Saturday, August 3, 2013

Pacific Body Builders of Portland, Oregon

About two weeks ago I received an email from a reader by the name of Dale who had purchased the 1948 CJ2-A seen here. With it was this very interesting hardtop he had never heard of before. He found my February 17article on hardtops and decided to ask me if I knew anything about the company whose badge is still attached to the side. Pacific Truck Body Equipment Co. of Portland, Oregon was a bit of a mystery to me and still remains so. The references that I found are disjointed pieces, but start to form a larger puzzle and so I’ll just present them here.
I’ve found quite a few mentions of the company across the web, but not alot too solid yet about their eventual fate. It was known as ‘Pacific Body Builders’ to begin with and they apparently specialized in heavy and mid sized truck body conversions. One of the first things that I found was this mechanical pencil on Ebay with the following address: “Pacific Body Builders, 1812 N.E. Grand Ave. Portland, OR TR 1128.” They are listed as being a distributor for Reliance Trailers, (a company that is still around...) that makes heavy truck dump beds. Portland Body Builders manufactured “truck, trailer and commercial bodies” according to the pencil.
A search of the address brings up nothing, unfortunately. Mainly fast food restaurants and gas stations are all that remain along that address.
Dave Eilers of eWillys gave me the following tidbit when he found an obit for a former employee, Herman C. ‘Pete’ Blumhagen: “Mr. Blumhagen was born Oct. 26, 1919 in Polson, Mont. He moved to Portland in 1946 and was a sheet metal fabricator and truck body designer for Pacific Truck Body for 40 years.” Well, they certainly inspired loyalty and dedication in their employees!
As a side note, their factory at the time is listed as having been designed by a famed Washington State architect Day Walter Hilborn in 1946. You can see the full list of his projects here. Man, was he prolific!
Pacific seemed pretty diverse, probably a winning formula for any company, and there were two references to them building bookmobiles. A little snippet about ‘Celeste The Bookmobile’ for the King County Library System can be found here.
“A second book mobile, on order for several years but never delivered due to wartime restrictions, was finally received and put into service in 1947, generating much publicity and an immediate jump in circulation. The vehicle, known fondly as Celeste, was one of eight built for Washington libraries by Pacific Body Builders of Portland and Vancouver Chevrolet of Vancouver, Washington.”
They are also listed in a 1955 California Library system directory as a recommended supplier of bookmobile conversions. The side note lists a Thomas M. Murphy as a contact, but I haven’t been able to find anything on him yet.
But their bread and butter seems to have been truck conversions of which I have found three references to:
One, a PDF of an official Dodge listing of recognized and accepted companies that perform utility body conversion work on Dodge trucks. Pacific Body Builders is listed as performing ‘line construction bodies and utility service bodies (for telephone and plumbing)’ conversions. This listing dates from 1948. Pacific seemed to have thrived for awhile. In the summer of 1964 I found a newspaper article from Eugene, Oregon that not only would the company be changing its name from Pacific Body Builders to Pacific Truck Body And Equipment (the tag that exists on Dale’s jeep bears this name, so it would appear that his top was manufactured post-1964...) but that they would expanding into a second location in Eugene, Oregon. It was to be their first expansion since they opened in 1945 and great things were expected for the company that “specialized in the construction of crew bus and van bodies for the forest industry and other custom truck equipment. The firm will also repair and service truck bodies.”
On the forum (for owners of pre-1973 GM trucks) someone was asking about Pacific and if anyone had ever heard of them. 
The poster states: “I just sold my very nice 1968 Ford F250 and there just happened to be this 1960 Chevrolet Apache 30 Panel truck parked next door. The owner (who's a supervisor at the Korbell mill) had bought it with intentions of doing something with it.
When I asked about it, he just said "Make me an offer." I did just that, and after a few days he agreed to sell.
This classic truck was built in Oakland, California and sold by the local dealership (Sacchi Chevrolet, in Arcata, California). It was originally equipped with an ambulance conversion done by Pacific Body Builders in Portland, Oregon.
The factory color was white. That has been repainted red, with a silver interior. After ambulance duty, the Panel was later used as a Haz-Mat vehicle.
When I took title to the truck, it only had 5,131 total miles on it. The Fire Department Logo (which my friend had painted on it about 20 years ago) is still there which I think is pretty cool. In my opinion, I think it adds personality, and helps to preserve the rich history of its earlier service.
I plan to use it as a tow vehicle for the many other cars that I own.
Thanks, Doug
The only solid answer on the Stovebolt forum is from an old GMC dealer who stated that Pacific installed beverage bodies (a delivery truck, I’d guess...?) and crew cabs in the mid- 1960’s.
On the Ford Truck Enthusiasts forum another thread highlights yet another Pacific conversion, a Chevy 3100 with the badge that reads: "Pacific Custom Panel Conversion - Pacific Body Builders - Portland, Oregon." No one had any further info.
And so that’s it. Anyone have anything further for Dale or I? I’d love to find out more and be even more excited to learn that there is more than one out there. (And even more excited to own one!) It’s a really very unique looking body. Dave Eilers suggested what I suspect is true, that it was a one off custom build or a prototype that was never mass produced. Check out the rest of Dale’s photos and the details at the original post here. I love the swing out windshield and dash tray (something that I wish that all CJs had. My ’64 had one...). Along with the very unique angled windshield and FJ-ish looking rear corner windows I really wish that this had seen a production run! Please email me if you have anything else on this company, (jeep related or not...). And thanks to Dale for sharing this great piece of jeep history with us! Come back tomorrow for more of the 1952 Industrial Equipment Binder!

1 comment:

  1. The article looks good, Can you provide me with the download link?

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