In '96, Don got new orders to go to Omaha, Nebraska, and in '97 he joined the Great Plains F-100 club. The first thing the guys in the club recommended was to ditch the '54's stock straight-axle frontend. Don mentioned the switch to Brian Coffman, a friend of his in the Air Force, and the next thing he knew Brian was welding on a Mustang II frontend. One thing lead to another, and Brian and Don removed the cab and bed from the chassis and tore into replacing the cab corners while having the gas tank dipped. Don wire-brushed the frame, and since he was using the '54 as a daily driver, he figured undercoating would fare better in the rain and slush than paint. While the can and body were still off the truck, Don and Brian made a custom dual-exhaust system featuring a pair of Flowmaster mufflers. As the '54 went back together, the steel wheels and engine ended up getting painted Guards Red, while the truck's exterior was finished off in black primer. Before Don completed the '54, he received orders to head over to South Korea. Brian completed the truck and then delivered it from Omaha to Don's hometown of Lewistown, Pennsylvania.
After surviving a couple of years of kimchee and South Korea's crazy drivers, Don received new orders to head to Dahlgren, Virginia. Don swung by Lewistown, packed up his '54, and headed to Dahlgren. The daily drive of 60 miles back and forth to his job and a 460-mile round trip home to Lewistown for the weekends took its toll on the 400-inch Chevy, so it started to burn oil and smoke. About this time, Don met a hot rodder named Jim Gardiner who had a home shop. Don and Jim pulled the 400 out and tore it down. After the motor came back from the machine shop with a fresh valve job and a .030 overbore, Jim reassembled the engine with a Crane cam before installing the heads and Edelbrock intake manifold. When the motor was dropped back into the truck, Jim connected a set of Hedman headers to the existing Flowmaster exhaust system. Before the '54 was ready to roll out of Jim's shop, he rewired the truck from the ground up utilizing a wiring harness from the folks at Painless.
With the major mechanical operations and the heavy bodywork out of the way, the next phase for the '54 was paint and interior. For custom paint, Don looked to his cousin Jeremy Wagner and his auto body business, the Bump Shop. Along with Darren Amspacker, Jeremy final-prepped the '54 and shot it in RM Diamont Guards Red and Fleet White. Upon reassembly, the Bump Shop handled installing the one-piece side and rear window. It's not Don's idea of what he wants for his ultimate interior, but along with his cousin Jeremy, the two did a pretty good job of throwing together a makeshift interior for the truck.
Since Don's retirement from the Navy, he's taken every opportunity to drive the '54 as much as possible. He tells us that his 8-year-old daughter Ericka loves riding in the truck. "She wants me to take her to school in it. In fact, every time I get in it, she wants to come along. From spring to fall, my daughter and I always cruise at least once a week to the local ice-cream stand."
A sheet of polished stainless steel creates the illusion the oak bed floor by Jim Eckley i
Jim Gardiner was also responsible for installing the Painless wiring harness. Gauges are f