  LT Gotchy put in this bench at some point. Not to modern safety standards!

I removed the passenger bench. Currently seeking passenger Chevy/GMC panel suburban passenger seat. Recognizing that there are lots of options for a passenger seat, I would like to keep it OE.

Top of this old rug is plenty faded

I buy old rugs at garage sales. Handmade and wool, they can be cheap. I am not saying that they are plentiful, but if you are willing to deal with condition issues like color bleeding, fading, holes and disintegrating edging, then they can be quite cheap. Holes and edging can be repaired, but it can be prohibitively expensive. If it is faded, fixing a rug probably doesn't make sense. But if you flip it over! Of course, it will not be correct for it's intended purpose with a fuzzy pile underfoot but they still look great though more lake a woven tapestry or needlepoint rug.

Bottom looks great!

Big Red from the roof during a particularly messy period. Better now.

Rochester single barrels are sorta standard in that they all have the same bolt pattern, compatible linkage and the fuel/vacuum are in similar places. They were used on a jillion cars and trucks of the era and, not surprisingly, there were many variations in which the venturi's could vary in size by 20%. The carb that was on it had an old GM Rebuilt sticker, but it was in the incorrect carb and had a cracked body. I sourced a rebuilt carb at BFIC (see Recommended Sources & Services) of the correct size for a 261.


Recent shot that is overly generous as it was still wet after a washing


Wheels/Tires - the current 17" wheels are the old split rims with tubes. Besides the issues with getting flats, there are limited options in tires in those old sizes and I want to have modern, rugged tires. The excellent Western Tire (not in our Recommended Sources & Services, which is an oversight) recommended buying modern 8 lug wheels so I can mount modern tires. I found a craigslist set of wheels that took me to an unfortunate Whittier backyard of a man in a too-small, too-stained white t-shirt and 5 beagles. I like beagles but I also like clean, white t-shirts that fit. Nevertheless, I have the wheels which have been powdercoated gun metal gray and are waiting for funds to buy tires. Not sure what tire I will choose yet. I am partial to BFG A/T's as I have had good luck with them. I like a narrow, pie crust farm truck look, but with the extreme weight of the truck, I believe a widest possible tire will be a wise choice for sand flotation reasons. Seeing as I am not lifting the truck or cutting the fenders, the options will be pretty limited.

Interior - I installed a sound dampening pad and a repro rubber floor mat. It looks excellent. I need to get the driver's seat reupholstered and find a passenger seat (soon to be added to our Epic Want List.) Windshield needs to be pulled to have the seals replaced (if anybody has a good auto glass place in the East Valley or NE LA, I am interested.) Needs one rear door glass panel replaced as it is currently a fogged piece of plexi. Needs weatherstripping all around and I hate installing weatherstripping. I hate that runny black glue and my results are pretty lackluster. If the same glass place would do the weatherstripping, that would be great.

Exterior - Big Red was painted with a brush - several times - so my hopes for the exterior are modest.  I am going to try to buff/even out the exterior just to knock down the tall stuff, dust off the loose stuff and fill the dry stuff. I am open to suggestions on this.

That is the near term for time and money. Runs great. I am going to replace the water pump as a security measure. Get the engine cooling system flushed and pressure tested.



To be old and cool isn't enough. You need to anchor objects in time, place and culture. Sometimes, you are able to do this with deduction and imagination, by looking deep into an object. Occasionally, there is a documented history and it makes everything much richer. Beyond the aforementioned wine, the reason I bought Big Red was the amazing trove of documentation. An inspiring tale of personal adventure.



261 Engine Swap, Financed at 6%


Sleeping cot, up and stowed



Cot down, nap ready


I have the original cot frame

Back door reads MIASSISDRAGGIN, still visible under red paint

The man himself - Transfer from full safety orange LT Gotchy to the 3rd owner

Needless to say, I would have liked to shake LT's hand. Takes a special individual to keep such a thoughtful archive, to assume that it would be of future interest and utility. A little Googling bears out that LT was just photographing his truck as he documented much that interested him.

LT Gotchy photographing the Pacific Red Car in 1946 (Orange Empire Railway Museum)

9 years after the above photo was taken, LT bought Big Red. Makes perfect sense. I wonder if he bought an existing utility truck with the roof rack and giant cow catcher on the front. The early photos show them already in place complete with the same bends and dents that are present today.

LT Gotchy photos from Califa

Christmas 2013