Pedro Arrais: Cabinet-maker turns 1928 truck into a panel van


A Victoria professional woodworker has finally been able to finish a long-term project — the re-creation of a classic panel van — thanks to COVID-19.

Paul Fisher is the man behind The English Cabinet Maker, a family-run business that specializes in handmade wood furniture.

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Like many business owners, he closed his doors due to the pandemic.

Fisher took the opportunity to finish a three-year project — the transformation of a 1928 REO Speedwagon truck into a panel van.

Manufactured by the REO Motor Company (REO were the initials of its founder, Ransom Eli Olds), the truck saw a production run from 1915 to about 1935. (An American band appropriated the name in 1967.)

Although Fisher’s example started off as a flatbed truck, the Speedwagon (sometimes referred to as a Speed Wagon) was available in a variety of configurations from the factory, including a panel truck (commonly called a panel van).

“The project has been an incredible amount of fun,” said Fisher, whose memories of working with wood include a workbench at the foot of his bed when he was 11 years old. “It is meant to be esthetically pleasing, in some small way a piece of furniture on wheels.”

The project tested his carpentry skills.

“Not everything has straight lines — I had to bend and shape everything,” said Fisher, 62. “It’s similar to boatbuilding.”

The fabrication of the new roof involved fitting together numerous thin strips of wood.

Normally, white oak would be used, but due to our soggy climate Fisher decided to substitute Ipe wood from South America instead. While more durable to the elements, Ipe, also called Brazilian walnut, has a reputation of being a difficult wood to work on. The finished structure was covered in the traditional way — using canvas stretched on the frame.

Fisher also repainted the vehicle.

“Spraying a vehicle is similar to spraying furniture,” he said.

The finished project is meant to be functional — to deliver furniture to clients under all weather conditions — and serve as a rolling calling card for his business.

This is Fisher’s second classic vehicle. He also has a 1955 Ford panel van.

But he advises his clients that if they see him and wave, not to be offended if he doesn’t acknowledge them at the time.

“Driving an old vehicle demands more concentration than a modern one. If I don’t wave back it’s because I have my hands firmly clasping the steering wheel.”

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