Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Love letter to a neighborhood, bar, & truck

There are businesses around town that have a vehicle mascot parked out in front for eternity. The Caliente Cab Company in the West Village has a 1950 Studebaker Champion just like Fozzy drove in The Muppet Movie (it's by FAR the best part of the C.C.C.). The Green Space in Gowanus has a 1928 Ford pickup truck roosting out front. Today I'm featuring a vehicle iconic to weary Brooklynites looking for the Greatest Bar on Earth:
For some of you this is giving you a hangover just looking at it. For others it's making you feel like it's been too long since you've meandered out to this almost-inaccessible corner of Brooklyn. Regardless this is a 1953 Willy's 475 truck in Willow Green. It is permanently parked in front of Sunny's Bar in Red Hook.
In 1953 the number of horizontal bars on the grill went from 5 to 3 (this one is missing the lower bar). That combined with the smaller rear window on this truck pinpoints it as a '53 as 1954 would introduce a window that covered the entire rear of the cab.
If you don't know now you know; this is the Greatest Bar on Earth (or at least has a very strong contender). In the modern Brooklyn everybody knows and complains about this stalwart has soldiered on against true adversity. In 2012 Hurricane Sandy flooded the entire neighborhood with Sunny's having water almost up to the ceiling. It was closed for 8 months and it took volunteers and a benefit concert to reopen it. In 2016 the beloved owner Sunny Balzano passed away at age 81. After that most of the 18 (!) related owners wanted to sell the bar but it seems that his widow has won a chance to buy everybody out. Come and visit. Tip your bartender.
Back to the rig at hand; check this beast out! There's the speedometer but does it have a lens of even a needle? Nah! There's an extremely rare factory radio (to the left of the steering wheel no less). Before you ask if it works look at that exposed $3 speaker laying on the floor! The seat looks surprisingly decent and must have been redone at some point. For all I know this was parked in 8 feet of ocean water back in '12.
This is parked at the edge of the world a solid 25 minute walk from the closest subway station. the cobblestones are most likely here to stay.

Like the neighborhood around it this truck has seen some shit! This fender is doing its best to hold on but the rocker panel disappeared long ago. One look at that ancient wheel with the sort of tire you can't even buy anymore tells you everything you need to know.
The rear fender and lower bed are holding up remarkably well. This is my favorite spare tire placement for trucks. Those leaf springs are ready for hard work; this little truck was rated as a 1 ton when new.
I'm going to say that those taillights are from a mid '70s to early '80s Chevrolet. Rear bumpers were optional when this rig was built.
This is the classic Willys logo. Willys was started in 1908 and has been folded into and taken over a dizzying amount of other companies, currently a part of the greater Fiat-Chrysler corporation. Every body panel on this ride is simple stamped steel like this.
You can see the Freedom Tower in the distance which gives you a sense of this location. At one point this area of Red Hook was one of the busiest ports in the world. Originally called Roode Hoek in the 1600s by the Dutch, the name means "point" or promontory. There was a Revolutionary War fort here known as Fort Defiance which is memorialized today by a restaurant/bar of the same name. By 1990 Life Magazine called this one of the worst neighborhoods in the country and the Crack Capital of America. A lot has changed since! For those of you who constantly bemoan the loss of "old New York" I point out the fact that the principal of the local school was killed in 1992 when he got caught in a drug war crossfire. Change isn't all bad.
Back to this sweet rig. It seems to be always filled with fresh garbage so I'm assuming the sanitation guys pull bags directly from the bed. That little reflector is a sweet notion as I think this fender has been facing the building protected by benches for decades.
As I mentioned briefly the year after this brought a rear window that was expanded almost down to the top of the bed.
From this angle you can clearly see the handsome lines of this ride.
The split windshield lasted until 1959 when a single pane was used on a special model. In 1960 they started switching all Willys trucks over to the non-split windshield but the date isn't exact. They just kept building the splits until old parts ran out so 1960 models can be either way.
Well that's where I'll leave this beast with its homemade wooden bumper and incredible life story. I have a feeling that even if this doesn't move for the next 20 years there will always be a fresh inspection sticker in the window. I support that 100%. I also think that if a rookie cop wrote a parking ticket for this rig his hand would burst into flames.
I realize this was a long-winded post more about the neighborhood than this actual vehicle but to me the two are inseparable. Some folks who are so painfully cool that they're really no fun to hang out with might say things like "Don't tell everybody about this cool spot or it will get ruined!", but to them I say this; Sunny's has been here for just shy of 100 years. The world is unrecognizable now from when these buildings were built in the 1850s. I might be a romantic but I think this little corner operates outside of the normal constraints of gentrification. Hopefully anyway!

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