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Clair Helps Fulfill Boyhood Dreams

By on September 1, 2017
Clair-1

Brothers Find & Rebuild a Rare Gem

Since they were little boys, Pete and Carl Caporal have been truck-crazy. Back in the ‘60s, their father took the identical twins to truckstops in New Jersey, just so they could see the Whites, Internationals and Macks up close. The boys enjoyed lunches with their dad followed by visits to the travel store gift shops in search of die-cast model trucks.

Not surprisingly, Pete and Carl’s fascination with trucks led them to drive professionally. On weekdays, they drove refuse haulers for the Village of Irvington, NY. On weekends, they drove tractor-trailers for Bill Crist, owner of Crist Trucking in Corinth, NY. He just happens to be an ace mechanic.

While those trucks and their modern technologies were fine, the nostalgia for the big rigs of their childhoods tugged at their heartstrings. “When I was a kid, cabover trucks dominated the highways,” Carl said. “I loved their standing-tall good looks going down the road, and I’ve always wanted to drive one.”

Finding a Rare Gem

Back in 2008, the brothers began scouting American Truck Historical Society (ATHS) and other truck shows in search of an old cabover to restore. They happened to meet Eddy Lucast and admired a Mack H67 he was displaying. Lucast mentioned he had a rare ‘79 Western Star cabover that he was open to selling. It was powered by a Cat® 3406A PC coupled to a Road Ranger 13-speed with a Brake Saver. That classic truck and its power train immediately captured the brothers’ attention.

“Kenworth, International and Peterbilt cabovers—they’re a dime a dozen—but a Western Star cabover, now that’s really rare,” Pete said. They went to Lucast’s home in Guilford, CT and immediately fell in love. “We opened the door, and the interior was intact,” said Carl. There was no evidence of rodent damage, and the leather and gauges were intact.”

A Career Workhorse

Having saved the truck from a date with the crusher, Lucast filled the brothers in on the classic truck’s history. Built at the White Motor Co. plant in Cleveland, OH and shipped to a dealership in Arizona, the black truck was adorned with thunderbird wing graphics. The gentleman who purchased it new was leased to United Van Lines, so the truck was repainted yellow and white. Unfortunately, the original owner passed away about a year later. The truck was placed in the dealer’s used inventory for resale.

It was purchased by R.M. “Ron” Ellington, a Minnesota farmer, who used it for the next 15 years to haul grain. In 1995, the truck was sold to another farmer, Duane Swiers. He repainted the truck, using a brown bottom and cream top. In 2011, the ’79 Western Star was placed in a farm auction at the Red River Fairgrounds in West Fargo, ND. A retired trucker, Lucast was the high bidder. He had the truck hauled to Connecticut on a drop deck. The odometer had broken at 819,000 miles, so it was impossible to know exactly how many miles were on the truck.

Life With Clair

The Caporal twins didn’t care. They bought their dream truck from Lucast in late 2011 for $5,000 and moved it to Bill Crist’s shop in Corinth, 200 miles away from the duplex they share in Irvington. For the next three years, their weekends followed the same pattern: drive to Corinth after work on Friday, check into a motel, spend 16 hours on Saturday and Sunday working on the Western Star, drive home on Sunday night, then work all week. Repeat.

They had never restored so much as a motorcycle before, but they learned along the way. “We went into the deep end. Go big or go home,” Pete said. “It just worked out. We just fell in love with it.” When they needed help finding parts, they turned to Hudson County Motors, a Western Star dealership in Secaucus, NJ.

Clair-2“Kenworth, International and Peterbilt cabovers—they’re a dime a dozen—but a Western Star cabover, now that’s really rare.”

“When they came in with a picture of the truck, I was thrilled, because I hadn’t seen one in a while,” said parts technician Pat Kaplan. A self-described pack rat who has worked at the dealership for 30 years, Kaplan discovered a 1979 Western Star “crash book” in the bottom of a drawer. Using that, Western Star inventory records, and some matching White Autocar parts, he helped the brothers find the parts they needed.

The mechanical parts that couldn’t be found were custom made. Though the truck was in good shape, its age and mileage meant a lot had to be replaced to make it show-ready, including the power steering, a new front end, belts and hoses, exhaust system, brakes, tires, lights, fifth wheel, air conditioning, bumpers, wheels, sleeper, upholstery, doors and more. Mike Sowle of Sowle Auto Body in Fultonville, NY handled the sand blasting, frame preparation, bodywork, and the medium blue painting.

The Caporals chose one of the 22 original graphic paint schemes available for that model: bronze-and-rust thunderbird wings sweeping from the grill around to the doors and back. Bobby Klim of Prime Sign in Fonda, NY handled the graphics and lettering. The C&C Trucking name is proudly lettered on the storage compartment doors.

“It’s just beautiful,” Pete said. Carl estimated the brothers invested $51,000 for parts, bodywork, the paint job and graphics. Plus, you can’t put a value on the countless weekends of labor, he added.

Since finishing the truck in 2014, the brothers garage it in the winter and take it to regional ATHS and other truck shows in the summer, where it always draws a crowd, many of whom have never seen a Western Star cabover.Clair-3

The brothers gave the finished truck a very fitting name: Clair. It’s derived from the long-gone White truck factory at East 79th Street and St. Clair Avenue in Cleveland. It was converted from truck production to parts fabrication in the late ‘70s. Sadly, the plant was shuttered in 1981 and sold in 1983. White Motor Corp. ceased to exist in 1985. In Clair and other survivors, the spirit of the golden era in cabovers lives on, thanks to the Caporals and others like them who grew up dreaming about big trucks.

“It’s a pleasure to drive,” Pete said. “That truck is pretty tight, no rattles or anything. She tracks down the road really straight and feels very solid.” The Cat engine is slated for a Precious Metals rebuild and the brothers are looking for a stainless steel reefer to tow behind it, just because that combination would look good. They’re thinking about buying and restoring another vintage cabover. “If I had my own building, I’d have two or three more of these by now,” Pete said.

For more information, go to WesternStarTrucks.com.

 

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