Building a wood bed side for your stepside
Here is a photo of my 1957 GMC. This rolling stock of pig iron and cold war sheet metal came with 4, 55-gallon drums of parts that must have totally bewildered the young kid who sold it to me in March of 1998.
My 57 GMC is the result of a rebuild project over the past several years. It has a 1958 Pontiac 336 engine and an old but rebuilt Carter AFB carb. Apparently, this truck rolled off the assembly line late in the production year and 58 engines were utilized. (Or, the dealer replaced it the following year.) It is painted very dark green with a side stake assembly. The side stake assembly is approximately 14″ high from the top of the bedside.
The process of this rebuild took all summer of 98 and most of 99. I use this truck infrequently for light trips around town and it is not for showing but is fairly close to original with few modifications. After 3 years I”m almost finished with this rebuild, (or perhaps one is really never finished.) My intention is to keep this vehicle in mostly original condition but I must say that adding these side stakes does add some continuity from the finished oak bed and separates it from most other trucks. Seems a shame to travel around the city where no one can see the great finish of the bed thus the continuity mentioned above. My truck has an old-fashioned feel and thus from a design perspective is probably not fitting for a custom truck with a chopped top, custom flame paint and a lowered frame. I keep waiting for my local IGA to ask if it can be used as a circa 1950’s delivery vehicle.
The design process was the only creative part of the stake assembly. I used dimension cut red oak in 2″, 4″ and 6″ widths. Nearly all the lumber was purchased at a local Kansas City lumber store specializing in tight and unique grain stock. My design has the 6″ width running parallel with the bedsides, from front to back, and curve-cut at the end to give it a finished look. The 2′ width was next and shorter in length than the 6 piece. (This is mostly a function of esthetics and you can decide for yourself the level of gradient differences between the 3 different lengths.) Finally the 4″ piece is on top and shorter still. From bottom to top then the length becomes shorter but still long enough for side bracing. The 3 vertical side-bracing elements that fit into the stake pockets however were not exact fit with dimension cut lumber. I had to purchase 8/4 (eight quarters—lumber guys speak in a foreign language sometimes) X 3″ in a ten foot length and cut it down to make for a friction fit into the 6 rectangular stake pockets. In my situation I took the lumber to someone who used a professional grade band saw to make the cuts. I sanded the side stakes to loosely fit the stake pockets, anticipating some growth in the stakes from 4 coats of spar varnish. You can also add wood screws to firmly attach the vertical braces to the stake pockets.
Some side stake assemblies I’ve seen do not have a front bed element that ties the 2 sides together. Mine does and its simply a matter of preference. It is less expensive for side only stakes and requires a little less time. The problem is in calculating the angle joints at the front. Most beds are set in such a way that the clearance and tolerance for a conventional corner isn’t sufficient with the back of the cab. This requires some notching of the front side pocket vertical pieces to custom fit the pieces together. Of course, you can avoid all of this by simply omitting the front section altogether.
Thus I have a front section with enough clearance that it clears the back of the cab under the rear glass.
Refinishing occurred with all wood parts unassembled. I used a light application of Watco dark maple stain. Remember that with tight grain lumber like oak the stain doesn’t deeply color the original stock. I simply chose to wipe excess amounts off with a clean rag immediately after application. Four coats of satin finish spar (exterior grade) varnish were applied with intermittent light scuffing with steel wool to knock off the burs. The 4 coats also further darkened the side rails to match the shade of the bed oak. (Note: Most parts dealers use white oak for bed wood. Only a trained eye could notice the difference between red and white oak especially after stain and 4 coats of varnish.)
The actual assembly process was kind of like an erector set. I placed the finished side stakes in the 6 stake pockets until they hit the bottom (3″-6″ depending on middle, back, or front.) Once the stakes were secure I mounted the 6″ width first and shimmed the side rail from the bedside using a 1/2″ shim. Three-eighths inch holes were drilled and lag bolts used to assemble the planks to the stakes. The 4″ and 6″ widths required 2 bolts per vertical stake and the 2″ piece only required 1. The same process was repeated for the 2″ width and the 4″ width. Curve-cutting the ends (before the application of stain and varnish) with a basic jigsaw finished the ends of all 3 widths.