There are a lot of classic car enthusiasts, and some have impressive collections. They polish them to a perfect shine so you can see your reflection in the paint, oil down the leather upholstery and …
There are a lot of classic car enthusiasts, and some have impressive collections. They polish them to a perfect shine so you can see your reflection in the paint, oil down the leather upholstery and tires, and show them off proudly at car shows.
It’s different for Earl Robinson. He has a collection of old work trucks and vans, and he enjoys talking about them. But about the only thing he has to say about his collection that comes anywhere close to boasting is to point out they all run and have great utility value to his business, Robinson Construction.
Otherwise, he just likes how his cars strike up conversations and bring fond memories for people.
“I met a lot of people driving this thing around,” he said of his 1951 Chevy Panel. “It’s just a good way to meet people.”
Robinson Construction does general contracting work for residential and commercial jobs, including timber structures, restoration and passive solar applications.
“All of my vehicles I use every day,” he said. “They’re not show vehicles; I’m not the kind of guy that can afford show vehicles. If I have something, I want to be able to use it.”
For example, his favorite quality about his 1974 Chevy step-van is how maneuverable it is. This is especially useful with jobs downtown.
“I got everything I need in here, and I can park this downtown without impeding traffic or causing a problem,” Robinson said.
Other vehicles he has are considerably older, such as his 1946 Chevy pickup, which he bought from a man who’d owned it for 50 years. That man got it from his grandfather, who was the original owner. There’s no heater, and the starter is on the floor.
Robinson also has a 1953 Chevy five-window pickup, which he bought in the 1970s and has kept running ever since.
“It’s a nice ol’ truck to drive around,” he said.
Robinson doesn’t do much of the restoration work himself, but he makes it a point to use local businesses.
“I’m not a mechanic, and I’m not a body shop,” he said. “I’m a local business owner, and I understand the importance of it. I try to keep my money in town.”
The paint on his Chevy step-van was done by Body and Paint by Tait. The lettering was done by Rovenna Signs and Design. Tracy Sweet from Autoworks put new belts and hoses on the 1946 pickup engine. The only work he had done outside of Powell was some upholstery work on his 1972 GMC pickup, but the paint was done by Body and Paint by Tait.
Robinson rebuilt the box on his 1957 Chevy dump truck himself, which had only the frame when he bought it.
“It’s a good work truck,” he said. “I think I’ve carried as much as 13,000 pounds of gravel and broken concrete in it.”
His 1974 Jeep rounds out the seventh vehicle of the fleet, and it’s the one that he drove to Wyoming back in 1976, right after he bought it. Robinson had to decide whether to take his stereo or his television, because they both wouldn’t fit in the vehicle. He went with the TV.
Robinson said there is some branding value to his fleet. He distinguishes his business first with superior quality work, but the vehicles create an association and recognition for the business. Modern vehicle styles, he said, lack that distinction in their body types.
“I can be driving down the interstate and see a classic car or truck. I can be 2 or 3 miles away, and just by the silhouette, I can tell it’s not a modern day vehicle,” Robinson said.
With seven old vehicles, the hobby takes up a lot of space. He’s grateful that his wife, Mary Ellen Ibarra-Robinson, is supportive.
“Some people bring home stray animals,” he said. “I guess I have a habit of bringing home old pickups.”