Custom Built All-Wood Ford Pickup Truck
Beyond Custom: Forget Aluminum, This Ford Is Oak!
While many passionate truck fans believe they can build a better truck if they were given the opportunity, rarely do they follow through. For one man in South Dakota, his passion and craftsmanship drove him to build that better truck, and the results are spectacular. His beyond-custom wooden Ford pickup is likely the most unique truck you have ever seen.
This one-of-a-kind creation is from Al Schoffelman, a crane operator in Tea, South Dakota, a small town of 3,806 people located 19 miles southwest of Sioux Falls and about three hours from any major city. His home is like many others in the area, located off a county road, up a dirt driveway, surrounded by cornfields, and hidden from view thanks to many trees. It is easy to pass by and never know that up that dirt road lives a driveable truck made nearly entirely from wood.
While the surroundings are rather unremarkable with row after row of cornfields, the wooden truck is another matter. The build started with a ’79 Ford Econoline van frame, engine, and three-speed automatic transmission that Al acquired after a family member passed away. Stripping and junking the rusted out body, Al cleaned up the frame and moved the engine and transmission to be closer to its centerline. The engine was also moved forward a bit, along with the rear axle. The frame was also shortened to help maintain proportions. He installed new cylinder heads and went to town detailing the 150,000-mile engine with brushes, Q-tips, and even toothpicks to make it sparkle.
Incredibly, the truck wasn’t built from a diagram or a plan that you may find in a woodworking magazine or through an Internet search. The design was straight from his imagination. Schoffelman simply built the 4,300-pound truck by imaging what he wanted it to look like and then cut, sanded, and nailed together the red oak to mirror that image.
“I had a rough idea what I wanted to do,” Schoffelman said. “I would stand back in the shop or sit on the bench and see if it looked right. If it didn’t, I would take that off and start with something different.”
This transformation from piles of red oak into a pickup didn’t take place overnight. Schoffelman took his knowledge of working with wood gained as a cabinetmaker and spent seven South Dakota winters in his shop to making it a reality. He initially built just the cab and drove it around for a bit. Then, he added the bed, which took an entire winter of work to get it just right. The bed illustrates one of the many challenges Al faced, as he had to carefully cut out the fuel filler door.
“I was very nervous on the fuel door because wood grain has to match,” Al said. “Where the gas filler door is I had one shot to get it right because the bed was already made. If I screw up this cut, I have to start all over with a new box. It is just a little hole, but that was my biggest concern building it.”
The dash also was an area of concern since it was built in the same fashion. All of the instrument gauges had to be cut out of the panel, however, since it was a smaller panel it was more easily replaced than the bed. Another big challenge was crafting the top and back of the cab. Getting the wood grain to match was the first challenge, and the second was sanding the headliner.
“That took a toll on the old body,” Al said. “It was hours and hours of sanding. I built stools to get to the right height, but the angle was just tough.”
One of the more interesting aspects of the truck is the wood steering column. Al says he took the steering wheel out of the van and busted the plastic off of it. He then wrapped the steel shaft with red oak and put it back in.
It isn’t all made from red oak, however. The firewall, the subfloor of the box, and subfloor of the cab were built using plywood. Everything else is solid hardwood.
There are a host of other unique features on the truck, like the wood ball hitch held on by four wood screws, the precision-cut Ford emblems on the front and rear, and the dizzying array of switches in the cabin that control the turn signals, headlights, and other electrics.
While Al gets asked many questions about the truck—like does it catch on fire when he drives it (and no, it does not)—the biggest question has to be how this come about. “I was at a car show in Rock Valley, Iowa and there was a gentleman parked next to me. He had a Diamond T Ford with a flatbed box on it and lumber on the sides,” Al remarked. “I thought to myself, I would have done it a little different. That was 10 years ago, and it more or less snowballed into what this goofball can do.”
Al likes to attend car shows, and he often drives the wood Ford truck if the weather is good. Without driver or passenger side windows and no real way to replace it besides building another one, he is naturally cautious about when and where he drives it, but it can be found on the road nonetheless. It is legal to drive with just lap belts inside the cabin since it is still titled as a ’79 Ford Econoline van, and it is also insured as one.
What’s the future of the wood truck?
“I have a couple of things I want to do to this truck yet,” Al said. “It is like any project: you are never done with it.”