Three generations of Kaplan family connect through a WWII truck

June 16, 2013|By KAUSTUV BASU |
  • William Glenn Kaplan moves his 1941 U.S. Army truck made by Chevrolet. He and his son Kevin Kaplan began restoring the vehicle over 4 years ago in memory of his father William, who bought the truck from the military in 1946.
By Kevin G. Gilbert / Staff Photographer

The rusting hulk of the Chevrolet Army truck sat near the machine shop off Virginia Avenue in Hagerstown for more than three decades.

When its owner, William Kaplan, died in 2004 at the age of 93, his son inherited the truck.

William Glenn Kaplan had his heart set on restoring the truck, something he would do to honor his father.

“When I see this truck, I see my dad, and I restored it in his memory,” said William Glenn Kaplan, 63, of Maugansville.

It last was used around 1973, and was idle for so long that its engine locked up.

In 2006, the truck was put on a tractor-trailer and taken to his son’s property in Hedgesville, W.Va.

Three more years passed.

Then, in 2009, Kaplan and his son, Kevin Kaplan, decided the time was right.

Over the next four years, father and son embarked on a voyage of discovery and delight as they spent hour after hour restoring the Chevrolet G7117 truck.

Kevin Kaplan scoured the Internet for information. He learned how to weld sheet metal neatly. He and his father went to swap meets trying to get spare parts.

By the beginning of this year, the truck was beginning to look more and more like what it might have looked like in the 1940s.

The truck

The Chevrolet G7117 light truck was built for the U.S. Army during World War II.

The G7117 is a variant of the G7107 light truck, and came with a 10,000-pound winch on the front, said Matthew Fraas, an education specialist for the United States Army Transportation Museum in Fort Eustis, Va.

These trucks, used to transport personnel and cargo mainly by the Army and Army Air Corps, were a modification of a Chevrolet truck manufactured for civilian use before the war.

Fraas said Chevrolet produced about 150,000 of the G7107 and its variants, including 26,108 G7117s.

“Unlike other cargo trucks produced during the war, this one came with only a hard roof on the cab and did not make provisions for a ring mount, on which they could mount a machine gun, above the cab,” Fraas said in an email.

The buyer

William Glenn Kaplan’s father grew up Hagerstown’s West End, the son of immigrants from Lithuania.

He specialized in machine work, and during World War II, he worked for the Glenn L. Martin Co. in Baltimore, helping build the B-26 Marauder bomber.

As the war drew to a close, he went about setting up his own machine shop off Virginia Avenue in Hagerstown.

In 1946, he paid $850 to buy the Chevrolet truck from a surplus sale at Letterkenny Army Depot in Chambersburg, Pa.

It was part of a plan for his new business.

“He knew he would need a truck to haul heavy machinery,” William Glenn Kaplan said. “There were hardly any civilian trucks being made yet.”

Kaplan remembers riding in the truck, sitting beside his father.

“He used it to haul stuff and deliver wrought-iron railings,” he said. “I didn’t know anyone here who had an old Army truck.”

One day in 1967, William Glenn Kaplan drove the truck to South Hagerstown High School, where he was a senior.

“What a sight it was,” he said.

An electronics teacher who was a World War II veteran liked the truck, but it was not popular with at least one girl in his class.

“I don’t like your car and I certainly don’t like your truck,” she said.

“She was teasing me,” he said.

The truck did not fetch him any extra dates in high school. In fact, “It might have worked the other way,” he said.

The restoration

William Glenn Kaplan has worked for 36 years at Mack Trucks in Hagerstown.

He works on their metal cutting machinery and in an area where the company assembles engines.

As a boy, he learned how to overhaul engines from his father.

Kaplan, who also has served in the Army Reserves, said he knows how to take things apart without damaging them and how to put them back together.

Even so, the Chevrolet truck, which originally came from a base in Missouri, proved to be difficult to take apart.

“I thought we would have to repair everything, as I didn’t think we would be able to find the parts,” Kaplan said in an email.

Father and son started frequenting swap meets to look for spare parts. They found one in Aberdeen, Md., and another in Gilbert, Pa.

They got to know Robert Muller of Delanson, N.Y., who dealt in spare parts for World War II trucks.

Muller found them a set of front fenders from the Philippines.

A windshield frame proved to be difficult to get a hold off until the Kaplans found one at a swap meet.

Kevin Kaplan, 32, who drives a truck for Frito Lay and also does contracting work on the side, did not have any experience restoring vehicles.

“We did it one thing at a time,” Kevin Kaplan said.

One of the most difficult tasks proved to be painting the undercarriage of the truck.

William Glenn Kaplan took three days to do the job. He emerged every day with paint on his face.

“We learned a lot about what irritates each other,” Kevin Kaplan said. “Some days, I could tell ... it was in my best interest to go back in the house (as his father worked on the truck).”

On occasion, as they talk about the truck, they finish each other’s sentences.

Kevin Kaplan said he learned a lot about the virtues of perseverance and hard work from his father and his grandfather.

To him, the truck — now repainted olive drab — also represents the industriousness of three generations of the Kaplan family.

He pointed out that his father had worked two jobs most of his life.

“I’m following in his footsteps,” he said.

There were some days he didn’t feel like working on the truck, he said, “but you do it anyway.”

The Kaplans estimated they have spent about $8,000 buying spare parts for the truck.

“That truck ... it means more to us than money. I have no dollar value on the truck,” William Glenn Kaplan said.

It’s more like a family heirloom that has been restored.

Kevin Kaplan’s daughter, Allie, 4, likes to play in it with her pillows and tea sets. His son, Isaiah, who is 18 months old, sits in the truck and turns the steering wheel.

With a top speed of 48 mph, William Glenn Kaplan cannot take the truck on an interstate.

But he plans to take it to Williamsport in October for the town’s annual World War II weekend event.

He calls the truck “Tough as Nails” in honor of his father, who worked in the machine shop until he was 91.

“Restoring the Army truck was a big dream of mine, and now it has come to pass,” he said “My biggest regret is that my father wasn’t able to see his truck, fully restored and running like new.”

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