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  • CAT Diesel Power, International Truck and Studebaker Sedan are Joined in Snapper Schomaker’s Bad Buggy

CAT Diesel Power, International Truck and Studebaker Sedan are Joined in Snapper Schomaker’s Bad Buggy

Alter Ego

Joe Greeves
Jan 30, 2016
Photographers: Joe Greeves
Sometimes, the most unusual vehicles begin with a surprisingly logical approach and satisfy a real need. Take one look at Snapper Schomaker’s Studebaker and you might not immediately understand the logic behind it. It becomes clearer, however, when Snapper explains the deal. “Since I was a young boy, I always wanted a big truck to drive around, but most of us realize that’s not very practical. So, instead, I built a practical big truck that I enjoy driving!”
Snapper has been around cars all his life. His grandfather owned a dozen different pieces of excavating machinery and Snapper was driving them at an early age. His father reinforced his enthusiasm when he gave him a worn-out ’83 Chevrolet S-10. Snapper disassembled the truck down to the last nut and bolt, reconditioning everything, reassembling it, and then using the truck all through high school. And, Snapper tells us, he still has it.
Photo 2/30   |   029 1928 Studebaker Commander Caterpillar C12 Snapper
The idea behind his latest ride began with a Photoshop concept that combined a Caterpillar powertrain with a classic ’28 Studebaker Commander touring-car body that Snapper’s father owned. The engine, Eaton/Fuller 10-speed manual transmission, and front end come from a ’96 International 9200 twin-axle tractor (a big rig) that was discarded at a salvage yard because of a bad water pump—which actually ended up being an easy fix. Snapper left the engine and transmission in the frame but cut 27 feet off the rear, to which he grafted a Freightliner AirLiner suspension.
While the front suspension uses the truck’s factory leaf spring, Snapper cut half of the spring and designed an airbag system that supports the front axle. In the rear, the modified big rig suspension holds an Eaton RS404 rear axle. The Studebaker cab has its own, smaller airbag setup. As a result of the changes, the buggy now rides approximately 20 inches lower than stock.
Photo 3/30   |   027 1928 Studebaker Commander Caterpillar C12 Dashboard Interior
Powering the buggy is a bone-stock, 12.0L Caterpillar C12 engine, which makes 425 hp and 1,550 lb-ft of torque. Once the powertrain was in place, getting the rig rolling was the next challenge. Snapper visited the local Mack dealer, which happened to have a wrecked truck in the yard, equipped with a pair of 22.5-inch, super-single rear wheels. After a few quick measurements, Snapper was pleasantly surprised to find that the big Alcoa hoops and Michelin tires blended perfectly with the Studebaker body. The front wheels are standard 19.5-inch motorhome units, also fitted with Michelins.
With the chassis finally rolling, the vintage Studebaker Commander body was next. The body, original interior, and seats were in beautiful condition, featuring plenty of room inside and affording easy access through the standard front and suicide rear doors. The gauge package and wiring harness are a direct lift from the International tractor, which means the buggy’s aluminum dash is filled with enough modern instruments to make any long-haul trucker feel right at home! Everything works, including the cruise control, sequential windshield wipers, tachometer, and pyrometer, as well as the air suspension.
Externally, Snapper’s vision was to have the truck look like a bulldozer rolling down the street, so he created a diamond-plate casing up front, then incorporated a grille from a CAT 966 front end loader and a 631 CAT scraper’s headlights. The buggy’s cab is equipped with Dynamat sound insulation, a power adjustable front seat, and Vintage Air air conditioning, making it a wonderful highway cruiser with about a 300-mile range.
Photo 4/30   |   018 1928 Studebaker Commander Caterpillar C12 Engine
Snapper says the biggest problem with rapid acceleration is that he can’t shift the non-synchronized transmission quite fast enough. About the time the engine starts to build boost, it’s time to shift. He knows he could install an Allison automatic but says “that would take all the fun out of it.”
The engine makes plenty of power once this unique, alternative ride gets up to speed, and thanks to 2.93 rearend gears, it offers the best of both worlds. The high gears help the engine make enough torque to relocate Gibraltar to the North Atlantic and support a cruising rpm of 1,100 at 65 mph, delivering fuel economy of a very respectable 20.1 mpg. Snapper smiles when he says the truck gets the best mileage of any vehicle he owns!
Snapper completed a majority of the 13-month build himself, welding all the additions, then doing the bodywork and primer. When it came time for the finished paintjob, naturally he chose Caterpillar Yellow, which was applied by Graceland Automotive in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The stripes pay tribute to both old and new Caterpillar branding.
Photo 5/30   |   015 1928 Studebaker Commander Caterpillar C12 Big Wheels
Snapper built the buggy to drive, and he does indeed drive it everywhere. To prove the point, it’s been to the Woodward Dream Cruise in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015; Cruise Ocean City in 2014 and 2015; Cruising the Coast in Mississippi 2015; Goodguys Columbus in 2014; and the 2015 Fall Daytona Turkey Run, where we photographed the buggy. His goal is to drive the wheels off, touring all the top car cruises in the United States, including a future Hot Rod Power Tour.
Fast Facts:
Year/Make/Model: ’28 Studebaker Commander
Owner: Snapper Schomaker
Hometown: Sewickley, Pennsylvania
Odometer: 7,725 miles
Engine: 12.0L Caterpillar C12 I-6
Fuel: Caterpillar electronic fuel injection with minor modifications Air: Caterpillar turbocharger and intercooler
Exhaust: Custom 5-inch with three-stage Jacobs Vehicle Systems engine brake
Transmission: Non-synchronized Eaton/Fuller 10-speed manual
Power: 425 hp
Torque: 1,550 lb-ft
Tires: 285/70R19.5 (front) and 455/55R22.5 super-single (rear) Michelin
Wheels: 19.5x8 (front) and 22.5x14 (rear) Alcoa
Suspension: Stock leaf spring/airbag hybrid (front), Freightliner AirLiner (rear), power steering, and antilock brakes
Axles: Eaton RS404 rear with 2.93 gears
Body: Caterpillar Yellow paint by Graceland Automotive, CAT 966 front end loader grille, and CAT 631 scraper headlights
Interior: Stock seats, aluminum dash, International 9200 wiring and gauges, functional cruise control, sequential windshield wipers, tachometer, and pyrometer
Fuel economy: 20.1 mpg highway
Fun Fact: Great trucks aren’t built in a vacuum. The folks who helped with the project are credited in the Turtle logo on the door, but special thanks go to Snapper’s girlfriend, Amanda; Jim Wilkenson from Cleveland Brothers Caterpillar; Dave from West Point Truck Sales; and many others.
Photo 6/30   |   001 1928 Studebaker Commander Caterpillar C12
Snapper Schomaker calls his one-of-a-kind ’28 Studebaker buggy “practical,” since it has the outrageous look of a road-going bulldozer and still gets 20 mpg thanks to an Eaton/Fuller 10-speed manual transmission and 2.93 rearend gears. An International 9200 big rig’s power-steering box makes the rig easy to park, and stopping is assisted by air drum brakes with ABS on all four wheels.
Photo 7/30   |   009 1928 Studebaker Commander Caterpillar C12 Front Headlights Grille
The grille comes from a CAT 966 front end loader. Bulldozer headlights are outlined with LEDs, which act as turn signals. All the diamond-plate casing up front was hand-fabricated by Snapper.
Photo 8/30   |   011 1928 Studebaker Commander Caterpillar C12 Big Wheels
The blend of fat, “super-single” tires and the classic ’28 Studebaker cab make for head-swiveling reactions when the rig rolls down the highway. The cab rides on its own airbags, independent of the truck’s air-supported suspension.
Photo 9/30   |   016 1928 Studebaker Commander Caterpillar C12 Names
Everyone who helped during the build gets credit, with names carefully added to the logo on the doors.
Photo 10/30   |   017 1928 Studebaker Commander Caterpillar C12 Engine
The 12.0L Caterpillar C12 engine pumps out 425 hp and more than 1,500 lb-ft of torque in stock trim. Snapper says it’s more than enough to propel the big rig to speeds north of the century mark, if you have the cojones to try it. A Freightliner FLD-120 radiator cools the engine so well that the mechanically operated fan only cycles under the most extreme conditions.
Photo 11/30   |   021 1928 Studebaker Commander Caterpillar C12 Super Single Wheels
Wheels can make or break a rig, and we think the choice of tall super singles on the rear and Alcoas from a motorhome up front get the job done beautifully.
Photo 12/30   |   023 1928 Studebaker Commander Caterpillar C12 Suicide Doors Seats
The 90-year-old Studebaker body is loaded with classic cool touches that include suicide doors that open to period-correct, brown horsehair seats. Snapper pushes a button to raise the cab slightly in order for the rear doors to clear the tall tires.
Photo 13/30   |   026 1928 Studebaker Commander Caterpillar C12 Dashboard Interior
The dashboard and steering column are taken directly from an International 9200 and give Snapper lots to look at as he rolls down the interstate. Vintage Air keeps everyone cool, while multiple layers of Dynamat minimize road noise.
Photo 14/30   |   028 1928 Studebaker Commander Caterpillar C12 Snapper
Snapper stands beside his favorite toy, an amazing blend of old and new, built in just 13 months. For peace of mind, he hired a pro to weld the custom 23-gallon, passenger-side, step fuel tank.

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