Old glory

by James Menzies

STRATHMORE, Alta. – Everyone has their cure for the winter blahs. For Tristan Jackson, that means hunkering down in his shop and tackling a new truck restoration project.

For five months, or about 1,500 working hours, Jackson labors over each of the trucks left in his care. Appropriately called Jackson of all Trades, the one-man operation is turning some heads and word is quickly spreading about the miracle worker in Strathmore who raises old trucks from the dead and gives them a new lease on life.

Since 1996, when Jackson decided he’d spent long enough working the highway as an owner/operator, he has completed three full truck restorations and numerous mini-restorations.

His first major project was the reincarnation of the Peterbilt he drove as an O/O. He remembers the lack of respect that truck garnered from his fellow drivers.

“I bought an old Peterbilt that was just garbage and I restored it and drove it for 10 years,” recalls Jackson. “Everybody laughed and said I should put a toilet seat in it for a driver’s seat, but I drove that truck and I made a lot of money. Everybody laughed, but profit is what it’s all about.”

Since tackling that project, Jackson has developed a love affair with old trucks. When he decided to give up trucking, he wasn’t about to give up trucks altogether. So he seized the opportunity to make a living doing what he loved after he realized there was a high demand for quality truck restoration work.

Jackson built a new house with an attached garage that would make even Tim “the Tool Man” Taylor green with envy – it’s big enough to house two 48-foot trailers.

A month after moving into the new house, he quit his driving job and rolled the dice on his new career path. And he couldn’t be happier with the results.

Jackson has built a reputation as a perfectionist, thanks in no small part to his insistence on using top quality components and absolutely no shortcuts. The end result is a truck that looks like it just rolled off the factory floor.

“I’m dead serious about doing the best job that I can do,” says Jackson. “Most of my customers understand that if you’re going to do it, you’ve got to do it right and if you do it right it’s going to work 100 per cent and it’s going to last a very long time.”

Because he’s working with trucks that saw their glory days in the ’60s and ’70s, Jackson has to get creative from time to time. That means occasionally building parts from scratch or coming up with unique solutions to mind-numbing challenges.

“I’m always looking for better methods and better parts,” stresses Jackson, who has even taken a close look at airplane engineering for ideas. “You’ve got one shot at it and that’s it.”

Although Jackson has taken a shining to each of his pet projects, one in particular stands out in his mind.

A customer came to him with an old Hayes Clipper that needed restoration. However, it wasn’t just any old truck.

The owner had dreamed of owning a Hayes since he was young. After years of saving his pennies, he entrusted Jackson to do the handiwork.

For five months, the duo labored over the truck together, and in the end it exceeded all expectations.

“He achieved his dream and that to me was just the greatest feeling, to know that this guy had a dream and I worked with him to achieve it,” says Jackson.

Another of Jackson’s satisfied customers is American Truck Historical Society veteran Gord Cooper.

Cooper took his 1957 Kenworth to Jackson for a makeover and he hasn’t had any problems with the truck since.

“I can definitely say that there are very few people who take their job as seriously or honestly as Tristan,” says Cooper. “He does a really good job at it.”

When Cooper set to restoring his ’57 K-Whopper, he recalls the wiring in the dash was a mess of corroded wires. But when Jackson got through with it, the wiring looked like it was in a new truck.

“That’s his specialty, that’s Tristan’s claim to fame,” says Cooper. “He likes getting right into the wiring and figuring it out then laying it out and re-doing it.”

Jackson admits that re-wiring an old truck is his favorite part of the process. Even though it takes up to 100 hours for that task alone.

“Normally you open the dash and it’s a rat’s nest,” says Jackson. “When I’m done you can put five boxes of Kleenex in the dash and close it and there’s still room.”

Although Jackson has yet to disappoint a customer, he warns that people should think long and hard before diving headlong into a project.

In fact, he has developed a psychological profile of his customers that illustrates how their emotions can take a beating throughout the process.

“When you start sandblasting a frame, it takes time, you’re putting out a lot of money, your bank account is going down. You’re low,” admits Jackson. “Then you get the cab on, the thing is actually starting to look like a truck now.” He says the satisfaction from finishing up a full-restoration is indescribable.

But for those considering sinking their money into an old truck rather than buying a new one, Jackson has some words of advice.

“You’ve got to be careful about where you spend your money because it can get out of hand very quickly,” he says.

When looking for an older truck to restore, it’s usually not necessary to spend more than a few thousand dollars. That’s because only the cab and a portion of the frame will actually be salvaged.

“The rest of it goes in the garbage so there’s no need in spending a lot of money on transmissions and differentials because most of the time you won’t end up using it,” he explains.

So, with a full truck restoration running upwards of $100,000, what are the advantages of running old iron?

“It’s not for everybody, but for some applications it’s a really good idea (to invest in an older truck),” says Jackson.

He notes restoring an old truck means you’ll be surrounded by a stronger, safer frame in many cases.

You’re also familiar with each sound and vibration coming from the engine having seen it torn apart and put back together again. Not to mention the fact that the learning experience itself is invaluable.

But for most, the thrill stirred by the nostalgia of a restoration is generally the biggest plus, especially since every simple run becomes a trip down memory lane. n

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