Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

May 6, 2014

This old truck

Rare '53 REO Gold Comet was once a workhorse

CANNONSBURG — This old truck hauled a lot of tomatoes, and a little bit of house coal, back when Rex Owens owned it.

“I worked on that truck in the ’60s and ’70s,” said veteran mechanic Denny Crisp, who now owns the 1953 REO Gold Comet used by Owens, his late neighbor, to deliver coal to homes in and around Boyd County.

The old truck has stirred a few memories in the days since it was recently revealed from the back of the parking lot during a cleanup project at Crisp’s Garage on Cannonsburg Road and pulled closer to the highway.

“It’s never been wrecked or rim-racked,” Crisp said, noting the truck still has its original green paint, with body parts that have not rusted through despite being exposed to the elements for the past few years. The wooden bed Owens installed had long since rotted, Crisp said, and had to be removed and hauled to the nearby landfill.

“It ain’t never been painted — green!” Crisp said when asked about the truck’s original color, causing garage buddy Sam Meek to chime in and note it has developed a bit of a brown, or rust-colored hue, since it rolled out of the factory in Michigan. Meek said his inner gearhead recently caused him to lift the hood on the Reo and check out the big in-line six-cylinder engine. A well-worn placard near the back of the engine area would reveal many of the truck’s secrets, he said, although the information isn’t especially easy to read.

As a mechanic for many years, Crisp said the REO has always been a machine he appreciates.

“It’s got a five-speed transmission and a two-speed rear end. It was a pretty good truck, I think. As a matter of fact, I about learned to drive in one of these,” he said, pausing and looking the truck over before adding, “And, the tires are still up on it.”

“Old 10-ply tires,” Meek added.

Danny Wright of Cannonsburg grew up across the road from the Owens family, and remembers Owens taking great care of the green machine with red wooden stake-side bed.

“That was his pride and joy. It never stayed out. It was always kept in a garage,” Wright said, recalling the Owenses used the truck to haul coal for the furnace in their basement, but otherwise used the REO to haul the tomatoes they grew at their greenhouses a few doors down from the Cannonsburg Volunteer Fire Department.

“Oh, it’s rare,” said Wright, a retired school-bus mechanic. “There’s probably not many of those left.”

From road tractors and fire trucks to wreckers, rock haulers and log trucks, the REO Gold Comet was a truck that took many forms and enjoyed a great reputation from those who relied upon them. Based in Lansing, Mich., the REO Motor Car Co. stayed in business from 1905 to 1975. The company took its name from the initials of founder, Ransom E. Olds, rather than deal with legal battles from the company that eventually became Oldsmobile. REO cars, trucks and buses featured numerous innovations. The REO name has also lived on in popular culture with vehicles featured in numerous films, as well as the names of bands including REO Speedwagon (named for one of the company’s light delivery trucks) and Diamond Rio (a misspelled version of a truck model).

Crisp said he likes to believe he and his son, Denny Jr. (also known as Little Denny or Bud), probably would have found a good use for the big truck.

“If Bud would have lived, we planned to make a car hauler out of it,” he said.

The truck certainly needs some work, Crisp said, adding he still has a set of engine gaskets for it in his garage. Once restored, he said he’s seen similar models sell for between $25,000 and $35,000.

TIM PRESTON can be reached at tpreston@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2651.

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