A faded orange 1943 power pole digger truck sat in an open field, slowly deteriorating, for years until Valley Electric Association (VEA) brought the historic vehicle back to life.
Six months ago, CEO Tom Husted didn’t even know the truck existed. Then one day, an employee showed him a photo of the truck on a trailer as part of a “Past and Present” float in a community parade. When Husted asked what happened to the truck after the parade, he learned that it had been donated to a local museum.
After learning that the Chevrolet truck was his company’s first mechanized piece of equipment, Husted was determined to get the historic vehicle back in the hands of the Pahrump, Nevada-based co-op. When an employee visited the Pahrump Valley Museum, he found the truck in the back lot and in dire need of restoration and repair.
VEA talked to the museum board, and the board agreed that it was beyond its means to restore the truck, so the co-op forged a deal and traded some services. In exchange for the truck, Valley Electric Association dug some holes and partnered with a local general contractor to perform some concrete work at the museum.
Reviving the Historic Truck
Three months ago, VEA took the truck to Top Notch Repairs, an auto repair shop in Pahrump, for a complete restoration. Fortunately, 95% of the truck’s original components were still intact. The shop only had to refabricate some isolated trim pieces like windshield trim and two back taillights.
As part of the chassis-up restoration, however, the mechanics and machinists had to completely strip the truck and remove the body and frame. After they had rebuilt the vintage truck, they painted and undercoated all the components and transformed the dingy, pale orange color to a bright orange reminiscent of the co-op’s original equipment.
“It was a complete restoration from the top down because it had completely deteriorated,” Husted says. “They worked around the clock. By the end, they had spent more than 2,000 hours restoring our truck.”
Butch Caple, manager of support services for VEA, stopped by to check on the restoration process twice a week to ensure that everything was staying on schedule. After the restoration was complete, VEA unveiled the truck to dignitaries in the community, the museum board, and current and past co-op employees. Veteran linemen who remembered using the truck out in the field were appreciative of the fact that VEA was able to not only get the truck back, but also spend the time and money to restore it back to its original condition, Husted said.
“There was a sense of pride,” Husted says. “Previous employees saw it as a sign of respect for our utility’s heritage and for those employees who worked here at that time.”
Showcasing the Vintage Vehicle
Today, VEA has more than 150 pieces of equipment in its fleet. The co-op’s millions of dollars worth of equipment represent a vast change from the 70-year-old digger truck.
For example, the historic vehicle can only go up to about 40 mph, and it requires a multiperson operation to set up and operate the truck safely. Also, because the truck was from 1943, it doesn’t have the safety features of today’s equipment. It only served one purpose: to dig holes for the placement of utility poles. Linemen used the truck in the VEA service territory until 1969, when it was put out of service.
VEA, which is an aggregation of two utilities that merged back in the mid-1960s, stores the vintage truck in its fleet management services facility to keep it protected from the elements. On occasion, it will show off the truck for parades, local car shows and civic events.
“We can drive it now, and it’s a working piece of equipment,” Husted says. “Our linemen could even take it out in the field, but of course, today, they have access to equipment that represents the latest in efficiency and technology. It’s a part of our history, and we are extremely proud of it.”
Top Notch Repairs, LLC | www.topnotchrepairs.us
Valley Electric Cooperative | www.vea.coop