1934 Chevy Canopy Express Motorized Blacksmith Shop

We started out here. With a hemi-powered 1935/6 Chevy that was my dad’s daily driver at the time I was born in the early sixties. Even though he’s a “serial restorer” of many beautiful vintage Fords, this Chevy is one that he never opted to take on. Instead it went to auction in 2010 and we ended up with it. What followed next was an epic secret project where husband Rob and son Jordan brought the truck back to life and we surprised my dad with it running; just like it was when he parked it 50-some years ago. Full story here

However, putting the truck back like it was when Dad drove it brought into focus a very big problem with the restoration as it stood. You see, from 1926 to 1936, Chevy built their truck cabs around wood frames. The steel was formed around the wood frame and fastened into place. When the wood rotted, the whole works fell apart. To restore one of these back to original condition is complicated and expensive. But in Rob’s typical “how hard can it be?” fashion, he set about finding the wood kit needed to restore our Chevy’s cab back to stability.

Chevy used steel for their truck frames, but unfortunately they chose wood for the frame of their cabs.

What followed was an extensive search for the wood kit. He soon discovered that these are extremely hard to find. The one guy that he found who is making these was years behind. Enter ebay…

Where he found exactly what he was looking for. But wait, there’s more. Turns out there was a lot more. The fellow who was selling the wood kit had additional ’30s Chevy trucks. And many, many, many parts to go with said trucks. We hooked up the trailer and drove to Potsdam, New York. And basically emptied his garage for him.

The Canopy Express was part of the package deal. Of course we were delighted; it’s so dang cool looking, and in pretty good shape, but at the time, we didn’t know anything about them, or how rare they truly are.

In my research, I found this, which describes the purpose of the Canopy Express perfectly: “In the days of the one car family (or no car in the family) the Canopy Express was an extension of the retail stores. Products for sale could be brought to the neighborhoods. The lady of the house could even call the store requesting a delivery. The roll-up canvas sides of the Canopy Express were a natural for displaying groceries and related home merchandise in housing developments while protecting it from bad weather. They were equipped with a 4 speed transmission that gave them a very slow speed in first gear while moving through neighborhoods.
In the beginning of the 20th Century more people were moving from multi-story apartment living into stand alone new homes. This was the beginning of urban spread and stores were no longer just a short walk away.
It was difficult for a housewife with small children to walk to a distant grocery store, especially in bad weather. The Canopy Express was just what the store owner needed to reach his customers. Often a bell was attached to the cab near the driver’s door. This told the housewife that the Canopy Express was coming. The grocery shopping for the family’s evening meal could be done beside the city street.
Neighborhood deliveries were very important to the many stores that served new neighborhoods with individual homes. A Canopy Express was the vehicle of choice among grocers for over 30 years. The end of this type delivering began in the mid 1950’s. With more disposable income in the USA, a second family car became available. Larger supermarkets in shopping areas now successfully encouraged people to shop away from home.”
~source

This ad from April 28, 1934 is upbeat and cheery, but for the most part the mid-thirties were anything but. The country was in depression. Unemployment that year was 22%. Dust storms ruined about 100 million acres and damaged another 200 million acres of cropland in Kansas, Texas, Colorado, and Oklahoma.

Gangsters like Bonnie & Clyde and John Dillenger were robbing places right and left, committing 23 murders in the process. From my relatively safe rural home here in Indiana, it’s hard for me to get my brain around the dichotomy of the desperation of the times contrasted against the idyllic scene of a legion of Canopy Express trucks vending groceries to grateful urban housewives.

Somewhere in between the gangsters, grocers, urban housewives and desperate farmers, there were still horses. In the 1930s, about a significant amount of the transportation and farm work was still being done by equines.

Frank Harding Horseshoeing – Rush, NY – photo courtesy Bill Miller collection

Before the advent of motorized transportation, horses conveyed themselves to the blacksmith shop. Now, the blacksmith had a way to bring his shop to the horses. I am guessing this was still a rarity, though, as photographic evidence of such is exceedingly hard to find.

But that didn’t stop us from reimagining our own Canopy Express as the perfect vehicle for a mobile blacksmith shop

When catalog time rolled around in Fall of 2020, Rob suggested that I make a t-shirt featuring vintage farrier rigs of yesteryear. While I resisted, talking of things like image availability, copyrights, photo resolution and the like, he was busy gathering up his horseshoeing tools, anvil, etc, and creating the perfect vintage farrier rig for me to photograph, in high-res, with no copyright restrictions.

The oak toolbox shown here has not seen a horse barn since it’s original owner passed in 30+ years ago. Instead it’s got an honored place in our house, serving as a side table/magazine rack. It belonged to Greenville, Ohio farrier Bob Graham. Bob was a dear friend, a noted farrier of Hackney ponies and Saddlebred show horses. The shoes on the tailgate are vintage Phoenix, with tall toe and heel calks designed to keep horses from falling on slick city streets.

The flat expanses of body panels on this truck are fairly begging for graphics, so I obliged in Photoshop.

The fellow who curated all the pieces of this rare vehicle did an exceptional job. Original hood ornaments are quite rare; they’re easily broken. Spare tire and mounting hardware usually are missing. And bumpers on 86+ year old trucks are almost never this straight.

The roll-up panels that enclose the sides and back are held in place by buckled leather straps. It’s not hard to imagine a harness maker supplying these. They’re also an exceptionally good canvas for advertising graphics. You can bet if we ever get around to restoring this truck I’ll be having a field day outfitting it with the perfect, period-correct farrier graphics.

The resulting T-shirt, deemed ANVIL EXPRESS, turned out great. I incorporated a Hay-Budden farrier’s anvil, embellished with a bit of fancy pinstripe, along with four views of the Canopy Express posing as a motorized blacksmith shop. To order click here

Our Canopy’s hood ornament is missing part of it’s beak, but she still stands tall and proud with her fragile wings outstretched, paying homage to the hard-working, brave souls who endured the challenges of the 1930s.

Wanna read more?

Is this all I do? Post pictures and stories about life here on the farm? Nope! HoofPrints.com is my “real” job.

More farrier stuff is here

You can read more posts about horses here

For more fun on the farm, go here

Adventures in remodeling are here

Is the house haunted? There are some stories about that here

Posts about food and recipes are here

Laughable housekeeping advice is here

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