A side view of the restored truck shows the shiny, reflective surface in the vibrant blue paint
A side view of the restored truck shows the shiny, reflective surface in the vibrant blue paint
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Oh, deer!

There’s something about Craig Vrieze’s truck that’s made its future so much shinier than the tangled road of its odd history.

“It was supposed to be a cheap, project-type deal, and I put in a bigger motor. The previous owner started putting a different style racing frame in it,” Vrieze explained as he described his 1946 Mopar Dodge drag racing truck. “I finished that and drove it a few years. It started to evolve pretty good into a nice, cheap driving truck.”

But, then came the deer.

“I was on the way to Stewartville for the Fourth of July festivities and the car show there when a deer jumped out in front of me,” he recalled. “I had never hit a deer before, but of course I hit one with this truck. That started a complete two-year rebuild,”

Vrieze, a rural Racine farmer and lifelong Dodge devotee said his truck has a crazy-strange history, one that most definitely could not be made up — the tale takes on its own life at the get-go.

“It’s pretty much redone from the ground up. I bought it from a gentleman over by Sargeant, Kip Johnson, about nine years ago. When I picked it up, I heard it had a history…the original purpose was that it was built as a drag truck. There wasn’t much to it, just a cab and parts, but I knew I had some parts, so I brought it home.”

Vrieze continued, “In probably about 2012, one of the first owners, Steve, tracked me down because he’d found out I had it. He brought his son, and they had a long, windy story about its past. They were from over by Rose Creek, and he picked this up in the mid-‘80s. He turned it into a race truck in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, and then he drag raced it for four to five years. He tells me that it had pictures taken in Austin that were featured in Hot Rod Magazine. I tried looking it up, but I never found it. He lived for drag racing in the Midwest in the summertime, and he’d go south in the winter.”

Unfortunately, the original owner’s marriage also went south, and the truck’s saga got even more interesting, with a side of alimony for good measure.

“He went through a divorce and the truck was sold. Apparently it was raced in northern Minnesota and Canada, and then it ended up in Michigan,” Vrieze said. “He tracked it down to the Michigan owner’s wife’s house…apparently, when that owner got divorced, she took the truck, dug it down into the basement of her house and bricked shut around it. Steve went out there, bought it, dug it out, brought it back and started racing with it. Steve had to sell the truck again because he got divorced again…and that’s when it disappeared again and he didn’t know where it went from there.”

First-owner Steve’s drag racing buddy found it at a swap meet, bought it and brought it back home, but this time, Steve didn’t want it back, and that’s the point at which it was stripped down and sold as parts, mostly to Johnson of Sargeant, from whom Vrieze obtained the cab and parts.

“It’s unique how the truck has been gone or missing for all these years, and after 30 years, it works its way back from probably 30 miles away from where it was originally found, gone all the way to Michigan and Canada and come back again,” Vrieze said.

The surprises don’t stop there.

“I know there were a few owners in between. I was at the Stewartville car show with it, and there was a gentleman who kept looking at it. He was from Adams and he said that his father sold it after a divorce. He stuck his hand out. He couldn’t believe that it was the same truck, because he thought that it had disappeared from the face of the earth.”

And that wasn’t the last that anyone had heard from First-owner Steve regarding the truck, because during one of the restorations, Vrieze needed parts. “I needed a header for it, and the same week, Steve called because the header had gone on sale in Hayfield.”

Vrieze admitted that his wife was very skeptical about his purchase and the time he invested in it.

“This thing was cursed at first…all those divorces. When we started this restoration, there were days that she wasn’t happy with me,” he admitted.

He spent hours in the garage working on his toy, occasionally neglecting the farming, so that he could have the thrill of someday taking the truck on the road to local car shows because, like his entire family, he’s a Dodge man. All of the Vrieze farm trucks are Dodge Rams. It’s gotta be a Dodge.

The first time around, he chose to simply get the old racer road-ready, with plastic windows riveted in, some ragged patches on the paint, basic gauges and no real cruise-friendly additions. But that trip up the road to play deer-smasher changed all that, and if that deer were still standing to accept his thanks, he’d buy it a whole barrel of corn because of the insurance claim that helped him elevate his truck from a pile of parts to a real roadster.

Bremseth Body Shop in Wykoff was charged with the second restoration of the drag truck.

“Bremseth did all the restoration on it, and it took two full years. The restoration’s done, and now it’s improved. It has a 505 cubic inch Ram motor or nitrous – 800 horsepower on nitrous, it has a GPS speedometer and gauges – where before, it just had a tachometer,” Vrieze said and continued listing its improved features, “glass windows with electric motors, turn signals, running boards, a reliable start, more modern suspension and steering – so now, it handles the road better and we do a lot more driving.”

Vrieze also said, for the most part, the truck has the look and sound of a drag truck and the paint chosen was Dodge Viper blue because the owner from Adams had painted it blue.

“I loved the way it looked and didn’t want to change it,” he said. “It’s set up for big tires – I like the big tires, and I put on the old-school-looking drag wheels and tires and spokes on the front.”

The original roll cage and racing harness seatbelts assure that Vrieze’s sons are just fine in their dad’s very loud blue ride. Vrieze stood back and pointed toward the car he restored from Opsall-Kavanagh Motors while he was learning the art and expenses of restoring cars.

He referred to his truck and said, “I wanted something more enjoyable, something that I can use to strap a car seat into, especially now that I have a family…the nicest things about kids is that they keep you a kid yourself.”

He observed his reflection in the long, curved fender, going on to state, “I never envisioned it turning out this nice. It had rougher paint and scratches from drag racing, but the insurance from the deer helped me move to the next step. It definitely turned out better than I expected.”

Vrieze also complimented the Bremseths, “They take good pride in what they do. I’m very pleased. I wanted to get it done right away— there were three summers I didn’t get to drive it, and it turned out way better than I ever dreamed. I think about all the time I dreamed of new combines, but it came back to this…for a few years, this was all I dreamed about, and when I got it back, I was happy.”

Now that it’s back in the Vriezes’ garage, the truck gets road time as a means for the couple to hit the road together, flouting the perception that it’s a vow-breaker.

“My wife and I had our tenth anniversary last September, and probably the biggest drive we went on in it was a cruise up the Mississippi River,” he said. “We let the kids sit in it, and I like to take it to the A&W Cruise Night car show, because that’s my favorite show, and I want to take it to parades and weekend cruises.”

Even though Vrieze is entirely pleased and very impressed with the work that the Bremseths did to finish his truck, he’s just like every other classic car or truck owner. “I say it’s not done. Down the road, I want to upgrade the interior so it’s a little nicer, maybe add a radio, add a box to the back. Then I don’t think I’ll do anything more.”