Some barns contain more than cows, chickens, and feral cats. As a matter of fact, some may even contain old, restorable 4x4s. Now for the uninitiated, if you find a cool but decrepit old 4x4 in a barn, you have found the quintessential “barn find,” which can be a very good thing. The term barn find is actually a catchall phrase that encompasses more than just a vehicle specifically found in a barn. It includes just about any abandoned vehicle found in, near, next to, in front of, or behind a barn, in a pole shed, an old garage, a granary, or wherever.
In the May ’12 Trail’s End column we revisited a story that ran in the September ’01 issue, which told the story of a barn-find ’46 Jeep CJ-2A. We ended the story by asking if you had ever snagged a barn find, and if so, we invited you to tell us about it. And wow, did you ever. Almost immediately we started receiving fascinating stories and photos about old rigs you’ve rescued and put back into service.
Wheelers who buy and restore these old rigs deserve a pat on the back. After all, there are easier ways to procure and equip a rig. Often, barn finds are not in running condition and many times they were parked and abandoned for a reason, like due to major mechanical failure. Some barn find recipients just get ’em running and relish the fact they got a classic rig for cheap, while others thoroughly restore ’em to like-new condition.
So sit back, relax, and enjoy reading these stories of rescued rigs in (mostly) the owners own words.
1976 Jeep CJ-5
Owners: Seth and John Clark
Resides in: Westhampton, Massachusetts
The story: Clark says, “Working on a small dairy farm in Westhampton, Massachusetts, I stumbled across an old Jeep hidden beneath years of dust and behind mountains of unused equipment. Upon questioning, the farmer said it was just an old beater he had picked up long ago, but never had the time or money to keep it useful. Turns out it was a ’76 CJ-5 with a 4.2L (259ci) inline-six and a three-speed. Using a fresh battery and a little spritz of love juice down the carb she fired right up! A deal was struck for $500 and I drove it home the next day (with no brakes).
“Although the seats were torn and the body rusty, I had a hunch there might be a hidden gem somewhere underneath all that mud and dust (and cow manure). There were no visible leaks; the four-wheel drive worked fine; it had a nicely done six-point rollcage; rock guards; and upon further inspection, the Dana 30 front axle had 4.10 gears and the rear AMC 20 matched and had a locker with one-piece ’shafts! Yes! My instincts were right.
“It has been a slow build but I still own it 10 years later. Since then it has received a new radiator, new seats, stainless steel brake lines and fuel lines, 3-inch lift kit, and some hand-me-down mud-terrains. My father and I take it out whenever we can and we love advocating the idea that you don’t need a high-dollar rig to have fun. Also, whenever we go out we always bring a trash bag to pick up any litter we see because we love this sport and want to make sure it stays around for a long time. That’s why we are a part of Tread Lightly! and always make sure we leave the woods looking better than when we found it.”
1920 Nash Quad
Owner: Bruce Rice
Resides in: Snohomish, Washington
The story: Rice says, “I found an early four-wheeler near a barn in Calder, Idaho, in the summer of 1988. It was a ’20 Nash Quad.
“I’m sure you’re familiar with the story about the Nash Quad. It was a truck that ‘Drives, brakes, and steers on all four wheels.’ These trucks, much like the Jeep did in World War II, helped win the war in Europe in World War I. They were the standard truck for the Marine Expeditionary Forces. There were almost 12,000 of these trucks built for the war effort, initially by the Jeffery Company and then Nash after mid-year 1917.
“My truck, however, was not a military version. Being built in 1920 it was used as a logging truck in the Idaho mountains up until World War II. It was abandoned in place after the war where it sat until 1963. The guy I bought it from (the son of the original owner) dragged it out of the woods in 1963 and it sat in his ‘yard’ in Calder, Idaho, until I bought it in 1997. That’s right, it took me from 1988 until 1997 to convince him to sell it to me. As you can see, it was almost unrecognizable when I found it.
“Anyway, it was a five-year project that became a great patience-building exercise. It runs and drives great and as a logging truck it fits right in here in the Pacific Northwest.”
1947 Jeep CJ-2A
Owner: Mark Harris
Resides in: Brentwood, California
The story: Harris says, “Here was my barn find. It is a ’47 CJ-2A that was sitting behind a shed at a pest control business out in the sticks around 1989. Never mind the bitchin’ Pontiac headlights that were cobbled on the grille, most Jeeps this old have bad eyesight. I think with four headlights it makes it look like it has glasses on.
“I brought it home in October, and then had it running to go to King of the Hammers as a get-around rig. It’s much cooler to be in a flatfender than in a side-by-side.
“It already had the mounts done for a 289, but sitting outside in the rain with no intake and a 6-inch hole in the hood, I knew the motor was no good. I had an extra 302 I just swapped in. It’s a really good find though, as the power steering swap and overdrive was already on it. It just needed some clean-up. I swapped in early CJ-5 springs, moved the rear axle back so I could get a little legroom, and I’ve been driving it ever since.
“Twenty-twelve is the year of the flatfender. I take it everywhere. It also just drove from the Bay area to the 60th Jeeper’s Jamboree and back home without any issues.”
71 GMC ¾-ton pickup
Owner: Matt and Fenton Nelson
Resides in: Iowa Falls, Iowa
The story: Matt Nelson says, “My son Fenton wanted an early ’70s GMC or Chevy pickup so bad he could not stand it. That is all he talked about, wanting to get a pickup. So I put a small ad in the local farm paper here in Iowa ‘looking for early ’70s GMC or Chevy pickup,’ and did we find one. A farmer from about one hour north of us called me and said he had a ’71 GMC ¾-ton pickup that was his fathers. His father had passed away some years ago and the truck had sat in the barn not used. The farmer could not take it to the junkyard due to the love his father had for the pickup as he had bought it new. It was his pride and joy.
“He was joyed to hear that it was for my 15-year-old boy to fix up and put it back into good use. After some discussion about what we were going to do with the truck he wanted to meet my son to make sure it would have a good home. The interview with my son went well and after a little motor work and a jump-start we were on our way home with it for $250.
“My son and I spent the whole fall and winter in the shop going through every piece, part, and instrument, getting it in good running shape. The four-barrel 350 motor was running weak so a lot of work and time went into upgrading the electrical system and carburetor until it ran like a top. The Turbo 350 tranny shifted like a dream from day one, so only a change of oil and the addition of a tranny cooler was all that was needed for that.
“New rocker panels, cab corners, quarter panels, floorboards, and the body was ready to go. I located a flatbed for it as my son is really into flatbeds. Some people do not like the looks of them, but he loves them so it got a flatbed we found in a tree grove, fixed it up, and put it back into use also.”
Nelson goes on to list all of the parts that were replaced or added including a fifth-wheel plate for a gooseneck trailer, rear suspension air bags, and a rear receiver hitch.
“The truck was done by his 16th birthday and made its debut at the ‘drive your tractor to school’ day for the local FFA chapter. It was a hit,” Nelson notes.
71 Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser
Owner: Mike Bellomy
Resides in: Scottsboro, Alabama
The story: Bellomy rescued this ’71 FJ40 from “ruining in a field” near where he lives in Alabama. He says, “I recently had a friend help me paint a ’69 FJ40 Land Cruiser and he told me he knew where there was another one and if I might be interested he would take me and show me where it was. I went out and took a look and it took me approximately two years of haggling with the guy who owned it before being able to talk him into selling it to me. I’m in the process of restoring it right now and should have it in the paint shop in the next couple of months. I plan on painting it the mustard yellow color that was so popular and just screams Land Cruiser to me.”
Bellomy’s FJ40 only has 61,000 miles on it and he says it is as solid as a new one. He has already done a disc brake swap on the front and probably will do a power steering conversion as well. Bellomy has also rescued a ’69 FJ40 that was in worse shape and he restored it to like-new condition.
1951 Dodge/Gerstenslager Power Wagon ambulance
Owner: Dan Brown
Resides in: Lapeer, Michigan
The story: Brown says, “A while back a good friend of mine from Albuquerque, New Mexico, sent an email and attached some intriguing photos. As I recall, my friend Brian and his brother had stopped at a body shop in Albuquerque to see about having some work done on his brother’s old ’50s-vintage pickup truck. Behind the shop, functioning as an auxiliary storage shed and shelter for the guard dog, was a ’51Dodge/Gerstenslager U.S. Navy Power Wagon ambulance. He asked the shop owner if the truck might be for sale, as he knew a guy up in Michigan who might be foolish enough to want to buy it and fix the thing up! Brian put me in touch with Jeff, the shop owner. Negotiations took about five minutes and I became the proud (sight unseen) owner of a not-too-rusty 8,700 GVWR doorstop. Jeff said, ‘the guy I got it from said it was running, I’m sure’ and that it had ‘most of its parts in the back,’ somewhere.
“I contracted to have the Gerstie hauled up here to Michigan by a commercial hauler who didn’t care that the truck didn’t run, had fossilized tires (one of which was flat), no brakes of any kind, and no seats, but steered OK. It took us three hours to coax the thing off the car hauler with my John Deere loader.
“I confess, I had a tiny bit of buyer’s remorse as we examined the thing. (I never admitted this to my wife, Debi. The girl is a saint.) The transportation cost was almost four times what I paid for the truck.
“Caveat emptor? No way! My new best friend Jeff is 100 percent true and honest. Once I found all of the parts I needed and vacuumed half of the high desert out of the intake manifold, the engine fired right up and runs as smooth as some of that high-priced Mexican tequila!
“This particular Dodge Power Wagon ambulance was an interim vehicle purchased by the U.S. Navy as a cab/chassis for the Korean War. The Gerstenslager Company built the body in Ohio. (These guys also built the Bookmobiles, TV trucks, and the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile that often appears in parades.) It has the same whiney, double-clutch-it transmission as the old WWII weapons carriers and the original flathead-six that powered Chrysler products for decades. I understand that only about 250 of these were built, which makes it interesting.
“My dad drove a tough, gritty WC-51 Dodge Power Wagon during WWII. He served with the 10th Mountain Division. His tales of driving through enemy territory at night with that ‘damned noisy transmission’ and a .45 Colt on the seat sparked my interest as a youngster. That interest has remained a part of my life to this day.”
1968 Jeepster Commando
Owner: Damien Aube
Resides in: Hinesburg, Vermont
The story: Aube says, “I’m an avid Jeep lover, owning several XJ, YJ, and CJ Jeeps, but my greatest find is a ’68 Jeepster Commando. It all started back in 2000 when we bought our house. The farm next door had a ’67 Jeepster Commando that had been sitting in the Vermont field for over 20 years. After a year of living there I was asked if I wanted the old Jeepster. My son and I dragged it home with my XJ and within an hour I actually got it running and it was able to move, but everything was so rusty there was no hope of repairing it (and there was the 100-plus bullet holes). Flash forward to 2011. I have been on the lookout for a better C101 Jeepster. My wife found one with a good body but the motor was bad. It was a very spur of the moment eBay purchase, a little stress over shipping from Rapid City, South Dakota, and I have a very straight and solid non-running ’67 Jeepster. Then a deal jumped up in my backyard, a ’68 that has a rebuilt engine and new tires in 2005. It was sitting in a barn five miles from my home. After trading some work for it, I now had two and pieces of a third. The ’68 was towed home, fluids changed, new battery added, and exhaust repaired. It is now up and running and I have put well over 500 miles on it, even some wheeling. Specs on it are: rebuilt 225 Dauntless V-6, Weiand intake, Holley 390cfm four-barrel carb, headers, T-90 three-speed transmission, Dana 20 T-case, Dana 44 rear axle, Dana 27 front axle, 3.73 gears, and 31-inch tires. Now to restore the ’67…”
1972 Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser
Owner: Andrew Houpt
Resides in: Lancaster, Pennsylvania
The story: Seventeen-year-old Houpt says, “In 1995, the year I was born, my father decided to purchase three ’70s FJ40 Land Cruisers for $5,000 (against my mother’s will, of course). At the time he already had an FJ40, which was his daily driver. My father planned to use three FJ40s as parts cars to restore the best one. That same year he spent $500 on Cruiser parts, which he placed in a plastic box in the back of one of the Cruisers. For a reason which I have yet to discover, my father let all four Cruisers sit untouched under some evergreens at my paternal grandparent’s house for the next 17 years. During that time rust holes spread like wildfire.
“In April 2011 I turned 16 and got my permit to drive with an adult. In Pennsylvania, the law says you must be 16½ in order to receive your driver’s license. So, I set my sights on buying a car in October 2011 when I would get my driver’s license. I had already saved up $4,000 towards a car, most of which came from stacking hay with my uncle Pat on his father-in-law’s farm. One day, my paternal grandparents and I were talking about cars and they jokingly said I should take one of the Cruisers so that I could get ‘those rust buckets’ off their property. One of the Cruisers, a ’72 FJ40, had a ’72 350ci Chevy motor under the hood and dual Cherry Bombs out the back. My interest in the Rustic Green ’72 Cruiser grew over the following weeks. Eventually I decided to spend $80 on a new battery for the Cruiser to see if I could get it running. One new battery and a gallon of fresh gas later, a miracle happened. The Cruiser snarled to life after a few seconds turning over. The sound of that 350 stuck in my head for days, and I knew I needed that Cruiser.
“My Uncle Pat and I were already close friends after working together on the farm. He is a machinist by trade. He is a car lover, like I am. We talked about fixing up the Cruiser together. We thought it would be a fun summer/fall project. Then by October I could have my very own car. We decided to go for it. I talked to my dad and he willingly gave me all four of the rusted out Cruisers. We brought the Cruiser to my maternal grandparents’ house where the cruiser would be closer to Pat and me.
“The months that followed were filled with excitement and frustration. As we dug further and further into the project we revealed many more problems that needed to be resolved. We replaced front fenders, rocker panels, quarter panels, holes in the body tub and holes in the hardtop. We were about halfway through the project and it was already December 2011! My uncle and I worked on the Cruiser every day of the week if our schedules permitted. The work went by slowly but it was done right. I learned so much over the course of the project that I cannot even begin to sum it up.
“Finally, in April 2012, we finished restoring my ’72 FJ40. I have so much pride in all the work I did on the Cruiser. I even painted myself! The Cruiser is currently being inspected. I have yet to drive it past the end of my maternal grandparents’ lane. I cannot wait for the day I get to drive the Cruiser off the inspection garage’s lot.”
1942 Ford GPW
Owner: Jon Franks
Resides in: Elon, North Carolina
The story: Franks says, “This is my ’42 Ford GPW that has been in the family since it was purchased at an Army surplus yard in California by my father at the end of World War II so he could get back home to North Carolina after being discharged from the Navy. The cross-country drive was rough. He always said the drive beat him and actually once he got home he parked it for over 10 years and then got it running again when my oldest brother was old enough to practice driving. The original odometer is still stuck on 4,192 miles from when he parked it when he got home. The speedo works, but in all my restoration projects I never wanted to mess that up. Has a lot of sentimental value to me. Me and my two brothers all learned to drive while growing up on a farm. It has been restored by me when I was in high school, again when I was in college, and again in 2010.”
Franks says the GPW has an L134ci engine, T-90 transmission, Spicer 18 T-case, Spicer 25 front axle, Spicer 23-2 rear axle with a Power-Loc, 4.88 gears, 31-inch Super Swamper LTBs, a Ramsey Patriot 9500 winch, and a complete disc brake conversion.
1979 Ford F-150
Owners: Ward and Urs Gunter
Resides in: Vero Beach, Florida
The story: Ward Gunter says, “This is truly a great story, long winded, but I think excluding the details wouldn’t be right. When I was 10 years old we joined a hunting club in central Florida. I can remember staring at the old wooden intercom on the classroom wall waiting for it to call out ‘Ward Gunter to the office, your Dad is here to pick you up’ every Friday. We would blast up the highway in what Dad used for the woods; one of his old pickups, a ’79 F-250 with a 400M bored 0.40 over with an RV cam. We painted it tiger stripe camo. It was awesome. Now this is where the story begins.
“This particular hunting club was filled with some of the states richest characters, one of these was John Land, who we lovingly referred to as ‘Uncle John.’ Uncle John would bring Pinwheels, chocolate-covered marshmallow and graham crackers, to the fire every night. He’d say, ‘How ’bout a Pinwheel pal, you touch it, it’s yours…don’t knuckle em.’ You see, John Land was the mayor of Apopka, the longest serving mayor in Florida and the longest serving full-time mayor in the history of the USA.
“Uncle John used a ’79 F-150 as his hunting truck. As a 10-year-old I could not understand why my Dad would choose to run 9.00-16 militaries, when Uncle John’s 17-40 Gumbo Monster Mudders looked so much cooler.
“Fast forward 25 years. I have graduated college, been married five years, have two beautiful children, living the American Dream and am still a member of the hunting club in central Florida. Just north of camp we have an area we take all of our animal carcasses. I was making a trip out there when I saw ‘Old Black’, which is what Uncle John called the old ’79, sitting in a clump of palmettos. I couldn’t believe it. I immediately contacted the Land family and got a title for $500.
“This may be the best part of the story. I took a fresh battery, air compressor, and 20 gallons of gasoline to the hunting camp that day and drove Old Black out of the palmetto patch for closer inspection. I added some fresh oil, rolled down the windows, and drove that Ford 75 miles back south to Vero Beach. It had been in the woods for 25 years and the gumbos about beat me to death running the blacktop. The bumpsteer was so bad that the wheel would rotate ¼ to ½ a turn before the steering box woke up.
“Repairs Made: The old truck needed a new steering box and Dana 44 solid front axle, which I robbed from a Bronco. Lots of interior pieces from LMC truck. A new set of 10x16.5 white spokes and a set of 16x38.5-16.5 TSL Super Swampers made her ride a little more true. We also put some new lumber for the flatbed. When discussing with one of my friends what paint scheme to run he suggested ‘You want people to look at it, make it look like a stop sign.’
“Here’s what we ended up with, ‘The Dixie Ghost.’ I figure I have $4,000 in it. This is proof that you can take a cow pasture find and bring it back to life. I would like to thank my dad for all his hard work, and my wife who tries not to question my intentions when I show up to the house with old junk.”
1985 Dodge D350
Owner: Jeff Fandrich
Resides in: Johnsburg, Illinois
The story: Fandrich says, “Though it’s not a Jeep I did buy a neglected old truck and I’m in the process of bringing it back to life. I purchased an ’85 Dodge D350 crew cab from a construction company last March. It had been sitting in their back lot for at least 10 years. Since I got it I have stripped the whole frame down and converted it to a W-series. I’m currently painting the frame before I set the ’92 Cummins 12-valve and five-speed Getrag transmission. Progress is slow but steady. It’s hard to get a lot done when you’re only 23 years old making $15 an hour and doing it by myself, ha ha. But nonetheless, you were interested in hearing about rare/unique trucks and I hope one day to have my truck worthy of being in your magazine. I’m hoping to have the motor and trans in and bodywork done on the cab by fall. I don’t think in the six years I’ve been a subscriber I’ve seen a first-gen Dodge crew cab grace your pages, especially Cummins-powered.”
1977 Jeep CJ-7
Owner: Pete Bach
Resides in: Black Forest, Colorado
The story: Bach says, “I bought the Jeep out of a storage yard in Monument, Colorado, about a year ago after it was abandoned by its original owner. We spotted it behind some old RVs and other rotting piles. We (myself, my wife Misty, and three kids) live in Black Forest, Colorado, and have a Jeep shop (Bach Crawlers, Inc.) in Monument, Colorado.
“The Jeep had been sitting for about five years collecting all kinds of junk in it. Lots of motor parts, beat up soft doors, etc. It sat in Woodland Park, Colorado, for many years prior to that and is a native Colorado Jeep. It had very little rust compared to most Jeeps of this age—a little on the rockers and the corners. Floorboards are like new. We bought it for $500 and towed it home because the owner said it wouldn’t run even after trying to get it started. We got it running after new plugs, wires, and fresh fuel. It has the 258ci and Tremec T-150 three-speed tranny, along with the Dana 20 T-case. Everything works flawlessly. It is a ’77 and only has about 70,000 original miles. We did all the work ourselves but had FastBlast Sandblasting prep the sheetmetal and Tri Lakes Collision and Paint applied the ’12 Mopar Sahara Sand paint. Misty did all of the initial bodywork! We rid the Jeep completely of any rust and the body is now like new again. We found the semi-rare factory CJ wheels in Texas and had them painted to match the body. It has 2½-inch springs, 33x10.50 BFG KM2s, Bestop Supertop and soft doors, all new seating and carpeting throughout, along with bedliner on the interior tub. The Jeep is mostly stock but everything has been restored to like-new condition or replaced with new OE parts. I drive it daily and it runs perfectly thanks to some engine TLC as well. People stop in their tracks when they see it and want to know all about it. We even take it on the trails and don’t baby it like most people would expect.
“Lastly, you might notice a small, green, military-like trailer in the background of the picture when the Jeep was in storage. I recently showed someone that picture and noticed the trailer. I tracked the owner down last week and bought the trailer. Turns out it is a Willys Overland Knight trailer based off of the Willys Whippet truck that was built in 1931. It still has the Whippet flanges on the axle. We are restoring it to match the CJ with the same Mopar Sahara paint, wheels, tires, pintle hook, etc.”