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1947 Dodge

The Sardine Bus is Back in Service

Jim Blankman, Eastport, Maine USA

I was getting my windows fixed in my '39 Ford and chatting with the glazier when he said I might be interested in some pictures he had. They were pictures of a 1947 Dodge Woodie 1-ton bus with a Campbell-built body called the "Surrey". Boy, was I interested! I immediately took off and found the lady who owned it. I told her of my interest in her bus, and we got some flashlights and went to a huge, dark old barn. There it was, the woodie of my dreams, and I wanted it.

1947 Dodge Surrey

The owner told me it was her father's bus and was used to ferry sardine packers back and forth to work. They called it a jitney. They no longer wanted it and wanted some one to give it a good home and keep it from rotting away. It had been sitting in the barn since the seventies.

I spent all summer showing the pictures at various car shows and was told over and over not to let it get away. My finances being what they were, I could only dream.

One day, while I was downtown, I heard that someone else was interested in "my" woodie and I panicked. I got together as much money as I could and hurried to the owner's house. Right then and there we settled on a price, and I put the down payment on it and really started dreaming in earnest. Several times during that period and until it was fully paid for, I went up and sat with it, brushed off some of the several thousand layers of dust and dreamed of the day I would be behind the wheel.

In the spring I impatiently waited for the gigantic mound of snow to melt from the barn doors. When it was finally gone, I took my two trusty mechanics with me and we got it running. It was a noisy, dusty half-hour ride back to my house --- and I loved every minute of it!

I spent early spring restoring my woodie. The back had to be redone (dry rot had started to settle in), several of the basswood slats replaced, a new roof, a couple of windows and it was looking good. Besides owning a smoked salmon business, I am a fine woodworker and luthier (a maker of stringed instruments), so the restoration was a fun job for me.

During the winter, while I was waiting for the snow to leave, I made several plans of what I was going to do with it. After new tires, some engine work, and some more engine work, I was ready to roll.

I have started a tour business (the old woodie will hold eleven people besides myself) and take people on one to two-hour tours around my beautiful island town of Eastport. People had such a good time I decided to include a picnic tour. I serve my salmon, roasted chicken, potato salad, desert and other goodies on a beautiful island location, then give the group a tour. I had made a woodie teardrop trailer to pull behind my '39 Ford, and it is now the perfect vehicle to pull behind the woodie. It enables me to set up an instant kitchen when we reach the picnic area. Everyone seems to have a ball.

My woodie and I don't just work, we also have fun. I have been hired to drive a bevy of bridesmaids to church ( that was rough), and just last month we were hired to be a vintage prop for a movie being shot here in Maine. Lots of times I simply pick up weary walkers on their way home. It gives them a lift after a long day.

Next, I am looking forward to my first woodie meet and someday, I might even make it to Wavecrest.

1947 Dodge Woody Bus47dodgebus-teardrop.jpg (47645 bytes)

This story originally appeared in the March 1999 issue of Woodie Times and is published here with the permission of the author.

Update: While the 1999 Wavecrest gathering was being held in Southern California, Jim Blankman took his woodie to the National Woodie Club Silver Anniversary meet at Bennington, Vermont and received the 'First Ladies Favorite' award. Jim has added woodie restorations to his list of services and has several projects underway for other woodie owners.  

Jim Blankman's Moose Island Tour Bus
Available for tours, picnics, graduations & weddings
37 Washington Street, Eastport, Maine 04631 USA
(207) 853-4831

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