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Heritage project: Pepsi bottles time Add to ...

Sometimes dealing with the details involved in the restoration of a historic vehicle can drive you nuts.

As the team from the PepsiCo Canada Beverages sales and distribution centre in London, Ont., discovered while applying the final touches to the 1928 Model AA Ford 1-1/2-ton soft-drink delivery truck they were rejuvenating.

In this case what drove them nuts was a nut. A missing lug nut to be exact.

In the century-plus history of the automobile, countless millions of these fasteners that hold a vehicle's wheels to its hubs have been produced, but those used by Ford's Model AA trucks were unique and, as they were only built from 1928 to 1931, very scarce.

Harry Lipki, who'd already unearthed many other parts, undertook the task of finding the single missing lug nut to complete the restoration and, after a long Internet search, finally came up with a lead. Only to find the guy at the other end of the e-mail trail wasn't interested in selling. He wanted to buy the lug nuts they already had.

Back in 1928

Cartoon character Mickey Mouse made his debut in a short titled Steamboat Willie. Meanwhile, the British were concerned about "willies" of another kind and banned the book Lady Chatterley's Lover.

Amelia Earhart became the first woman to cross the Atlantic by air - as baggage, a sack of potatoes, as she termed it. The aircraft was flown by a Wilmer Stultz as she didn't have the navigation skills required. She had acquired these by 1932 when she took off from Harbour Grace in Newfoundland to make the trip solo.

The automatic bread slicer and Double Bubble gum were launched in the United States.

With Model AA Ford lug nuts proving unobtainable, the Pepsi team gave in and had one made, completing the second restoration of this vehicle, which recalls the early times of the brand in Canada and its first Ontario bottler's history.

That story begins with the establishment by Charles Maedel of Maedel Beverages in 1908, which originally bottled seltzer in its Essex, Ont., plant and later produced Whistle, Pure Spring and later Pepsi products, delivering them in a Model AA Ford.

Acting on a tip in the mid-1930s that U.S.-based Pepsi was planning to offer franchises in Canada, the Maedel management team took a quick drive across the Detroit River Bridge to visit a Pepsi bottler and scope out the prospects. Sign a contract right now, there's money to be made, they were told, and soon did; becoming Canada's second Pepsi bottler (a Montreal firm was first).

Third-generation Don Maedel Sr. discovered the 1928 Ford truck in Essex in the early 1980s and decided to purchase and restore it to celebrate the company's heritage.

When Maedel Beverages went looking for a new delivery truck in the late 1920s, its timing couldn't have been better as Ford had just (in late 1927) introduced its new 1928 Model A passenger cars and Model AA commercial vehicles.

The Model A/AA was the successor to the Model T, which by that time was well past its best-before date.

With a design new from the ground, the Model A brought Ford into a new era with its 40-hp, 200.5- cubic-inch (3.3-litre), flathead four, equipped with electric starter and three-speed gearbox, hydraulic shocks, four-wheel mechanically operated brakes and many other up-to-date features.

Model As were offered in a variety of body styles and were an immediate hit with buyers ranging from just plain folks to celebrities like then-New York governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Hollywood star Will Rogers. The commercial versions came as sedan deliveries, roadster-style pickup and heavier-duty units like the Pepsi truck.

The Maedel family sold its business in the late 1980s and along with it the Pepsi-liveried delivery truck. "There's a tendency in a big company for things like this to just disappear," says Rick Boyes, who oversaw the restoration project. But happily, this one didn't.

The truck was spotted by his then-newly arrived boss Todd Squarek a couple of years ago, who decided it should be restored.

That process began in 2009, with employees Lipki, Rick Doran, Don Williams, John Rimnyak and Steve Robinson volunteering their time and talents to bring the truck back to pristine condition. This involved a new cargo box and interior, fabric roof, wheel refurbishing, engine work and wiring and, of course, paint. A number of local companies also pitched in with support.

The bright-yellow truck was back on the road early last year and has been used in a number of events, to which it is hauled in a special trailer "wrapped" in a graphic that features historic logos and photographs of Pepsi's local history.

Don Maedel Sr. and Don Jr. (the last of the family involved with the company) were invited to the truck's unveiling and "were just blown away," says Boyes. "I asked him [Don Sr.] 'Did I do good?' And he said, 'Motion passed' and shook my hand."

The Model AA looks great, but what Boyes appreciates most is that it still exists and represents the independent bottlers who helped build the company. And that Pepsi felt strongly enough about its history to help preserve a piece of it.

"I think that's important," he says, in a world where it increasingly all comes down to dollars and cents. "We were lucky to have retained this asset and have a boss come along who bought into the idea of doing what we wanted to do. You don't get that a lot any more."

globedrive@globeandmail.com

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