When I saw the recent post by Jim Klein on the be-campered Plymouth Trail Duster, I knew I needed to dig out these pics I’ve been sitting on for many months. I saw this beauty–an Alaskan barn find 1950 Chevy 4400 Railroad Express delivery van, according to the for sale sign–at a local consignment dealership that has a mostly later model inventory, but which always seems to have a few classics in the mix. Whether it was actually found in a barn in Alaska is unknown, but the Alaskan license plate at least tells us the Alaska part is probably true.
At first, I thought that this must have been a home-built camper on the chassis of an old truck, but that box looks a little too professional, a little too robust to be your average homemade RV. Indeed, a cursory Google search turns up an almost identical 51 Chevy 4400 for sale in Utah.
This one is labeled as a “Railway Express,” which given some further Googling, leads me to believe that this truck was first used as a delivery truck for the Railway Express Agency. Even the color scheme matches on the one in Utah.
Here’s another one, with the badges intact.
The Railway Express Agency was a package delivery service from 1918 to 1975, much in the vein of UPS or FedEx today, that primarily used existing rail infrastructure in its delivery system. In the post-WWII period, the Railway Express Agency focused primarily on its refrigerated express service, and presumably refrigerated packages needed last-mile delivery from the refrigerated rail cars to homes and businesses. Now the shape and construction of this truck makes more sense: it was almost certainly a refrigerated delivery truck in its first incarnation.
If it was a refrigerated box truck, it’s conversion into a camper for use in Alaska makes a lot of sense. The interior is relatively spacious, but more importantly, it’s likely well insulated and water tight. All the better to keep you warm and cozy when it’s 60 below before the wind chill.
This wood stove should heat things up nicely.
The For Sale sign gives all the relevant details. With a 327 replacing the old splash-oiling 216 (which yes was the standard engine even in this heavy duty truck) and what appears to be a good bit of recent mechanical work, it looks like this truck is ready for more wilderness adventures in the frosty north. Let’s just hope the 5.43 or 6.17 ratio in the rear axle has been made more highway friendly, or it’s going to take a long time to get up there. A little rich for my budget, but damn if it isn’t tempting.