In life there is always someone or something that has made an impression on us. It could be something someone did for us or something that we just can’t get out of our mind. This is a story of one man who, even though he was told no, found a way to bring a piece of history back into his life and give it a forever home. Andy Stewart made possible what seemed impossible with the 1964 Autocar seen here.
Historical truck enthusiasts have seen plenty of Autocars over the years, but sometimes you come in contact with one that is rare, and you can’t help but take notice. I don’t know much about Autocars other than seeing them at the ATHS (American Truck Historical Society) National Conventions and the article I wrote on a 1973 Autocar in the August 2019 issue. Although I may not know much about them, they interest me nonetheless, especially the history of them. Thanks to Chad Johnson (feature truck owner from the July 2021 issue), I had the opportunity to meet Andy and learn more about what makes his old Autocar truck so unique.
Born and raised in the Harrisburg, NC area, Andy is the second generation in the trucking industry in his family. His father owned a grading and trucking company which is where Andy’s love of the industry flourished. By seven or eight years old, when Andy was just able to reach the pedals, his father was already teaching him how to drive. There wasn’t a moment that Andy thought he would do anything else other than be behind the wheel of a truck.
At age 16, in 1984, Andy became a member of the Harrisburg Volunteer Fire Department and with that, was introduced to a certain Autocar fire tanker. The Autocar was put in service with the fire department in 1982, and Andy even has the newspaper article showing the Autocar after the fire department had restored it, along with the department members who had a hand in getting her ready for duty. In 1988, the fire department put the Autocar out of service and sold it to a guy who had a business of filling swimming pools. Andy went on to complete one more year with the fire department before venturing into trucking full time.
Around 2008, Andy started dating a lovely woman by the name of Lisa, who became not only the love of his life, but also his best friend. A few years later, Lisa would see the true importance of Andy buying a particular truck to restore. Andy had not seen the old Autocar the fire department had sold in 1988 until 2011, while he was driving for a different company. The truck (without the tanker) was sitting inside a chain link fence behind some buildings and Andy knew he needed to find the owner. Andy knew who had bought the truck, and its current location wasn’t near where the man lived, so Andy went door to door, determined to find out who the current owner was.
As luck would have it, Andy found the owner, who was a photographer, that was actually utilizing the truck as a prop for photos. The man spoke of the history of the truck, but in Andy’s mind, he knew the owner didn’t have all of the correct history information. Andy asked if the man would sell it, but he wasn’t interested. However, Andy asked if he could bring the scrapbook over the next day to show him the history of the truck, to which he agreed. Andy figured, at a minimum, as a photographer, he could appreciate the old photos of the truck when in service at the fire department.
The next day, Andy brought over the scrapbook, impressed the owner with the history, and managed to strike a deal with him to purchase the truck. This all happened after the owner asked what Andy was going to do with the truck. Andy said he wanted to fully restore it, and that it was never going to leave his possession after that.
So began the restoration process, with the help of many, including a bay at the firehouse to work on the truck. It just so happened that Andy had joined the Pumpkin Center Volunteer Fire Department in 2011 prior to the purchase of the truck. Since he was a volunteer at this fire department, and he was allowed to use one of the bays, he thought it was only fitting that the truck be painted the same colors as the equipment at that fire department. Originally red in color, the new paint was completed in 2016.
The first show or event Andy took this truck to was something of an honor because Autocar Trucks had been following the restoration project on the Facebook page Andy had created just for this truck. Upon completion of the restoration, Autocar Trucks invited Andy to be a part of their 120th anniversary celebration at the Autocar Truck plant in Hagerstown, IN in 2017.
After twelve years of dating, Andy and Lisa were married on October 24, 2020, bringing together not only the two of them, but their sons, as well. This includes Lisa’s two sons, Jonathan (25) and Adam (19), as well as Andy’s 24-year-old son Lane. Andy named the old Autocar “Miss Lisa” because, as he said with a chuckle, the truck and his wife were both ornery.
The truck you see today is rare, with only about four of these models accounted for. As I mentioned earlier, it is a 1964 Autocar and is an AU7064T model. It has a Cummins NH250 under the hood, a 10-speed Road Ranger transmission, 4:44 rears, a wheelbase of 182 inches, and a gross vehicle weight of 12,000 pounds. Most Autocars were long hoods, bulky and heavy, but this particular model is a short hood, made even lighter with an extensive use of aluminum throughout the truck including the cab, hood and frame.
Some of the other details which make this truck unique include the Peterbilt front bumper, the frame has been covered in diamond plate, two sets of train horns, a steam whistle, and the pogo stick for the airlines is an actual brass fire nozzle. The rear bumper of the truck is aluminum and inlayed into the metal are two fire pickaxes. Some may notice on the sides of the truck it says “Ore Bank” which I wondered about, too. Talking to Andy, I discovered that it was actually the corporate name for the fire department. In North Carolina there are actually two Pumpkin Centers and one town called Pumpkin, so the actual technical name for the fire department is Ore Bank Pumpkin Center Volunteer Fire Department.
A measurement error turned into something rather unique when Andy drilled the hole for one of the battery box latches. It was off, so he had to elongate the hole to correct it. The safety officer at the fire department had presented Andy with two silver half dollars, and they weren’t just any silver half dollars, they were 1964 coins. Andy drilled holes in both of the coins and then used them as the washers for the latches.
Moving inside the cab, the Autocar is uniquely retrofitted with firefighter items such as the incline of the custom cedar hardwood floor, which is covered with turnout gear (bunker gear for firefighters) that had been put out of service (turnout gear is retired after ten years of use). The interior has button tuck upholstery, custom upholstered seats with the Harrisburg F.D. logo embroidered on them, the shifter boot is an actual fire boot, and the floorboards are edged with rescue rope.
Special thanks from Andy, first and foremost, to God who has made everything possible. To his wife and best friend Lisa for her patience, support, understanding and sharing in this big project, among his other hobbies. More thanks go to the Pumpkin Center Volunteer Fire Department in Lincoln County, NC for the support and usage of the bay at the station to work on this project. To the diesel mechanics involved, including Adam and Arthur Baker, Steve Sharpe, Terry Mullis and Andy’s son Lane Stewart. Members of the Pumpkin Center Volunteer Fire Department, North 321 Volunteer Fire Department, and the Harrisburg Fire Department for all their help. Bill and Chad Mackie for their contributions, friendship and support. To Chad Johnson of Blue Ribbon Transport, Roddi Long Grading and Miller Pipeline for helping to transport the Autocar to various long distance shows and events.
Through the years, there have been individuals who have not only taught Andy about trucking, but who were also people he looked up to and inspired him to become the truck driver and truck enthusiast he is today. The people he wanted to mention were his father, who passed away in 2016, for igniting Andy’s love of trucks, his uncle Mark, cousin Marty, Jr. Moore and Paw Paw Johnny Sigmon. His industry education and interest in trucks led him to becoming a national member of the ATHS. Andy believes this will allow him to share with others the rarity of this model Autocar, as well as share in the love and enthusiasm that is all things trucks.
Today, Andy runs a lowboy hauling heavy equipment for Extreme Transfer out of Mooresville, NC and continues to showcase his Autocar at the events he can. He’s still a member of the Pumpkin Center Volunteer Fire Department as a safety officer with the important duty of making sure the crew remains as safe as possible on the scene of an accident or fire. Andy mentioned the rarity of the truck again, regarding this year’s ATHS show in Virginia. Attempting to register the truck, his model wasn’t even listed as an option. He ended up just picking a random model and seeking out the registration booth upon arrival to remedy the situation. Registration corrected his window card, and it was stated the ATHS would be updating their website so that model would be available on registration forms for future shows.
Thank you to Andy and Lisa for your time and for allowing me the opportunity to not only tell your story, but to photograph this piece of history, as well. This couple is one of many invested in the preservation of trucking’s past. Their efforts aid in the ongoing education of what trucks used to be like and the understanding that they should not be forgotten. This rare Autocar found a forever home with Andy Stewart, and he has no plans to ever change that. As always, to all the drivers out there doing the deal, truck safe.