John Shaw is a Wisconsin guy who had plans to restore an old truck of some kind. Never in a million years did he think he’d wind up finding one living quietly in retirement in Southern California some 2,000 miles away.
Somehow, however, Shaw and his venerable 1930 Ford AA dually seem made for each other. Shaw is a salt-of-the-earth kind of guy, and the rugged, no-frills hauler is right up his alley.
“Well, we were originally restoring an older truck and we were having problems,’’ says the resident of New London, Wis. “And the guy that was doing it found this one and he took some pictures of it and said it looks good. We were in Arizona at the time for the winter, and the truck was in California. The other one was an older one and had a worm gear differential and a three-speed transmission and the cab was completely shot. This one was in better shape, and so I called the guy and talked to him. It was in Monrovia, Calif… We talked it over and I thought about it and then we bought and had it shipped to Wisconsin.”
The cross-country voyage was almost certainly the truck’s first trip to the Midwest, and probably it’s first time outside of California. It had worked and lived its whole life in sunny SoCal.
“It was an original truck from the city of Pasadena!” Shaw says. “They bought it new and used it for a number of years and then it sat 30-some years in a warehouse. The governor at that time, Schwarzenegger …was looking for money I guess, and half the cities in California never traded anything in, they just put stuff in a warehouse. So I guess they had an enormous garage sale, old squad cars and motorcycles and pickup trucks … and a guy out there bought it. He had an intent to do something with it, but he never got around to it. Then I bought it. That was about 10 years ago.”
Much to Shaw’s delight, the truck actually ran and drove when he got it off the trailer.
“They brought it as far as Kaukauna [Wis.], and we went there and picked it up,” he recalls. “We drove it off the trailer and around the lot there.”
Shaw certainly wasn’t disappointed when he got the truck home, but he quickly came to the realization it was going to take a big effort to eventually get it fully restored and looking new again.
“I just wanted a truck, and I didn’t really want a pickup. I wanted something a little bigger, and this was actually a little bigger than I thought,” Shaw laughed. “But it turned out.”
THE MODEL A’S BIG BROTHER
When the Pasadena Street Dept. needed a work truck in 1930, it’s not surprising that the choice was Ford’s popular and endlessly versatile Model AA, the heavy-duty sibling of the Model A. The AA’s lifespan ran parallel to its automobile counterpart, with chassis built from December 1927 through December 1932. The bigger trucks used the same 200.5-cid inline 40-hp four-cylinder engine as the cars and shared many of the same parts, although everything was mounted on a longer, sturdier 131.5-inch chassis with either a three-speed manual or a four-speed transmission that used a very low “granny” first gear. Beginning in 1930, Ford added a 157-inch-wheelbase platform to the lineup.
Like the Model A, the AA was available in a variety of configurations: a roadster pickup, canopy delivery with a hard top and side curtains; a panel truck; stake truck and platform truck. The Model 82-B closed cab trucks like Shaw’s could he had with stock racks, grain boxes and stake racks. They could be configured as ice wagons, coal trucks, garbage trucks and a variety of dump trucks.
The Model AA transmission used a shifter with a safety lock-out lever activated by the thumb so reverse could be engaged. The engine could also be crank started if necessary with a hand crank inserted through a hole in the radiator shell. The early trucks used a low-speed worm gear rear end. This was replaced by a ring and pinion differential that gave the trucks a little better speed on the highway. The differential in these later trucks came with high- and low-speed options.
Spoked wheels similar to Model A wheels were used in 1928. Twenty-inch six-slot disc wheels were used during 1929, and a year later new 20-inch five-slot disc wheels were utilized. These wheels were used for 1930 and part of 1931. The last wheels used had a raised center for added strength and to allow space for dual rear wheels.
Stopping power on the AA’s came from mechanical drum brakes on all four corners that operated via pull lever system. A brake light was activated when the brake pedal was pushed. The parking brake lever on the floor had a release button on the top.
The windshield wipers were hand-operated originally and then changed to power through a vacuum from the intake manifold. Two levers on the steering column controlled the advance and retard of the timing, and the throttle. A choke was located under the dash to the right to adjust the flow of fuel from the carburetor.
Three basic gauges were arranged in a diamond with the start key and pop-out locking switch on the left. On top was a gas gauge and to the right an amp gauge. At the bottom of the dash was the odometer and speedometer. A horn button was placed in the middle of the steering wheel.
The suspension of the AA truck used a leaf spring centered in the front “A” frame over the front axle. Shock absorbers were available for the front end only. The rear suspension had leaf springs mounted to the chassis and attached to the rear axle.
During the Model A and AA production runs from 1927-31, Ford built about 4.3 million vehicles, including more than 480,000 rugged and enduring AA models in a rainbow of styles that saw the trucks serve as everything from ambulances to milk trucks to school buses.
AN A-PLUS AA
When the Shaws wanted to restore a 1959 Rambler wagon that belonged to Shaw’s wife Sigrid, the couple turned to Jody Stuck, an accomplished local restorer. Stuck did a masterful job on the station wagon, which the couple still owns, and he needed four years to get the big Ford AA completely finished.
Sadly, Stuck passed away from Covid in 2021, but not before he produced a second family treasure for the Shaws.
“He did the interior, engine, everything. He went through the whole truck and everything is stock all the way through,” John notes. “It had about 40,000 miles on it and it does have the four-speed transmission — one of the few… I don’t know what it was used for, but every cross member on the rack had a 2-inch angle iron welded on it all the way across. They must have been hauling rocks or something with it — heavy loads. I think it just got old enough and they go a new one and instead of trading it in or selling it they just pushed it out of the way. The rack and everything was with it, but there wasn’t any boards or anything.”
Shaw and Stuck discovered one quirky thing about the big Ford — it was considered a 1930 model, but actually had a 1929 cab on it.
“I’ve had some guys at shows point that out to me,” Shaw chuckles. “It’s a ’29 cab, because it’s got the rubberized canvas. Henry had a lot of the old cabs left and when a fleet order would come in with a number of trucks, these here were $10 or $12 cheaper, and they had to get rid of them!”
Shaw says one of the few changes he made that the truck that made it not quite identical to the original was in the wood box. He wound up using 1/2-inch maple boards instead of 3/4-inch “because the 3/4-inch was going to be about three times as much money. But that doesn’t really matter. We’re not going to be hauling anything [laughs].”
Shaw had the truck painted its original dark green with black front fenders. The interior of the cab is painted green with brown vinyl on the doors, roof and seat. Sigrid gets credit for the cool decals on the doors, which really give the truck an authentic look because they are, in fact, authentic.
“We wanted to restore it as close as possible and Jody was going to have [the decals and lettering] painted on, but that was going to coast mega bucks,” Sigrid recalled. “So I got ahold of the street dept. guy and I had taken pictures and I asked them where can I get something like that? And he said we still use that same logo today and then he said I see you are in Wisconsin are you anywhere near Plymouth? He said we are restoring a fire truck up there and I fly into Green Bay every once in a while. He said I will leave you a couple of decals. Those are from the city of Pasadena.”
These days, the 1930 Ford is enjoying a very pampered life as a show truck, and it has done its share of trophy collecting. This past summer the couple was again taking it to area shows such as the Iola Car Show, where it got plenty of attention, as usual. The Iola show is only about a half-hour from the couple’s home. That works out pretty well, because driving it any further than that is a challenge.
“It’s rough!” says John with a laugh. “If you are running down a blacktop road you can feel a dime if you run over it. It’ll go 35, 40 mph, but that’s wide open.”
“Yeah, I know, it’s too nice to drive it like that now. It’s too nice. I’ve ruined it!”
SHOW US YOUR WHEELS!
If you’ve got an old car you love, we want to hear about it. Email us at [email protected]
If you like stories like these and other classic car features, check out Old Cars magazine. CLICK HERE to subscribe.
Want a taste of Old Cars magazine first? Sign up for our weekly e-newsletter and get a FREE complimentary digital issue download of our print magazine.
*As an Amazon Associate, Old Cars earns from qualifying purchases.