As we make our way through our daily commute, it’s not unusual to see a couple tow trucks somewhere along the way. You might see one of those flat bed, roll back wreckers, or one of the more traditional boom style trucks, you may even come across one of those tow trucks heavy enough to pull a big rig out of a ditch. Whatever the case, tow trucks are a common sight in this mechanized world we live in today, and the folks that operate them are a different breed all together. These folks are known for getting the job done, and are normally very proud of their rigs, no matter how large, or how small, they also take great pride in the appearance of their vehicles. Fancy paint jobs and contrasting colors are most common.
For folks that take to the roads around the City of Saint Petersburg, along the west central Gulf Coast of Florida, there is a very good chance they will happen across a very pretty black satin tow truck with orange trim, and lots of intricate pin striping. However, this tow truck is radically different than any other truck on the west coast of Florida, it looks different, sounds different, drives different, and it’s just different, why? Well, this particular tow truck is a 1926 Ford Model T, a true hot rod wrecker, created by local builder and lifelong automotive enthusiast, Rick Schall.
Rick Schall has resided in the city of Saint Petersburg, Florida his entire life, he was born and raised within the city limits and other than the four years in the United States Marine Corp. Schall has never called anywhere else home. He has always had an above average, mechanical aptitude, and although he hasn’t admitted it, those that know him best, will tell you he has always been taking something apart, just to see how it worked. Other than a short course on small engine repair during his high school years, Schall never received any formal mechanical training until he enlisted in the Marine Corp.
While serving with the Marine Corp. Schall trained on the mechanics of heavy equipment, diesel, and tracked vehicles, his primary job was to maintain, and repair the Abrams M-1A1 assault vehicle, or more commonly known as, a bad a$$ tank. As part of Schall’s duties, he operated a piece of equipment known as a retriever, there are many technical terms that can be used to describe exactly what the retriever is but simply put, it’s a very large, tracked vehicle used to recover other very large tracked vehicles in need of repair, in short, a tank tow truck.
Schall returned home to Saint Petersburg after being honorably discharged from the Marine Corp and put his military training to good use. Schall secured employment with the city of Saint Petersburg, where he worked maintaining the fleet of buses operated by the city. Again, Schall would be required to operate a tow truck when necessary, to return a malfunctioning bus to the city garage. After several years with the city, Schall saw opportunity to open his own shop, where he could pursue a lifelong ambition.
Early in 1982 Schall opened Bay City Automotive in downtown Saint Petersburg. His vision was to operate a full service repair facility, and to fulfill his aspiration of building a hot rod or two. For the next 10 years, Schall worked on customers vehicles, and began building a reputation not only as an honest repair shop, but as one of the premiere rod builders in the Tampa Bay area. After a successful ten-year tenure, Schall closed his repair shop, and opened a shop dedicated to racing collectables, and memorabilia. As is well documented, the collectable business at the time was the enterprise to be involved with, and it remained so, even to today. While operating his racing collectables and memorabilia, Schall continued to build the occasional hot rod in his small shop out back at his house, to include his hot rod wrecker.
While working his collectables shop one day, a customer, knowing Schall was known as a rod builder, approached him and let him know his dad had an old model T for sale. Schall explained he really had no use for a Model T at the time; he really didn’t want to build another run of the mill T-body roadster, or sedan that everybody and their brother had built before him, so he thanked his customer for letting him know about it, and forgot about it. Several days later the customer returned and informed Schall the T-body was actually a pickup truck, and his dad was still interested in getting rid of it. With this new information in hand, Schall made arrangements to inspect the truck and decide if it was something he might want to work with.
When Schall arrived to inspect the truck, he was somewhat taken back by what he found. “Dude, the thing was literally in pieces.” Schall recalled. “It was a classic example of a total basket case.” After giving it a bit of thought, Schall thought he might try making something a bit different with this thing, like maybe a hot rod wrecker. “It was yellow, it was in pieces, but I thought I might be able to do something with it, I originally considered reselling it, but I changed my mind and opted to keep it as my shop truck.” Schall smiled.
First Factory Production Pickup
In April of 1925, Ford introduced the first factory production pickup truck. This new model would be called the Ford Model T runabout with pickup body. The bed was entirely steel and was 56″ long, 40″ wide, and 13″ tall. The bed featured pockets for side boards, and the tailgate was adjustable. This new model sold new for $281.
Holley 600cfm four-barrel carburetor with electric choke and a standard GM ignition system. Schall used this particular driveline combination as he was more concerned with reliability rather than mega horse power, “I wanted something I could drive on the street without worrying about blowing it up.” Schall laughed.The Hot rod wrecker is powered with a stock, GM 305ci 250 hp V8 engine coupled to a standard GM Turbo-Hydramatic 350 automatic transmission. The combination utilizes a
The interior of the hot rod wrecker features a wild multi-colored cloth seat, door panels and headliner. When questioned about his choice of interior colors Schall explained he just wanted to continue the exterior trim colors to the inside of the truck as well, if you look closely, you will see the pin striping uses the same colors. The custom wood dash by Wabbits Wood Works houses the gold bezeled VDO gauge package, and the wooden Grant steering wheel sits atop a standard GM tilt column. Schall also installed an old Briggs and Stratton piston to function as his shift knob.
Hentschel. The floor of the pickup bed is treated, stained, 2×6 pine, the side boards and the light bar are stained to match the bed of the truck, and are also treated pine. The yellow strobe is functional, and the coach lights on the rear of the truck are from Speedway Motors, the lights are mounted with hand fabricated brackets, that began life as a set of bicycle handle bars. The most distinctive feature on the truck, the towing boom, is really just for show, and was never intended to tow anything. Keeping with his philosophy of repurpose whatever you can, the boom consists of a top section of an old venetian blind as the center post, the two side supports are fabricated from old banisters, the winch comes from an old boat trailer, the springs and rear supports, Schall stole from his son’s mini-bike.The exterior of the truck is a beautiful black satin, with bright orange trim and very intricate multi-colored pin striping by Von
Today Schall runs his hot rod garage with the help of his daughter Rose, at any given time there are normally three or four hot rods in various stages of construction in the shop. Schall uses his hot rod wrecker as a shop truck running parts. “It’s just my work truck” Schall grins. From time to time, Schall will drive the truck to a local show and put the face on the truck, “We started doing that several years ago, I always had a bunch of kids running up to the truck and asking if it was the tow truck from the “Cars” movie, I explained to the kids this truck was much older than that truck, and it could very well be his grandpa.
This hot rod wrecker may not be the prettiest rod you will ever see, and it may not have the mega horse power you might expect to find in a typical hot rod, but you will find a totally unique, absolutely different vehicle, constructed by one man with exacting craftsmanship, and care to the details, a perfect example of what comes out of Ricks’ Hot Rod Garage.