Phil Rich of Riddle first saw the 1958 Chevrolet pickup as it sat in the front yard of a Tri City residence. The owner was ready to let it go for $1,200.
While it wasn’t an eyesore, the white and turquoise Chevy wasn’t eye candy, either. Still, its expansive rear window attracted Rich’s attention.
That was about nine years ago. Now, as it prepares to take a few laps around the Graffiti Weekend cruise route Saturday, the buffed and gleaming black raspberry Chevy represents one man’s determination to build the truck of his dreams.
“There aren’t many 1958s out there with the big back window,” said Rich, 66. “You see more of the ’55s through ’57s; there are not too many customized ’58s.”
“We get some amazing responses from people just driving down the road,” said his wife, Lynn Rich, 65.
Graffiti cruisers can encounter any number of roadblocks on the way to achieving the look and condition they want for their vintage vehicles. Sometimes it’s a lack of time. Often it’s a shortage of money. Though the Riches weren’t on a timetable when they acquired the Chevy, they didn’t expect to be derailed by medical emergencies.
“His two heart attacks slowed us down a bit,” said Lynn Rich, speaking calmly about what had to be a frightening time for them both.
The first heart attack struck Phil Rich in 2007, about four years after he retired from teaching science at the now-closed Canyonville Junior High. The next one was a year later. But even life-threatening setbacks couldn’t keep him from making slow but steady progress on converting the Chevy to a collector’s item. “I kept it going all the time,” he said.
The work had started with a trip to Bob Saily Automotive near Riddle, where Saily rebuilt the engine.
“I put in the drive train and made it drivable and runnable,” Saily said. He remembered the truck as “an absolute disaster” when it first arrived, after having sat out in all types of weather for many years.
“It had a six-cylinder at the time and was basically like a farm truck,” Rich recalled. “Bob built me a 383 stroker — it’s a 350 engine with a 400 crank, and a mild race cam gives it 425 horsepower.”
Saily also fabricated the Chevy and gave it a 1976 Camaro front clip, or suspension, which Rich said makes it ride less like a farm truck and more like a car. He also installed power steering.
Jake’s Auto Center in Canyonville redid the exhaust system.
For body work, the Riches hired a Winchester man who asked not to identified. Phil Rich said they decided to narrow the bed by 1½ inches, which led to other adjustments, and fabricated the Chevy’s rear with custom taillights “to make it look like a hot-rod pickup truck.”
Rich did some work himself, putting in the seats and carpeting and lining the bed with black walnut. Lynn Rich suggested he do the same for the headliner in the cab over the seats.
“Everybody does metal or fabric there,” she said. “Being a woman, I like the idea of things matching.”
At first, Lynn Rich said her sole participation in the project was making phone calls to get parts, which was no small task. But she admitted she also helped her husband install new seats and lent a hand with the body work.
“I was feeling the metal and trying to find dings in it,” said Rich, who worked at the front desk of the Seven Feathers Casino Resort’s hotel before her retirement.
The Riches opted to get a Rhino Linings finish applied not only in the pickup’s bed, but underneath the whole body, to prevent chipping and cut down on noise.
Though Lynn Rich said there’s always something new that could be done to the pickup, the couple say it’s mostly finished to their satisfaction. They’ve been taking the pickup to various car shows in the area and are getting kudos from others who appreciate the custom work they’ve had done. They picked up People’s Choice Award at a recent Tri City car show sponsored by Frontier Communications.
Lynn Rich still gets emotional when she tells of the Vietnam veteran who approached them at last year’s Sutherlin Blackberry Festival.
The man’s grandfather had owned a ’58 Chevy pickup, and the vet had fond memories of those times. “You guys did an awesome job,” he told the Riches.
Phil Rich said the customization project has “unquestionably” been worthwhile. It’s also the last one he’ll take on, he said.
“This is it; this is the one I wanted to do,” he said. But a moment later, he admitted it’s possible another rig in need of TLC might come along one day.
His wife, who clearly enjoys seeing her husband’s contentment with the Chevy, said she’s only driven it a few times. One day she’ll take it for a spin, she said. But for now, accompanying the pickup to the Graffiti cruise is as much excitement as she needs.
“I just like sitting in the passenger seat, waving at everybody,” she said.
• You can reach Assistant City Editor Tricia Jones at 541-957-4216 or email@example.com.