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Tow Americana

0 ed4e7By Al Rogers

During a recent magazine photo-shoot assignment to Clio, Mich., for a publication specializing in antique tractors, I did a quick double-take when I saw a rare vintage tow truck parked in the driveway.

Owner Mark Felton seemed surprised when I asked about the green and black 1947 Dodge wrecker. He said it was purchased new by his late uncle Ken Safford, who owned and operated a successful body shop.

This 1947 Dodge WF-31 cab and chassis was built by Dodge, but the towing equipment was built by an outside supplier. Stafford didn't like the design of the original boom, so he came up with a design of his own and installed it on the truck. A skilled body man, Stafford welded each of the steel pipes himself. His design reduced the rear overhang by a foot and allowed the boom to function in a less restrictive way.

The boom is operated by a Garwood winch and powered by the truck's power take-off.

After 20 years of owning the truck, Stafford sold it to a person who held onto it for two decades. Then, Stafford's son Ron purchased the wrecker with the intent of giving it a full-blown restoration. Ron had the truck repainted and overhauled the engine. The truck sat awaiting the final touches when Felton contacted him and they worked out a deal for Felton to become the sole owner.

Felton has restored vintage tractors for nearly three decades. He soon realized the '47 Dodge WF-31 had an engine knock from one of the pistons. Felton decided to go through the engine even though he'd been told it had been rebuilt. During the engine teardown, a valve was contacting a piston just as he'd suspected.

He went onto install the interior then ran into a headache while looking for the driveshaft U-joint. It was the single hardest part to find, but a company in Africa eventually was sourced who reproduces the parts. Original style brake cylinders are not available, so the ones he took off the truck were rebuilt.

The '47 Dodge WF-31 wrecker is all truck and it drives and handles like one. There's no creature comfort items in the cab ... it takes some effort navigating it along the roadway.

It has a four-speed transmission, but no two-speed rear axle. The engine is a 236.6-cid side-valve six-cylinder that puts out 109 hp. Due to the low gearing required for a tow truck, top speed is somewhere between 45 to 50 mph. When driving at the maximum speed, the engine revs extremely fast. Felton usually has his eyes glued on the original 1947 Sun tachometer mounted on top of the dash while driving the truck above 45 mph.

When Felton drives this truck on the local roads in Michigan, the response from onlookers is thumbs up. It gets approving nods from muscle car, classic car and truck owners. Felton has encountered many bikers who like to cruise next to it.

Photojournalist Al Rogers lives in Livonia, Mich., and travels the countryside searching out the unique and interesting in vintage vehicles of all shapes and sizes. Contact him at
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