One of the best feelings in my life was driving home my Li’l Red Express Truck that day. Knowing I worked for something, saved up for it, and bought it outright. It was mine, lock, stock, and barrel, paid for in full and no one could take it away from me! I have never paid cash for a vehicle since – they have all been with a loan or line of credit. That truck served me well for the next two summers. It moved me to Elk Point and back, took me to many a bush party, hauled my water ski stuff to the lake, moved a buddy and me to Calgary and back, and brought me back from other great trips. It was in 1988 while working heavy oil that a buddy coined the name “HufnPuf” for my truck. Seeing as though the exhaust ‘puffed’ out of the two stacks and the name was far more endearing that “the little red planter” (another name given the truck by a university friend), the name stuck and has been with the truck ever since. In the summer of 1989, on my way back from Calgary for one of my weekend visits, I blew the rear engine seal out of it. For the rest of the summer I would gas up in Edmonton, top up the oil, stop in Red Deer, fill with gas, top up the oil, and drive to Calgary. The gas mileage was – and still is – horrendous: 11 miles to the gallon.
The kid had too many toys, he just bought a jacked up Ford 4x4, and thus his Dad said he needed to get rid of something. The kid chose to sell the Red Express Truck. There it sat in one of the four garage stalls, looking gorgeous. The wood had just been redone a year ago and with the truck being in the garage all winter, it still looked awesome. The truck was solid, all there, in decent condition with no major body or interior work required. My Dad took it for a drive just down to the end of the driveway and back to see how it drove and listen for issues – it had no insurance on it so we could not take it on a test drive. We had a couple more vehicles to look at that day – I cannot remember what – and returned home later that day.
It was a beautiful red with natural wood grain trim on the box, tall bright stacks, and shiny chrome wheels; the truck looked really cool. I remember thinking to myself then, “It would be neat to have one of those.” Little did I know at the time that I would spend all of my adult life owning one. Fast forward a few years with me now in university. I was in the Co-op Program in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Alberta. I was finishing up my first two work terms and had just landed a job in Elk Point for the following summer. I was always fortunate to have parents that let me drive one of their vehicles but with my next Co-op job being out of town, Mom laid down the law: “You need to buy your own vehicle because you are not taking one of ours next summer.” Thus, by the end of 1987 I was on the hunt for my first vehicle.
I was back in school for one term in the winter of 1988 before heading out to work for the summer. Although I had a full load of engineering classes, my time that term was consumed with buying my first set of wheels – one of the most exciting times for a young car guy! Back then, there was no internet, car shopping was all done old school: printed media. Needless to say, Thursday was the best day of the week as that was when the Bargain Finder and Auto Trader were published. Every Thursday, I would buy those papers and magazines as soon as they hit the stores. I would pour over them all day looking for my first ride. I was a Mopar guy so I naturally wanted a Dodge or Plymouth. I wanted a convertible – because they were so cool – but did want a big car so I settled on a Challenger or Barracuda ragtop. They were nice, mid-sized Mopars that were great looking rides. Little did I know at the time that the ‘Muscle Car’ craze was just getting into the swing of things and these cars were very desirable! I wanted one because they were the mid-sized Mopar convertibles – not because they were so rare.
Dad and I discussed the truck and we both thought it was a decent vehicle worth an offer. Time was running out and, while no convertible, the truck definitely checked all the “cool ride” boxes for my first vehicle. I called up the father and made an offer. The father said he would need to talk to his son about it. The father would talk to his son later thatday after skiing, present the offer, and get back to me. So I waited. Sure enough, the phone call came later that evening. The father said we have a deal. Well, you can imagine the cloud nine I was on, having just bought my first vehicle – and not just any vehicle: a 1979 Dodge Li’l Red Express Truck!
In 1989, I would always add a litre of oil every time I fueled up. We made the decision to park the truck after the summer of 1989 and start the restoration. The engine and transmission were pulled. The cylinders were honed and the pistons were cross-hatched on one side. All new bearings and gaskets were installed. The engine received the proper Carter Thermoquad carburetor, air cleaner, and pollution control via the parts truck we picked up a few years after parking Huffer. The transmission was overhauled and put back to factory specifications. The drivetrain was put back in the truck and the project came to a grinding halt. In 1992 I bought my first house in Edmonton. In 1994 my parents retired and moved to Canmore. That same year I moved to Calgary with work and the trucks moved to Canmore where they sat waiting for my Dad to finish renovating their place in Canmore. Once the renovations were complete my Dad dove into Huffer getting him ready for paint. After a couple years taking the best from both trucks and making HufNPuf correct, the truck was ready for paint. Huffer was hauled into Calgary and promptly sat for more years in a neighbor’s garage waiting to be made pretty. There always seemed to be something: houses, retirement, renovations, job losses, marriage, kids, etc. All the while, Huffer sat patiently waiting to see the light of day again. My parents sold their place in Canmore and moved into Calgary – probably to be closer to their only grandson – which prompted my Mom to give me a great present: “She wanted to paint my truck.”
Now my parents have given me a lot of great gifts over the years and this was one of them! So after all those years of being moved about the country, Huffer was about to get his new coat of Medium Canyon Red. But he was not out of the woods yet, however. When I first looked into chroming back in Edmonton during the early 1990s, re-chroming wheels cost about $100 a piece. Well, imagine my surprise when it came time to get the wheels done over a decade later that chroming wheels had gone the way of the dodo bird. Not only was it very expensive, but no one around here did it anymore. The factory wheels are a two part design which meant to refinish the wheels, the inner disk is cut out from the outer donut, each piece is re-chromed separately, and then the two pieces are welded back together. Alberta Wheel Repair took on the project and did all the work except for the chroming – that was done by a shop in Medicine Hat. Unfortunately, the chrome shop welded on the outer donut during the chroming and made it “out-of-round”. To make a long story short, Santos at AWR did some miracle work and saved my wheels. After much argument with the chrome shop, miracle work by AWR, and yet another year gone by, HufNPuff had his wheels back, almost as good as new.
Finally in 2005, after sixteen years of being off the road, my Li’l Red Express Truck rode again! The truck was completed just before and made its debut at the 16th annual Northern Mopars Show and Shine held at Canada Olympic Park on August 19, 2005. I have shown it at our Club’s show, Colombia Valley, and a few other shows around Calgary over the years but now it mostly just goes cruising as time doesn’t permit for showing much anymore. We bought a cottage in Ontario in 2008 and spend a lot of time in July and August there so Huffer doesn’t get out as much as he used to during the summer months. As with every older vehicle, the restoration is never really done. There is always something to do and HufNPuf is no exception. One day his grill will be done his Tuff steering wheel will be restored, and his constant oil leaks will be solved. The wood needs to be redone now and he has paint chips appearing in some spots. He is a truck that will require a lot of maintenance – perhaps more so than the average vehicle – due all his wood and chrome, but we still have lots of fun with him.
There is nothing like punching it in third gear, feeling the orqueflite drop to second, and roaring to 60 miles per hour before the transmission shifts back into third. There is never a trip that he does not get a thumbs-up from a pedestrian or fellow driver on the road. People come up to us in parking lots and ask about him, usually accompanied by the line, “I used to know a guy who had one of these…” There were less than 8,000 of these trucks made in only two years, but because they all looked the same they are instantly recognizable. Some people cannot believe the truck came from the factory looking this way: “Yup, this truck is factory stock”, garners looks of amazement from the younger crowd. With my son having his Learner’s Licence, Huffer now has a new fan that cannot wait for the truck to come out and play each spring. Many times this spring I have been asked by a six foot tall teenager, “When are you bringing Huffer out? I can’t wait to drive him this summer.” It is great to see the passion for American muscle passed onto the next generation. I would like to thank my family for the support and contribution in getting HufNPuf back on the road. I’d also like to give a shout out to the members of the Northern Mopar Club who have helped with Huffer in various ways over the years. I hope you enjoyed reading about my first American Hot Rod as much as I enjoyed writing about it.
By Dean Tymko
photo from ‘High Performance Mopar’
The next day we went to the bank where I withdrew a $100 deposit. We drove out to the acreage, did the paperwork, and gave them the deposit. With it being a weekend, the banks were closed on Saturday and all I could take out from the ABM was just the deposit. I would have to wait until the bank opened before I could get the rest of the cash. I distinctly remember thinking that I will have to wait until Tuesday to get my truck. Being a student all my life, Easter Monday was always a holiday; thus, I thought everyone got the day off. That is when my Mom told me that the banks will be open on Monday as it is against the law in Canada for the banks to be closed more than three days in a row. Woo hoo! I’ll get my ride on Monday! The next 48 hours was the longest of my life. It seemed like forever, but Monday came around, Dad and I went to the bank, I got 39, $100 bills (that bank roll could have choked a horse, or so I thought), and we drove out to the acreage. We did the deal, I handed over the cash, hopped in my truck, and followed Dad home.
My first recollection of a Li’l Red Express Truck was sitting in the backseat of my father’s vehicle parked in front of Crosstown Motors in Edmonton. Dad needed to make a quick stop at the dealership for something and we all stayed in the car while he ran inside. Sitting in the back seat on the driver’s side – my designated spot growing up when the family was in the car – I looked over and saw a bright red Dodge pick-up truck parked in front of the showroom.
After realizing the rarity of the E-bodied ragtops, I expanded my search to include Darts, Firebirds, Camaros, or any other mid-size convertible. My Dad and I looked at all sorts of vehicles that winter, from a Challenger convertible that was 60% bondo, to a Firebird 400 convertible with no interior. So many times I would call about a vehicle, arrange a time, and head out thinking, “This is it!” only to find a vehicle that required too much time and money to become road-worthy. Crushed, I would drive back home with Dad; him reassuring me that I will find my ride and just to be patient. Time was running out, I started at Elk Point in May and it was now Easter time with no prospects in sight. I was starting to reside myself to just finding a decent vehicle to get me around instead of that “hot” ride.
Thursday before the Easter long weekend came around and I bought the usual weeklies: Bargain Finder, Auto Trader, and Truck Trader. Back then, Easter was a five day weekend for university students so I was at home on Thursday. My Dad and I spent the day pouring through the papers circling potential vehicles. I was looking through the Truck Trader when I spotted it: a 1979 Dodge Lil Red Express Truck for sale. The truck looked good in the picture; I circled the ad, showed it to Dad, and kept looking. Once done, I went back to the ad and called the phone number. I circled the ad, showed it to Dad, and kept looking.Once done, I went back to the ad and called the phone number.
The truck was still for sale and I arranged a time to see it on Friday. Friday came and we drove out to see the truck. The truck was owned by a young guy who lived with his family on a beautiful acreage just west of Edmonton. He was on a ski trip that weekend so his father showed us the truck.