BY KIM LUTTRELL firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — Last year about this time, local businessman Gary Knight was watching a classic car auction show on cable TV.
“Being in the car business, plus being a ‘car guy,’ I always enjoy watching these shows when I can,” Knight said. “This particular program had some real nice vintage trucks that were up for auction.”
That is when Knight, president of Carmack Car Capitol, developed his idea for a way to raise funds for the area’s homeless veterans.
Knight contacted Susan Gutterridge, president of the Midwest Veterans Association, about his idea of restoring a vintage truck with community volunteers and then raffle it off with the money raised to go to help homeless veterans in our area.
“I knew about Susan and her group through their Thunder Ride that they have held for the past several years and have been able to help as one of the sponsors for the ride,” Knight said. “I envisioned this project would be a community project that everyone could become involved in.
“While I never served,” Knight said. “I feel this is an opportunity to help out those that did. Our aim is for the money to be used to help house and feed those veterans that need help. The money could be used for food, as deposit on an apartment or to help pay back rent to prevent a veteran from losing their home.”
“Our group (Midwest Veterans Association) was organized with the intent to help or prevent veterans from becoming homeless,” Gutterridge said.
“On any given day, there are some 58,000 veterans that are homeless across the country. These are people who have served their country and shouldn’t have to worry about a place to sleep at night.”
Gutterridge took Knight’s proposal to the group’s board of directors and received its enthusiastic approval for the project.
The project, formally known as the Homeward Bound Patriot Truck Restoration Project, began with Knight scouring the countryside for the right truck to restore. Knight said he would drive around the area and as he did he would look behind barns and sheds searching for the right truck.
“It was during a conversation with my barber that I learned about an old 1954 Chevrolet 3100 5-window pickup truck,” Knight explained. “The truck was in pieces and the title was held by Teepak Credit Union.”
Knight immediately contacted Gutterridge, who contacted the credit union and with the consent of its board, the truck was donated to the group.
“I sent a trailer to pick up the truck and all of its pieces,” Knight said with a laugh.
Knight said he knew he needed to generate community support, so he took the truck pieces on that trailer to last year’s Thunder Ride event and then to Kennekuk County Park’s car show to let people see it and get some interest in it.
An organizational meeting was held last August to begin getting volunteers to work on the truck. At that meeting, three project leaders were chosen for different phases of the restoration.
Mike Shutes, instructor in automotive technology at Danville Area Community College, was chosen as one of the project leaders.
“I had originally saw the truck on its trailer, parked at NAPA Auto Parts, and went in to inquire if it was for sale,” Shutes said. “They explained that it wasn’t for sale and what was going to be done with it.”
Shutes said that he volunteered his classes at DACC to help with the restoration.
“This was a perfect project for my classes to get involved in,” Shutes said. “Not only do I have some veterans in my classes, I have some young people and thought it would be a great way for them to do something for their community. In addition a lot of my students are here through College Express, which means they are high school students and a lot of them either have had family members serve in the military or plan on joining the military after graduating from high school.”
Additionally, Shutes said the hands-on experience the students received was a huge benefit for them.
“You can read in a textbook or look at a video of how to do some of this work, but to actually be able to get hands-on experience is just so much better,” Shutes added.
Shutes’ classes rebuilt the brakes, front and rear suspension and differential.
“Wilson’s Transmission Shop totally rebuilt the transmission, which was a great help to us,” Shutes said.
Shutes also said that some of the welding classes worked on the car by doing some welding on the frame that needed a few repairs and modifications.
While Shutes and his classes were working on the truck frame and other mechanics, another project leader was doing his part. Chuck Shikany, a self-described gear-head, began a two-and-half month job of rebuilding the engine for the truck.
“It is a 400 small block that we had bored out to 408 cubic inches,” Shikany said. “It has a new header, cams, carburetor and high-efficiency ignition on it.”
He said Phil’s Automotive Machine Shop donated its work on boring out the engine block.
Shikany, who has worked on engines as a hobby all of his life, said he is proud to be associated with the project.
“We owe those people that served,” Shikany said.
Shutes’ classes wrapped up their portion of the work at the end of last semester at DACC and sent the cab and chassis to the next project leader, Steve Tucker of Ultra Body Shop in Belgium.
Tucker, who has done body work for Knight’s car dealership for several years, said his job will entail attaching the cab back to the chassis, rebuilding the truck bed and installing the engine. He will finish it off with a complete paint job.
“My main work is in car restoration,” Tucker said. “There aren’t a lot of guys around that want to spend the time working on the classics because they take so much time.”
According to Knight, after the truck leaves Tucker’s body shop, it will go to Scott’s Trim Shop for upholstery work. Then there is rewiring and the installation of a sound system, which are being donated.
“That is an interesting story in itself,” Knight said. “When we had the truck on display at the Kennekuk car show, a young man came by and looked it over and learned what we wanted to do.”
Knight said the young man said he did wiring and sound systems for cars and volunteered to do all of that.
“We have had great community involvement in this so far,” Knight said. “We have had tires and rims donated. We had an exhaust shop in Paxton donate the exhaust system for it.”
Knight said the group is still collecting donations to go toward purchasing parts for the restoration.
“I am just so encouraged at all of the response we have had so far on this project and I am excited to see it through to the end,” Knight said.
According to Knight, the goal is to have the truck completed by Memorial Day weekend when it will be unveiled at a car show on the grounds of the VA Illiana Health Care System.
“We then plan on displaying it all summer long at different car shows, at the businesses of some of our contributors and finally raffling it off at the Thunder Ride on Aug. 2 at the airport,” Knight said. “Tickets will be $50 each for a chance to own this truck.”