Son's 1959 Chevy Suburban is a lot like Dad's
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Tom Duensing saw firsthand the usefulness of a capable vehicle decades ago while spending miles on the road with his father in Kane County. His dad, Don Duensing, owned a wholesale food business in Dundee Township and relied on a mid-1950s Chevrolet panel truck.
"As a small kid I'd ride with him," Duensing said. "He only had the driver's seat inside so I'd sit on cases of food and go with him on deliveries to local restaurants and shops."
Those fond experiences stayed with the Cary resident. His desire to own a similar vehicle became a reality in 1985 when he was living outside of Houston and purchased a 1959 Chevrolet Apache Suburban he found near his home.
"It was parked on the side of a dusty road and was full of character. Seeing it brought back all those memories of time with Dad," Duensing said.
The seller was able to shed some light on the Chevy's past. Instead of hauling dry goods, this bow tie had moved our nation's servicemen and servicewomen.
"It was a personnel carrier at the Fort Sam Houston army base in San Antonio," Duensing said. When it was retired from active duty, an officer bought it. Later, that officer sold it to the owner who subsequently passed it on to Duensing.
"He had the truck painted yellow but where it's flaking off, you can still see the olive drab military paint underneath," he said.
A year after the purchase, Duensing loaded up the Chevy and relocated back to Illinois during Thanksgiving week of 1986. "It was a sunny 85 degrees when my fiance and I left. When we stopped in Memphis for the night, it was zero degrees."
The weather continued to plunge as they headed north, ending up at a frigid 75 degrees below zero with the wind chill. "I continued driving but layered every piece of clothing I had," he said. "The truck has a small heater but it is very drafty" with all of the original, no-longer-airtight seals around sliding windows, doors and vents.
For the next several years, the Suburban became Duensing's year-round daily driver.
"I was selling insurance and driving the truck to meet new customers. They always gave me funny looks when it'd pull up and I'd hop out in a suit, tie and with a briefcase," Duensing said.
All that pounding the pavement necessitated some light repairs for the Suburban. The exhaust seals, valve cover gaskets and brake lines were replaced along with other regular maintenance items. All told, the original 235-cubic-inch inline six-cylinder still resides underhood and has never been out the vehicle or dissembled.
"It's a reliable driver. It just starts up and goes," said Duensing. Manual four-wheel drum brakes bring it to a stop while a three-speed manual transmission and shifter on the column changes gears.
"Behind the wheel, you're sitting up high," he said. "You need both hands on the wheel but wherever you go, it starts a conversation."
A few cosmetic items have also been addressed, including painting the valve cover and oil filter and sandblasting the wheels and giving them a fresh coat of paint.
These days, the Chevy doesn't go out on a daily basis but Duensing still puts all that interior cargo room to good use regularly. "Its perfect for chores and running errands. In less than five minutes I can pull the seats out and I have a covered pickup!"
It's not just cargo Duensing will haul. "When I've got house parties, we'll all pile in and go to dinner. It can handle 10 people with room to spare."
The truck also gets used for important business meetings.
"I deal with many out-of-country clients and when they come to town, they love going for rides," he said. "Whether they're from South Africa, Europe or anywhere else, everyone loves it — it's so unusual."
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