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1946 Dodge Power Wagon Brought Back To Better-Than-New Life

Posted in Features on February 27, 2017
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There’s little doubt where automotive brand loyalty lies when you drive up to Greg Gilham’s house. There’s a white 1984 Dodge W150 4x4 pickup sitting behind a silver ’16 Jeep Cherokee on one side of the driveway, and a pristine silver 1990 Dodge Ramcharger nosed up to the garage door.

Those are just part of this diehard Dodge/Chrysler lover’s current vehicle collection. Greg also owns a 1935 Dodge KC 1/2-ton resto-rod pickup, hot-rodded 1938 Dodge coupe and ragtop, and a fully restored 1948 Chrysler New Yorker. But it was the green-and-black 1946 Power Wagon he backed out of the garage that really caught our attention.

It was obvious by the stance and the deep exhaust note this wasn’t exactly the same flathead-six-powered 4x4 that was near-and-dear to the hearts of four-wheeling GIs returning from World War II who saw the toughness of Dodge’s 1-ton pickup as the perfect rig to take them anywhere they pointed its nose. This professional fishing guide’s classic wheeler had something a little extra under its distinctive body.

A Quick History Lesson

The civilian version of the Power Wagon was the result of Dodge receiving hundreds of letters from homecoming GIs who wanted a civilian version of the four-wheel-drive trucks “too tough to stop” that they drove in the war over terrain where roads didn’t exist.

Gilham’s 1946 Power Wagon is a resto-mod that still evokes the original flavor of Dodge’s heavy-duty “civilianized” military utility 4x4 work truck pushed into production by homecoming GIs of World War II.

Dodge engineers were quick to respond to the wishes of such eager customers, taking the drivetrain and stretching the chassis of the “Battle Wagon” five inches, and then topping it off with a more pleasing and comfortable cab. Dodge’s experiment in bringing a military pickup to the civilian populace quickly gained traction. Within four years of it first going on sale in March 1946, the Power Wagon’s strength and unstoppable, go-anywhere, do-anything legend proved itself worthy among serious 4x4 pickup users.

Power Wagons, with their rugged build, 3,000-pound payload capacity, 8-foot-long, 22-inch-deep bed, flathead-six, and two-way power-takeoff, soon became the pickup of choice for the Army Corp of Engineers and U.S. Forest Service, fire departments and utility companies, farmers and ranchers, loggers, oilmen and road builders from coast to coast. If you needed a four-wheel-drive pickup to get ’er done, the Power Wagon was the one you bought.

Greg’s resto-mod Power Wagon wasn’t much to look at the day he unloaded it off a trailer into his garage. “Finding all the missing pieces was like one big, long scavenger hunt,” says the fishing guide and fisheries field biologist.

As a 1950 Dodge Power Wagon promotional video said, “A Power Wagon can do anything. It’ll milk your cows, or move your mountains…As goes men’s imaginations, so goes the Power Wagon. A single truck, born in the desperation of war is now changing, helping, serving and improving the lives of people for whom it works.”

According to Allpar.com, Dodge sold 95,145 WDX-WM300 Power Wagons (not to be confused with the 1954-later WM-Series 4x4 pickups that Dodge also called “Power Wagons”) in the U.S. between 1946 and 1968 when Stateside sales stopped. The exported Power Wagon production ceased a decade later. The base price for the 1946 Power Wagon was $1,627, and it sold for $4,634 in 1968.

Modernizing A Classic

Greg was well aware of the Power Wagon’s war-time origin and unstoppable off-road prowess. So when he came across the bedless cab and chassis of what was once a 1946 Forest Service truck, he couldn’t resist the temptation to add yet another Dodge to his collection of rolling stock. It took him 10 years to make his vision a rolling, daily-driven reality.

“Nothing is tougher than an old Dodge Power Wagon,” Greg told us during our day wheelin’ with him along snowy backroads on the western side of the Cascade Mountains. “They were the heavy-duty 4x4s of their time. But I wanted a modernized version, while keeping the original flavor, using all Dodge parts that I could enjoy driving every day.”

Duane Hershfelt took the 360 out of a donor ’85 W250 Power Ram, rebuilt it, balanced the internals, and topped it off with an Edelbrock Performer manifold and 500cfm manual-choke four-barrel carb. “I wanted this truck to be an everyday driver,” says owner Greg Gilham. “So I kept everything simple.”

To that end he masterfully merged the components of three modern-era Dodges (a 1978 W150 Power Wagon Stepside, 1985 W250 Power Ram 4x4, and a 1976 Dodge Power Wagon) to bring his wisp of a 1946 back to new-found life. The old iron’s 94hp flathead-six, three-speed manual, and transfer case have been replaced with a warmed-up 360 from the 1985 backed by the NP435 four-speed and divorced NP205 transfer case from the 1976 Power Wagon. Greg also swapped out the 1946’s original axles with the front Dana 44 and Dana 60 he pulled from the 3/4-ton -- all the while keeping the original 1-ton leaf springs to give his “resto-mod” the appearance of being stock.

Traction comes from 38.5-inch Michelin XZL 11.00R16s mounted on 8-lug steel Dodge rims. The frame is the stock double-channel. Joe Bowers of Bowers Race & Rod Shop helped Greg put all the little pieces back together to make the body look factory.

Greg’s classic runs open differentials front and rear, with 4.89 gearing sending the 360’s pulling power to 38.7-inch Michelin XZL 11.00-16 10-ply commercial radial mud tires mounted on Dodge 16x6.5-inch steel rims. He nixed the hardwood in the old bed, replacing it with 3/8-inch diamond plate steel, and used Line-X for an added layer of protection to the bed, running boards, and fenders.

When Greg found this truck, a lot of parts were missing, including the bed. Fortunately, he had a longbed from a 1978 stepside, and Classic Enterprises was reproducing the stamped tailgates. He married the two to replicate the original Power Wagon’s bed. The 40-gallon gas tank was retrofitted from his 1985 Power Wagon donor truck.

Greg spent a lot of time cleaning up the interior, including having the bench seat reupholstered, the stock gauges customized to electronic, putting in a “new” windshield frame from N/C Industries, adding sound-deadening material to the cab, and installing a hidden stereo sound system to listen to his favorite tunes while rolling down the road. About the only non-Dodge parts on the truck, sans the engine and hydraulic brake upgrades, are the Toyota Land Cruiser steering box, ididit steering column, Classic Enterprises tailgate, and 16.5ti Warn winch that resides in the Dodge M37 front bumper.

An ididit steering column and Lecarra Mark 10 steering wheel with a 1938 Dodge horn button fit right in with the interior motif. The stock Power Wagon gauges were restored and converted to electronic by United Speedometer Service in Riverside, California.
The original Power Wagons had the option of a hydraulic-operated PTO winch. Greg’s resto-mod runs a 16.5ti Warn electric winch mounted in the M37 front bumper. The box behind the winch is the truck’s battery, as there was no room for it in the engine compartment.

When you walk up to Greg’s Power Wagon, you feel as if you are stepping back 70 years in time when heavy-duty 4x4s were built to survive the rigors of war and the toughest of jobs in the civilian world. It’s a safe bet this one would do just fine if it were put to such tests.

At A Glance

General
Vehicle: ’46 Dodge Power Wagon
Owner: Greg Gilham
Stomping grounds: Salem, Oregon
Build time: 3.5 years over a 10-year span

Drivetrain
Engine: Dodge 360ci V-8
Transmission: NP435L 4-spd
Transfer case(s): JB Custom Fabrication NP205
Low range ratio(s): 1.96:1
Crawl ratio(s): 64.02:1
Front axle/differential: Dana 44, disc brakes, 4.89 gears/open diff
Rear axle/differential: Dana 60, drum brakes, 4.89 gears/open diff

Suspension
Front: Stock 1-ton ’46 Power Wagon 11-leaf springs, ’85 3/4-ton Ram hydraulic shocks and mounting brackets
Rear: Stock 1-ton ’46 Power Wagon 14-leaf springs, ’85 3/4-ton Ram hydraulic shocks and mounting brackets
Steering: ’81 Toyota PS box mated to a re-splined ’85 Dodge pitman arm

Tires/Wheels
Tires: 11.00R16 Michelin XZL 10-ply
Wheels: 16x6.5 Dodge eight-lug steel

Miscellaneous
Armor: Dodge M37 front bumper and rear bumperettes, 3/8-in diamond plate in bed, Line-X coating over fenders, running boards, interior and bed
Cool stuff: Warn 16.5ti, battery box on front bumper, hidden stereo system, electronic retro gauges

The Dana 60 rear axle assembly and stock rear shock crossmember from the 3/4-ton 4x4 donor truck fit nicely in 1946’s frame using the old Power Wagon’s 1-ton leaf springs. Greg also used the 1-ton Dodge 4x4 driveshafts, although they had to be shortened to fit.
Greg put the 1985 Power Wagon’s Dana 44 front diff under his 1946 and used a Toyota Land Cruiser power steering box to handle the turning chores. Front and rear differentials are open with 4.89 gearing. Simple and efficient.
A JB Custom Fabrication NP205 divorced transfer case, with custom shifter, handles the four-wheel-drive duties. He used the T-case crossmember from the donor truck and made a bracket in the 1946’s frame to hold it in place.
It took a lot of searching to find the missing pieces, like the taillights. What the old classic didn’t have was backup lights, so he slipped in ones from a 1969 Dodge Charger.
The interior is much less cluttered than it was in 1946, now with just a single transfer case lever and shifter mounted on the floor. A stock Power Wagon heater works great in the little cab even in the middle of winter. The floor is coated with Line-X for easy wash-and-clean.

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