Dad’s Wonderful Truck

By on September 8, 2014
Dads-Wonderful-Truck

This truck was really something back in 1986 — a jaw-dropping showpiece, even though it was a daily working truck for owner-operator Duane Furry. The pinstriping, the chrome and the lights made everyone take a second look. And in that second look, the details were astounding.

“At the time I started working on it the truck was paid for, so I was going to get taxed a lot for owning my semi. Or, I could reinvest in the truck for my tax depreciation,” Duane says. “There simply wasn’t a new truck out there that I liked better than my ’71 Pete. So every year I would do something to it, just dumping money back into it to get that tax deduction.”

The grille had a one-of-a-kind, hand-engraved design. The corner caps and fenders had cutouts of stars and the names of Duane’s children. Inside, everything was beautifully crafted — furnishings Duane built from scratch with wood that he engraved, burned and shellacked. His wife spent hours sewing seat covers, door panels and the head liner, which was trimmed in mirrors.

It had a lot of years and lot of miles on it, but “The Magician” was so immaculate and so unique that when Illinois resident Duane entered a few California truck beauty shows it snatched first place again and again, much to the dismay of local entrants who had hired top-tier customizers to design their show trucks.

He was the only out-of-state truck in the California competitions, driving in from Chicago to compete. Those wins were good, but he was ready to bring The Magician in for a big truck beauty competition in Las Vegas, right after he dropped a load of strawberries. A lot of people were rooting for this guy who came out of nowhere, and his remarkable truck. But he never got there.

Two days before the Las Vegas show in 1986, Furry was driving down an unlit mountain road. It was dark. A drunk driver, with the intention of harming herself, was driving the other way with her headlights turned off. She came straight at him. He swerved to avoid her. The truck hit the mountain fast and hard.

Permanently parked

Much as he wanted to restore the badly damaged truck, Duane couldn’t find the parts.

He also couldn’t bring himself to get rid of it. So the crumpled Pete stayed with him, moving from one spot to the next for decades. By 2013 it was entombed in a bed of weeds on Duane’s Charleston, Ill., farm. Everyone figured that would be its final resting place. Everyone except Duane’s daughter Amber.

“I was looking at a photograph of Dad looking into the truck, and at that moment I just couldn’t take the truck being apart anymore,” Amber says. “Everyone around town knows Dad, and how particular he is and how he kept his equipment — very shiny, very pretty, very nice, very detailed. He was a man before his time, and his style can be seen on today’s show trucks.” Amber decided to restore The Magician herself, despite having zero truck-restoring skills.

“I didn’t know how I was going to do it,” she says. “I was just bound and determined. I see that truck, and I see my Dad — I’m prideful of what he’s done. That truck shined and he shined around it. I just couldn’t take it sitting anymore.”

She read. She researched. She asked questions — too many questions to her dad and his old trucking buddies, so he finally asked her what she was doing.

“Oh, honey, those parts are long gone,” he told her, once she revealed her plan.

But Amber had resources that Duane didn’t have in the 1980s.

“Even now, 1971 Pete 359 parts are hard to get hold of,” she says. “But back then there was no Internet, so you couldn’t find them even if they were out there.”

She found a 1974 359 on eBay, sitting just 45 minutes away, and bought it for its parts. She updated her progress on her Facebook page and word started spreading. Encouragement and tips came from drivers and mechanics, including many who remembered her Dad and his wonderful truck from years back.

ChiTown Large Cars, a group of drivers who are passionate about trucks, learned about her project and asked her to join the organization. They helped spread the word about The Magician restoration project. Those hard-to-find parts started to be a little easier to find.

“They are my feelers out there for parts,” Amber says. “I was able to get a set of steel bunk steps that are very rare from someone in Fontana, California. We had to change the bell housing on the engine to match the ’71 and I found that in Oregon. They have been so supportive and helpful.”

Reacquainted with old friends

But what made The Magician special was not the parts that a truck manufacturer made. Amber knew that recreating the detail was going to be her biggest challenge.

The engraved grille was lost after the accident, and Amber searched desperately for a replacement. Nobody had anything remotely like it. She tried to track down the original artist. Duane hadn’t seen him in 30 years. All he remembered was his first name: Travis. He didn’t want her to get her hopes up. There was no way she would find him. But Amber kept looking.

“I’ll be darned if I didn’t wake up to a text message on my phone,” Amber says. “It said, ‘This is Travis. I’m the one who engraved on your Dad’s grille.’”

These days, Travis lives in Louisiana and puts his engraving artwork on knives that he sells online. But he’s decided that he’ll do one more truck. He’s coming to Charleston to recreate his original work — Amber finally tracked down an actual 1971 grille. “All the parts are year-correct besides the walk-in sleeper, and that was customized by dad originally so he’d have more room,” she reports proudly.

The original pinstriper also heard about the project, and will come from his home in Canada to work on the restoration.

“Back in the day, Dad would pull in to truckstops and these guys would come by to work on the truck, using it as an example of what they could do so that they could get more jobs,” Amber says. “It was the fine detail that made that truck. Friends that I grew up with tell me now, ‘I remember when you pulled up in that truck. We thought your Dad was a rock star.’”

Building excitement

The to-do list keeps getting smaller, so now it’s merely a matter of time before The Magician reappears on the road.

There’s some wiring to be done. The top of the cab needs repainting. Air conditioning needs to be redone. The interior needs a little bit of work. Amber works at two jobs so her spare time is limited, but she and Duane work on the truck whenever they can.

“This truck is what put food on our table,” Amber says. “Not only was it gorgeous, but it’s what fed us. When I was a kid, it was my jungle gym.

“I’m very close to my dad. He’s the one who has always been there for me, who has picked me up when I’ve fallen, and it’s not even a glimpse of what I can return to him than to put his   truck back on the road for him.”

  • Over the years, Duane got offers on the truck, but he wouldn’t sell it.
  • Amber at age 4, proudly posing by Daddy’s truck
  • Amber tackles the transmission during rebuild
  • Bringing in the new engine
  • Duane, in the mid-1980s, with the Magician in its heyday
  • Dad, daughter and granddaughter have fun working on the truck

About Nancy Henderson

Nancy Henderson is the managing editor of Road King magazine.

2 Comments

  1. Brian G

    August 29, 2014 at 4:23 am

    God Bless that loving trucker kid, all grown up & appreciative !

  2. mark myers

    September 10, 2014 at 4:52 pm

    what a great story.truckin for 33 years i have lots of good memories with my girls riding along.lots of old Pete parts around my area….”THE 814″ exit 110 Pa turnpike

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