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’49 Studebaker truck has history


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Bud Wilkinson, Waterbury Republican American  /  December 7, 2018

It once traveled the roadways of northwestern Connecticut for Lakeside Oil, Inc. in Torrington, but a 1949 Studebaker fuel truck has been parked in a shed in Vermont for more than 30 years. Frank Sprague of Wilmington, Vt. recently purchased it. While it may not be running, it has been getting a lot of attention.

It’s parked in a snow-filled lot alongside Route 9 in Searsburg, Vt., at least that’s where it sat last Sunday. It’s not in running condition and probably hasn’t been on the road for decades. Even if it did run, the right rear tire is flat, and it has other issues.

“The brake drums are rusted to the brake shoes, so the wheels don’t turn. I haven’t tried to turn over the engine. I don’t know if it will or not. The sheet metal, the frame, the tank, all that looks really good, but it will need a lot of mechanical work,” said Frank Sprague of nearby Wilmington, the owner of the 1949 Studebaker truck.

Sprague bought the Studebaker only a month or so ago with the intention of flipping it. When he posted a “for sale” ad on Facebook Marketplace, My Ride was soon alerted by a browser who noticed that the former kerosene delivery truck displays an old Harwinton telephone number (as well as one for Burlington).

The truck once belonged to Lakeside Oil of Torrington and bears the company’s name on either side and on the rear. How the 70-year-old truck came to survive presented a mystery worth investigating; prompted sufficient curiosity for an area fuel company owner to go look at it; and brought back memories for a man who once drove it.

Sprague, a former trucker who owns a welding shop and collects vintage big-rig trucks, reported that he’s known about the truck for some time. “A kid came in my shop and told me about it a couple of years ago. I tried to contact the lady with no success. Then I ran across her phone number again, so I called her and got through. Went and talked to her, looked at the truck, and made the deal,” he said.

“The lady said that her and her husband used to deliver kerosene with it in Connecticut and that when they moved to Vermont thirty-some years ago, they brought the truck and parked it in their shed, and it sat there since.”
Harwinton historian Roger Plaskett did some digging and determined that Lakeside Oil was owned by John Berberian, his wife Kristine, and brother Harry Berberian. The company operated from 1978 to 2003, but Plaskett unearthed a small newspaper clipping that showed the family sold out in 1986.

John Berberian passed away in 2009 and Sprague bought the Studebaker from his widow. The truck has generated a lot of interest in a very short time. “There’s been tons of interest. Big oil companies in the northeast have contacted me about it. I’m talking to a couple seriously right now,” he said.

Passers-by have also noticed it and pulled the parking lot at the warehouse that Sprague owns. “Oh, gosh, yes, whether I’m here or not. I’ve pulled in the yard and there’s people here looking a it,” he said.

One tire-kicker on Sunday was Matt Klebe, owner of Klebe Fuel in Winsted. “It’s a good piece of history,” he said after looking over the Studebaker. He also recalled, “I actually pulled oil out of the Lakeside Terminal years ago.”

Sprague’s asking price for the truck is $6,500, more than Klebe was willing to pay based on his proposed use for it. “I think it would be a nice piece of lawn art; draw attention to my business,” Klebe said.

The truck was produced as part of Studebaker’s “2R” series, which were made from 1949 until 1954. Aaron Warkentin, curator of the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend, Ind., said the model initially had a 226-cubic-inch flat-head, six-cylinder engine, but that midway through the 1949 model year the engine size was increased to 245 cubic inches, which produced around 100 horsepower.

Having been emailed pics of the truck, Warkentin responded, “It is in fantastic shape. That would serve well as a preservation, not restoration.”

Pictures of the truck posted on Facebook also got noticed and stirred memories for Brian MacDonald of Torrington, who works in the Town of Harwinton’s highway department but who worked for Lakeside Oil in the late 1970s.

“I was very surprised that any of their trucks were still around. Brought back a lot of memories. I knew that the owners had moved to Vermont. I was just surprised that there was an actual truck still around,” said MacDonald, who revealed his once even drove it from one company gas station to another.

At that time, the truck was being used for kerosene storage. “I didn’t drive it very far, but I did drive it. I think it was pretty much retired by then. It was parked in the garage quite a bit, so I don’t think it was used that much when I was there,” he recalled.

Lakeside Oil apparently didn’t last very long. “They were one of the smaller companies. They only had a couple of oil trucks. They weren’t really a major player in the heating oil business. They did a pretty good kerosene business back then,” MacDonald said.

The Studebaker truck has lasted much, much longer than the company, and may have a future yet if the right buyer is found.

Video & Photo Slide Show -  http://wheels.rep-am.com/2018/12/49-studebaker-truck-has-history/

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