NORMAN — The first motor vehicle that Greg Burnett got his hands on to drive with no adult supervision was at his relatives’ farm in western Kansas. His mom’s side of the family were hardy French-speaking Canadians who had immigrated to the Sunflower State to raise wheat and children.
“My cousins were accustomed to driving long before they were 13 or 14 years old,” he said. “They’d drive trucks and other farm equipment across the pasture.”
When Burnett was a kid he’d visit and get to crunch gears on the 1940s era International Harvester trucks around the place. Decades later in a new century those fond memories made him want to find and own one of those trucks from the mid-1900s.
Burnett knows his way around vintage automobiles, trucks and motorcycles. He’s the owner/operator of Riverside Speed Shop, 2219 S. Robinson in Capitol Hill. Burnett rebuilds and restores vehicles made before 1964 for private clients.
He’s also a rockabilly musician and is well known in metro artistic circles for his singular style and retro panache.
“A few years ago I told my wife Traci that I needed another truck for the shop,” Burnett said. “The van I was using had seen its day and didn’t really have a lot of cool factor.” One Monday morning after a trip to visit friends in Austin he was looking through Sunday’s newspaper classified ads.
“I found a 1941 International Harvester pick-up for sale in the antiques and classics section,” he said. “It had no engine or transmission but I didn’t want that anyway.”
His new acquisition was pretty much just dented sheet metal that had been sitting in a pasture.
“There was no glass in it but that was easy to replace because it was all flat,” Burnett said. “The window regulators were still operative and I kept the 1941 air conditioning which consists of a crank-out windshield.” He found no official source for International Harvester parts. The company was broken up and sold off 25 years ago. Replacement parts for the truck that he christened “Abominational” were painstakingly collected on E-Bay and other on-line resources.
“It took around two years to find all the bars for the front grill,” he said. Burnett learned that his short wide-bed truck was fairly rare because most of them from that era were either flat beds or long beds.
“I installed a high horsepower, small block Chevy engine and transmission with overdrive,” he said. “A friend of mine had a low mileage wrecked 1984 S-10 Chevy Blazer where I got the power steering and disc brakes.” These components along with the Blazer’s rear axle were grafted onto Abominational’s original frame. The result is a safe and easy to drive vehicle combining antique appeal with modern technology. An extraordinary exhaust system has given the old truck a distinctive aural note. “It’s just a really fun vehicle to drive,” Burnett said. “That old truck puts a smile on people’s faces.”
He’s been approached for jobs working on other old cars after someone saw his truck parked at an event or rally. My first glimpse of the completed Abominational was sitting at Barb Hendrickson’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Garage Sale a few years ago at the old 66 Bowl in OKC.
“I’ve seen a couple of old International Harvester pick-up trucks around town but mine is the only I know of that’s customized,” Burnett said.
The truck’s customization is where Burnett’s creativity came to the fore. Abominational could be called a psychobilly-mobile. The psychobilly music genre combines elements of comic book and movie horror, hot rod culture and lurid sexuality.
Abominational’s hood ornament is a voluptuous reclining female figure in chrome. Not unusual except her body is decapitated and the arms are resting on a miniature tomb stone. Twin axe heads two feet apart serve as the front bumper. The driver’s side rear view mirror fixture is a skeleton-like hand in rusted iron holding the reflective surface. A trio of amber lamps spaced evenly across the front of the truck’s roof suggests demonic horns. Each door has a “Voodoo Machine Shop” graphic and there’s a raised trim bar that mimics bamboo slats. There are many more details of this scandalous nature including where Burnett altered the chrome trim word “International” on the hood to read “Abominational.”
“Most of the guys who restore International Harvesters are purists,” Burnett said. “So this name just kind of stuck.” He admits to being retro kind of guy who sees a lack of soul in modern automobiles. In his opinion cars should be more than just transportation to work. “I grew up in the era of traditional hot rods,” Burnett said. “They were a 1927 Model T or A that someone put in a semi-modern Ford flathead engine and made them run pretty fair.”
But Abominational takes him back even before those years to when he was a kid who hadn’t shaved yet bumping along the Kansas prairie in a farm truck.
Have you seen a cool vehicle around town? Writer Doug Hill’s always on the lookout for future Dig My Ride columns. E-mail him at Hillreviews@hotmail.com.