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By Greg Williams
Once a tired old farm truck his sister-in-law wanted off her property, Walter Short has given a 1951 Dodge B-2-B pickup a new lease on life.
Short was given the Dodge when his sister-in-law cleaned up her yard.
The old truck then sat outside his garage just southwest of High River, Alta. for a couple of years while he formulated a plan. Instead of restoring the pickup, he decided to put the cab and box on a later Dodge truck platform. Searching Kijiji for a suitable donor, Short turned up a 1991 Dodge Dakota. Equipped with a 318 cubic-inch engine and automatic transmission, Short says he bought the donor Dakota for $800 and drove it home. It showed 134,000 kilometres on the odometer, and it is mileage that Short believes.
“Mechanically, it was sound,” Short says, and adds, “it started and ran nice, but somebody had made a mess stripping all of the emissions equipment off of it.”
No stranger to things mechanical, Short holds four journeyman’s trade tickets, all earned at SAIT. He laughs, and says he’s got more training than he needs. As a youngster, his mom handed him a pair of pliers and a screwdriver and told him to keep himself occupied tinkering with an old washing machine. His dad was a mechanic, and also helped foster an appreciation for working on all things mechanical. At age 12, Short built a mini-bike out of a discarded bed frame and a rototiller engine. Motorcycles took on special appeal for Short, especially off-road machines. He competed in enduro racing, and took part in several International Six Day Enduro, or ISDE, events. He spent most of his life working in an agricultural equipment dealership before selling the business and moving into building oilfield equipment, and then took a management position in construction.
That’s where he was working when, in May during the COVID lockdown, he was laid off after some major contracts were cancelled. With time on his hands, Short dove into the Dodge project. His first goal was to remove the 1951 cab and box from the old Dodge chassis. He did this job in a hip-roof barn on his property he built using reclaimed wood sourced from oilfield equipment shipping pallets. Then, working in his heated two-car garage, Short repaired any of the 1951 Dodge sheet metal that needed attention
“It really wasn’t too bad,” he says of the truck’s condition. “There were some poorly done fixes on the fenders from 40 or 50 years ago that needed to be undone, but nothing too
After completing body repairs, Short painted the Dodge red using thinned Tremclad paint in his air-powered spray gun. Everything was then sealed off with a clearcoat. Next, he stripped the cab and box off of the 1991 Dakota chassis and began measuring the frame. To accept the older ’51 body parts, the frame of the ’91 Dakota needed to be shortened and new body mounts welded to the rails.
“I wanted the old cab and box to look stock on the newer chassis,” Short says of his ultimate goal in completing the union. “I wanted it to look like a stock truck.”
With the two trucks married together, Short began working on the details. At some point in the life of the ‘51, a large hole had been cut in the left side of the dash. Short simply installed the instrument cluster from the Dakota in this space and hooked everything up, including the speedometer. All of the steering wheel controls, including cruise and intermittent wiper switches, are present and accounted for. The instruments from the ’51 are still in place, but none of them are hooked up – they’re for show only.
“There wasn’t a lot of money spent on this, most of my supplies came from Canadian Tire or Princess Auto,” he says.
From a wrecked Dodge Journey, Short harvested the second-row seats and repurposed these to fit the cab of the ’51 Dodge. Mechanically, Short replaced the timing chain and valve seals together with a number of other gaskets. Brakes and bearings were replaced, and the front end rebuilt with new bushings – the ball joints, though, were still serviceable. A new seal went in the rear of the transmission and Short serviced the differential. The driveshaft also needed to be shortened and balanced.
“That was a $450 touch, and the driveshaft and the price of the Dakota was most of the $2,500 I figure I’ve got in the truck,” Short says.
By mid-August, the 1951 B-2-B/1991 Dakota was on the road. He now often uses it as a daily driver, and just days before we spoke, he’d driven it to Calgary to pick up lumber for a household project.
“It’s just like driving a Dakota with some character,” Short says. “Sometimes, you forget what you’re driving around in.”
(Greg Williams is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC). Have a column tip? Contact him at 403-287-1067 or [email protected])