Trucking apples in another era
EAST WENATCHEE, Wash. — Big trucks carrying upward of 70 bins of apples are common on roads and highways during apple harvest. But heads turn when Jack Feil’s 1946 Chevrolet flatbed rolls by with just 14 bins on board.
It’s a glimpse of the past, a scene from another era.
The truck has big black fenders and running boards. A faded blue, V-shaped hood sits above a distinctive nickel-plated grille. It was the last year Chevy trucks had that ’30s styling.
“Feil Orchard. Baker Flat. 1908,” is printed on the doors.
That’s the year Feil’s grandfather, Henry Feil, started the orchard on what became Baker Flats, seven miles north of East Wenatchee. The Feils, the Dicks family and the Bakers were the first settlers there.
Now 85, Jack Feil, doesn’t drive the ’46 flatbed much anymore. He turned that duty and management of his 55 acres of orchard over to Lupe Torres a couple of years ago.
But Feil drove the truck ever since his dad, Harold Feil, bought it new from Foster Chevrolet in Waterville in 1946. It’s been the orchard’s only hauler of fruit to the packing shed since then. But it’s been relatively light duty since Columbia Fruit Packers in Wenatchee’s Olds Station is a mere 11 miles away.
It’s a bouncy, noisy ride in the narrow cab. There are no seat belts.
A hand crank opens the “roll out” windshield at the bottom, letting in fresh air. A lone windshield wiper seldom sees use. There’s no power steering, but there are power brakes.
“This is my gas gauge,” Feil said, grabbing an apple sucker limb from behind the seat. He sticks it in the 30-gallon tank to see how full it is.
He doesn’t know how many miles are on it because the odometer was broken for many years before he installed a new one with a digital display.
He also doesn’t remember how much his dad paid for it in 1946, but he knows his dad was anxious to replace his 1935 International with something more powerful.
“It was right after the war. I was a sophomore in high school. New trucks were scarce because manufacturers were just returning to civilian production,” Feil said.
“The trucks came in red, green and blue. We got a blue one because it was the last one Foster had left,” Feil said.
It came, chassis and frame, designed to hold a dump truck box. Feil’s older brother, Bob, who later became owner of Bob Feil’s Boats and Motors, modified the frame and built the flatbed with their dad.
The truck originally had a straight six-cylinder engine. Feil replaced it years ago with a small-block V-8 and then a 350 cubic-inch V-8. He replaced the manual transmission with an automatic.
“I had to get more power to stay out of harm’s way,” he said. “It wouldn’t do more than 55 mph and going uphill loaded it was less than 40.”
Now it can maintain 50 mph.
Probably more than the truck, Feil is known for his eight years of litigation against extension of the Apple Capital Loop Trail near his orchard as an incompatible land use. He lost a final appeal in 2012 and the extension is to be built next year. He’s also known for growing dozens of rare, heirloom apple varieties. He says there’s 100, many of just one tree each.
But with the truck, Torres and his brother, Octavio, are careful to stay on outside highway lanes when hauling fruit to town. Apple bins block the back window and the only mirror hangs from the driver’s door. The driver can’t see anything to his right rear.
It’s legal, Feil said, since it’s the way it came.
Octavio Torres noted the steering is pretty loose when he stepped out of the truck upon arriving at the orchard after taking a load to town.
But it is fun, he said, getting all the second glances from other motorists.
A new truck wouldn’t be worth the cost, Feil said, given the size of his operation.
“It does the job,” he said. “I think I’ll keep it a while.”