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Just ramp truckin' along ...

20 Jul 2010
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider

Predictably, the ramp-truck thread is expanding and appears about to run out of control like a trailer that jumped its hitch. And I'm smiling all the while.

Keith Crouch of Toledo, Ohio, wrote, "I find this 'Snake' and 'Mongoose' ramp-truck restore information and pictures very interesting and exciting. I was always a huge 'Snake' and 'Mongoose' fan growing up and watching the races. I still collect all the Mattel Hot Wheels diecast cars they come out with on these cars. I also have to question the headlight/grille assembly on the truck found to be Tom McEwen's Mongoose hauler. This doesn't match the pictures of the old truck. Maybe this was changed because of a problem as the truck got older and the lights not being functional any longer? This is a cool find and will be very awesome when finished and put together with the Don Prudhomme truck."

This is an interesting observation caused perhaps because of the confusion I initially created (but fixed within hours) when I showed the photo above of what I assumed was an earlier photo of McEwen's truck that actually turned out to be yet another photo of Prudhomme's truck.

The confusion continued to grow because even Prudhomme's truck as found did not match its restored look.

Skip Allum of Prudhomme's camp sent me the photo at right of Prudhomme's truck as they found it, and I have this second photo below, sent by Tom Kasch and taken at Milan Dragway in 1971 (when the car and truck had been repainted white), so you can see what I mean. "The ramp/bed sides are angled/sloped in the [first] photo, and that is the way they were when 'Snake' relocated the truck a few years ago," said Allum. "Willie [Wolter] and 'Snake' had to 'raise' the ramp/bed sides in order to get them to their original and current configuration."

So it's clear that one of the post-Prudhomme owners had modified the bed significantly to fit his needs, which is why the trucks look so different. I'm not sure which McEwen photo Crouch is referencing, but I'm guessing it's the difference between the "Snake" and "Mongoose" trucks and the identity crisis I initially created.

Glenn Barbis Jr. reminisced about how he so misses those open-trailer days.

"I grew up a stone's throw from Maple Grove and even worked there as a kid and eventually raced there as well," he reported. "When the Chaparral long skinny trailers first started showing up more and more, I missed actually 'seeing' the cars as they went by my house."

He shared these cool photos of some of his favorites, such as this early-1980s photo of "Rapid Roy" Harris, who was still towing to the strip with Bruce Larson's old slant-back truck. "Bruce had used the truck for a number of years, and I remember him coming to the Grove one day with a new enclosed trailer, and for some reason, Roy had Bruce's old truck," recalled Barbis. "Just a few months before, Roy had been at the track with an enclosed trailer painted with Rapid Roy on the side and had actually gone back to the old-style open truck for some reason. I regret I never asked him why."

The next photos blew me away; they're from the pit area of R.C. Sherman's Kmart Motorvator Funny Car, and they show a glass-sided truck that I never knew existed. Of course, we're all familiar with the glass-sided truck and trailers that "T.V. Tommy" Ivo used to have. I passed along Barbis' pics to Ivo for comment, and he immediately asked for Barbis' contact info, which I gave him. In Barbis' e-mail, he mentioned that "Jungle Jim" Liberman also had a glass-sided truck, which got Ivo's attention. "I thought I had the only glass truck," he mused. "How did I not see it when I was on tour? Where's my copyright lawyer?  "

Anyway, Ivo who's proofreading an upcoming book on his amazing career (more details when he gets them to me!), promised to get back to me with the full and (no doubt) interesting story behind his famed glass-sided haulers as soon as he's done with the book, which he said should be soon.

Jim Hill wrote that the photo of the "boxed-in" Chi-Town Dodge truck reminded him that the enclosed ramp truck was the next progression from the open-air transporter.
 
"Many of the early-'70s Pro Stock teams went for big van-type trucks. These and the Chaparral gooseneck trailers preceded the movement to semitrailers, and I believe Billy Meyer may have been the first to go that route.
 
"Lou Oleynik owned a truck-body manufacturing company in Port Huron, Mich. Oleynik's enclosed ramp-truck haulers were not only functional but quite luxurious as well. Inside, they had cabinets, lighting, air conditioning, sometimes sleepers, and beautiful, tongue-and-groove, hardwood oak flooring. Under the chassis, there were lots of storage lockers, and some had swing-out cranes for engine changes. The long wheelbase and weight made for trucks that didn't really 'ride like a truck,' and Oleynik built these units for many teams.
 
"Oleynik himself ran a Pro Stock Camaro in the early '70s. It was big-block Chevy-powered and ran pretty much exclusively in NHRA's Division 3 WCS events as well as at the U.S. Nationals, Springnationals, and Popular Hot Rodding Championships at U.S. 131 Dragway, Martin, Mich. His Pro Stock Camaro ran very competitively, but the business kept him from competing any more seriously as he was too busy building trick transporters!"

A lot of people sure are thrilled with Prudhomme's find of McEwen's truck and the memories it brings back.

Tony Huerta, whose brother Dick passed away earlier this year, said that he knows the identity of the kid in the back of McEwen's ramp truck in this photo I ran here last week. "My brother had a nickname of 'Blow By' for him (he had a nickname for everybody)," he recalled. "His real name was Kenny. We both used to run around Lions when we were kids and help whoever we could. I remember McEwen took a liking to Ken, so he was always hanging around McEwen. I was jealous but still had the great memories of being at 'the Beach' every weekend. Ken lived in Lakewood, the same neighborhood where my brother's partner, Roy Swanson, lived."

OK, now if we could only find Kenny. I reckon he has to be middle 50s?

Bob "Bandit" Park wrote, "I was lucky enough to be able to ride in this truck several times. At the 1970 Winternationals, Donnie Couch's dad asked me to take Don [Prudhomme] from his Funny Car to his dragster on my motorcycle from the top end. Don had met me at Irwindale, where I worked the bleach box for Mel Reck (in exchange for a great seat and some food). This is where I struck up a 40-year friendship with Jerry Darien, Larry Sutton, and many more. After talking with Mel, he suggested I go to where Don kept his race cars and ask for a job. He gave me directions to Keith Black's shop, and off I went to talk with 'Snake.' I talked to him at the entrance to the shop, where all other racers were at will call. He took me to the back, and I was lucky enough to work there (of course for free). I was able to go to [John] Buttera's shop and to [Don] Kirby's shop in that rig with Steve  [Quercio] driving. This was a great time for a 19-year-old."