Curbside Classic: 1959 Chevrolet Apache 32 Fleetside and 1953 Budger Trailer – If This Trailer Is A Rockin’…Don’t Come A Knockin’!

(first posted 2/26/2011. Since we’re getting ready to hit the road again tomorrow in the van, this one came to mind)

Let’s hit the road, honey! I’ve got the truck all ready to roll; how’re you doin’ back there stocking the trailer? Don’t forget the wine, beer and the…other goodies!

The morning sun is reflecting off the polished aluminum of the 1953 Budger and this old Chevy truck looks downright eager to get rolling. The lure of the open road! Let’s slide behind the big wheel of this 1959 Apache 32, fire up the 235 six, blip the throttle, slip it into first, and gently let out the clutch as that little bit of slack in the ball hitch takes up, and we’re off. Where are we going? Who cares? The great escape rig is in our hands, the trailer’s stocked; anywhere…

Don’t get me started; I’m about ready for a break into the deep woods. We’ll just have to use our imaginations of all the places this traveling pair have been over the many decades.

Unfortunately, they don’t have one of those collections of vintage stickers in the window of all the places you’d been, to impress your friends and bring back the memories in later years. But this trailer has something even better:

This little sign on the door says it all. I need to make one of those for our Chinook; but then we rarely camp in sight of any other folks anyway, so that’s not usually a problem. Well, I’ve kind of jumped ahead here, but that sign is awesome, and really does more justice than anything I can add. Something about the fresh air…

If this setting looks more California than Oregon, you’re right. We do get out, and I keep the camera handy. I found this rig in San Mateo while visiting family there over the past Holidays, and did it ever speak loudly to me. I have a real thing for old trucks and really, really so for old trailers. I’ve thought about finding a vintage trailer like this to hitch up to our old Ford F-100. But we like to get seriously far away from it all, on rough gravel roads and worse, and a trailer can be a real liability in some of those settings. The Chinook is short, sits fairly high, and has dual rear wheels, my version of four-wheel drive. And I can turn it around on a narrow forest road. So I’m stuck gazing longingly, especially at the interiors of these old timers:

Now I could only get one quick shot through the door window, and it looks like some remodeling is under way. But take a look at all that mellow varnished clear plywood. If you’re not familiar with vintage trailers and RVs, it’s the interiors that really set them apart. They were all like this, more or less; clear wood everywhere, solid hardware and sturdy appliances. There’s a reason these old timers fetch pretty good prices nowadays. Stepping into a new RV will almost have you gasping for breath from all the off-gassing from new synthetic materials and carpets. An overdose of  “factory air” is not what I have in mind when I’m sleeping in the woods.

It took just a quick google to get a bit of background info about Budger Mfg. Co., which was in Burbank, and later in Sun Valley. They built some smaller trailers like this, but their real specialty was in their revolutionary “EXPANDO-HOME”, perhaps the first pull-out travel trailer, in 1952 no less.

Americans are such an inventive bunch when they’re motivated. And travel trailers were a hot item in the post-war years, especially in the fifties. Maybe some returning GIs were just not ever ready to settle down again, but then the covered wagon tradition is pretty deeply ingrained in the national psyche.

The new interstate highway system that was getting started in the fifties played right into that too, of course. And cars were getting more powerful, at least in relative terms. Still, compared to what we consider as proper tow vehicles, it was totally different world. So let’s talk about this one a bit.

This Chevy is the last year of the “Task Force” generation that appeared in 1955. Now I’m partial to the very classy and clean single-headlight face of the ’55 & ’56, and we’ll take a closer look at one here soon. But this is still a very handsome truck, now known as an Apache 32, no less.

The big news on the ’58 models, which is virtually identical to this ’59, was the new Fleetside bed. It marked the beginning of a sea change in pick-up beds, from the traditional Stepside to this. It took traditionalists a while to make the change, and these Fleetside beds are none to common on this vintage. Within a few years, they were soon in the majority.

Truth be told, I don’t know if this truck has the 283 (4.7L) V8 or the good old Blue Flame  235 CID (3.8 L) six under the hood, actually called the Thrift Master by this time. The GM bean counters saw fit to not bestow the trucks with the big V that was so prominently displayed on the passenger cars to reward those buyers that made that wise (more profitable) choice.

In the trucks, the 283 was detuned to a modest 160 (gross) hp, to maximize its low-speed torque. This was before the horsepower wars spilled over into trucks. And the six: 135 hp gross, (109 net). But if you wanted less (!) the 1959 Chevy Truck Operator’s Manual also lists an “Economy Option” version of the six rated at 110 gross hp. That would be a two figure number in net rating. But these sixes had a very rich torque curve, and would just keep chugging away, no matter how many beers were stashed in the trailer fridge. (Update: the owner left a comment telling us that it has a blue-printed 235)

This one has a the standard three-speed on the tree, which is a bit less than ideal for trailering, even with the low geared axles of the times. The super-low granny first gear on the floor-shifted four-speeds came in very handy when trying to start on a grade. Ask me about my horror stories pulling a 7,000 lb trailer/Bobcat with my three-speed six cylinder Ford. Yikes! I’ve given that up in my old age.

Let’s end up with the trailer again. This one has some nice historical documentation, including this dealer’s plaque securely attached to withstand the decades. Looks like this trailer has been based in the Bay Area all its life. Now I should point out that the truck and trailer are not a matched pair per se; who knows when they first hooked up. The trailer is distinctly older than the truck; that was apparent at first sight. Trailer styling evolved right along with everything else. I figured late forties or very early fifties.

Here’s the tell-tale: the undoubtedly original plate, with its “53” intact. Now the plate surround is another matter; my gut tells me it was filched from a car, given its Oklahoma City provenance.

Well, enough rattling on about arcane historical details. Let’s get out of here and show our shiny tails before everyone wakes up.